Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

HOMEGROWN Life: A Farmer’s Advice for Dealing with Climate Change and the Urgent Sense of Impending Doom

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

HOMEGROWN-life-bryce-logo-150x150

Living an agricultural life provides a great deal of solitary time to wrestle with your thoughts. Sometimes that’s pleasant; other times it can be a mess. My own internal dialogue cranks through a steady stream of issues.

Today’s list has so far included:

  • Weather-related worries, including present and future climate concerns.
  • My increasing love for soccer (as a fan, soccer parent, and volunteer coach).
  • Interesting opportunities for farmers, such as whether or not it makes sense to harvest and shell pecans or just leave them for the squirrels. And, heck, can we tap those trees for pecan syrup while we’re at it?
  • Worries about when my next paycheck is going to hit the mailbox.
  • Continuous noise about the sorry state of affairs related to politics and American democracy, especially when it comes to the giant gap between the wealthiest Americans and the middle-to-working-to-poorest classes where most of us land.
  • Meandering nervousness about how the rest of us can step up to raise fresh vegetables, fruit, and nuts when California actually runs out of water.

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I suppose this is mostly normal behavior. At least that’s what I tell myself. But if you’re like me, hovering on the edge of day-to-day issues combined with a giant precipice of social and environmental depression, take some time and read a very thoughtful and intriguing piece by Jonathan Franzen in the New Yorker.

Franzen has some important things to say about the duality of dealing with the scientific knowledge of impending doom because of carbon emissions and climate change while trying to stay sane and address everyday challenges. Franzen also nails it when it comes to concerns for the poorest humans, who did very little to increase carbon emissions themselves but are going to bear the brunt of the damage as the climate continues its inevitable rise in temperature and unpredictability.

Mostly, though, I like Franzen’s thoughts related to the prospect that it might be a mistake to focus on climate change as an issue while neglecting “conservation” as a crucial social and cultural value to moderate the impacts of human greed, development, expansion, exploitation, etc.

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As a farmer and member of a rural community, I agree strongly that local concerns for how resources are developed, used, and conserved are the issues the ring true to most folks. I know many a conservative-gun-rights-anti-Obama local who equally hates the trend toward bulldozing hedgerows and woodlots to make more room for very marginal farmland here in West Missouri. Maybe that’s because of a populist sentiment for watching as the handful of big row croppers gets bigger; maybe it’s because they’ve seen wildlife like whitetail deer and blue herons and songbirds recover as a conservation ethic has taken increasing hold over the past century or so.

The only real supplement I’d add to Franzen’s article has to do with the concept that we all live in a working landscape. Perhaps it appears more direct to those of us that work daily with the animals around us, the soil we walk on, the water that falls and runs through the low spots as the seasons push and pull. Still, the fact is we are all made up of the prairies and orchards we eat. We borrow and impact the water with our drinking and cleaning and flushing. No matter how thoroughly our minds try to separate us from the nonhuman world, we all live in a real place where we serve the role of collective ecosystem engineers. We’re the apex predator; the social megafauna who determines nutrient and resource flows. We produce abundance and scarcity at the same time, depending on whether you’re a plant, animal, or member of the fungi community.

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Realizing this impact and role can be both scary and incredibly empowering. Sure, we can squander the chance to make things better over time. But we can also make progress, even if that’s a strange human concept to the rest of the creatures we live around. We can take action to restore the bald eagle to some degree of thriving. Heck, I didn’t grow up seeing bald eagles soar over the pastures and ponds of Western Missouri farm country. Now every December through February I see them regularly.

Taking collective action to leave some room for (and to stop poisoning) eagles might be a more trivial accomplishment than trying to minimize global climate change by cutting carbon pollution. That said, we can see our efforts in person or through photos or video paying off with conservation. We can watch as our actions either create better or worse conditions for the living things around us.

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I suppose I’m going down this line of reasoning since it reflects a bit of personal therapy. I have been dealing with some serious situational depression, and like many people, am trying to focus on the things in my life that I can actually have some degree of control over versus just accepting the things outside of my realm of influence. Coming to terms with the difference between those two poles is a difficult thing, but it’s something we humans need to mind carefully as a society and culture and global community.

