Columnist Claire Morenon: Resolutions in the face of climate change
Published December 27, 2022 in the Daily Hampshire Gazette
Many of us take a break from work and spend time gathering with loved ones at this time of year, providing an opportunity for reflection and contemplation alongside the merriment. As this year closes and we look ahead, we ask: What world will each of us work to create?
This past summer, local farms were again buffeted by extreme weather, one of the many challenging impacts of climate change in our region. After 2021’s record-setting rains, this past growing season brought months of drought conditions. Farmers in the Northeast are, of course, accustomed to variable weather, and they make their plans every year with a lot of uncertainty in mind. But climate change is bringing new and potentially devastating shifts, and farmers will need a lot of support to sustain their businesses in the face of it.
Climate scientists predict a range of interconnected changes to come to the Northeast. Rising temperatures, including more heatwaves, will stress the health of workers and livestock and reduce production of some heat-sensitive vegetable and fruit crops. We will see more precipitation, including more extreme rainfall events, resulting in sodden fields that can’t be worked, more localized flooding, more pests, more weed pressure, and more plant disease and rot. And more extreme temperature swings will damage crops in unpredictable ways. Some may remember 2016 as the year without peaches, when a cold snap destroyed early buds and decimated the crop throughout the Northeast. Similarly, temperature swings in the fall can affect fruit tree production the following year, while maple syrup production relies on a specific temperature pattern in the early spring.
It’s easy to feel like climate change is just too big a problem to even think about, and that there’s nothing any of us can do about it. And indeed, that list of challenges to local agriculture feels quite daunting. But we know two things: 1) local farmers are experts at resilience, and 2) they will need help, in the form of grants, expert advice, and community support.
Farmers are already adapting to the changing climate. They are expanding irrigation and drainage systems, adjusting crop plans, experimenting with no- and low-till growing practices, building greenhouses and high tunnels to protect plants, and some are even transitioning to new crops. If you want to read some of these stories, check out CISA’s recent special series with the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Greenfield Recorder at buylocalfood.org/climate-change-stories-2022).
At CISA, we are committed to supporting those efforts. In 2021, we added a full-time staff position dedicated to supporting farmers with climate change adaptation, and we recently expanded our Emergency Farm Fund loan program to be responsive to year-round weather-related losses. And we’re energized to be working with many peer organizations that are responding to climate change in varied ways.
Federal farm policy is the backdrop that shapes much of what individual farmers can do themselves and the support that small local nonprofits like CISA can offer. Next year, federal legislators will be renegotiating the Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation that comes up for renewal every five years. This massive package is the primary force that shapes our nation’s food system. It addresses agricultural research, crop insurance, commodity payment programs, and federal nutrition programs (school lunch, SNAP and WIC, and other emergency food programs), among others.
The new Farm Bill is an opportunity for farmers and communities to demand the food system we want: one that is resilient, sustainable, inclusive, and just. CISA has endorsed the Farm Bill platform laid out by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), which places climate change resilience as one of its top three priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill, alongside investments in rural economic development and advancing racial equity in the food system. We need support for programs that help farmers adapt their operations to a changing climate, and for programs focused on identifying the ways that farmers can help mitigate the effects of climate change for us all. To stay in the loop and to take action, connect with CISA at buylocalfood.org/advocacy or find NSAC at sustainableagriculture.net.
And on a day-to-day basis, you can help farms stay afloat by choosing to buy local! Make a resolution to switch some of you purchases to locally grown, find a new farmers’ market or farm stand, and seek out restaurants or grocery stores that support local farms. You — and our local farmers — will be glad you did!