Do we have the courage, strength, and self-awareness it takes to create livelihoods that take into account clear boundaries, minding conservation and impacts on local ecosystems? Do we have the honesty to say so when we take too much and create a problematic future? Do we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s completely possible to share the world with other people, other animals and other plants?

Clearly, we are going to be living the questions. I’ll be there with you, asking away the day.

MORE FROM BRYCE:

HOMEGROWN-bryce-oates-150x150Bryce Oates is a farmer, a father, a writer, and a conservationist in western Missouri. He lives and works on his family’s multi-generational farm, tending cattle, sheep, goats, and organic vegetables. His goals in life are simple: wake up before the sun, catch a couple of fish, turn the compost pile, dig potatoes, and sit by the fire in the evening, watching the fireflies mimic the stars.

PHOTOS: (HIGH TUNNEL RASPBERRIES) RICHARD MAXWELL; (FIELD) RICHARD MAXWELL; (BATTERED BUTTERFLY) TERRESSA ZOOK; (GOATS) ERIC MARSHALL

HOMEGROWN Life: The Gift of Good Rain

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

After months of waiting, worrying and hoping, the clouds finally arrived here at Yellabird Farm last week and brought us the long-sought gift of good rain. It was a great two days of slow and soaking moisture that the cracked soil guzzled up with gusto. Seven inches was the tally. And it has brightened up the spirits of all of us: man, woman, child, goat, chicken, cow, clover, oak tree, frog, songbird. The whole living community around here is crying out with joy.

Just like the Earth breaking from sleep in the spring, this soaking rain has brought the farm back to life. Alfalfa has shot to the sky in the past few days. Many grasses have re-emerged. The dust has settled, at least for now.

The rain even brought up some edible wild mushrooms, a special summer rain treat.

And while the feel-good moisture has perked up life throughout West Missouri, it also leaves me with a lot of questions about how to proceed. If it took a massive slow-moving Hurricane named Isaac to finally quench the thirst of a broad agricultural region, what can the agricultural community do to be more resilient in the face of drought?

I have had a very different set of experiences and education than many of my neighbors. My thirty-five years have been an era of ecological awareness and science-based education. I have even worked as part of the environmental and conservation movement throughout my career. This was my path back to the farm; the path of trying to find the right place for humans to live in and with the world without unnecessarily harming other creatures (human or nonhuman).

It is an outcome of this path that leads me to my greatest fear as a beginning farmer. I’m afraid that the drought we just experienced, followed by massive rain events, could become a more frequent weather pattern due to a changing climate. And the climate is changing partially because of our industrial agriculture practices. We have worked hard for more than a hundred years now to pump additional carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by consuming fossil fuels and using petroleum based fertilizers. We have concentrated our livestock and their manure into greenhouse gas emission factories in the form of feedlots and indoor poultry and pork confinements. Pumping all of that extra gas out into the atmosphere has consequences as the chemical makeup of the air changes. So we shall see what the long-term impacts are.

This is a tricky and sticky discussion because weather is always in flux. Weather is a highly local thing. You simply can’t blame single weather events on increased greenhouse gases. There have always been droughts and hurricanes and floods. But adding up the weather trends over a long period time is what we call climate. And climate, as  anyone looking at the long-term trends can see, is clearly changing. Summers are hotter over broad swaths of  agricultural areas. Summer are also dryer. Plants and pests have shifted their habitats further north (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).

These are the things I see all around me every day on the farm, and they are the core of a worry that I hear too little about in agricultural circles. In the context of a changing climate, how will we practice farming and agriculture? How will we feed ourselves and our communities? These are the questions we will have to struggle with even as  many in the farming community refused to see the problem standing right in front of us.

Bryce Oates is a farmer, father, writer and rural economic development entrepreneur. He works with his family to raise organic vegetables, beef, lamb, chickens, goats and manage the bottomland forest woodlot in Western Missouri. He has helped to launch numerous social enterprises including a sustainable wood processing cooperative, a dairy goat cheese processing facility and a conservation-based land management company that incentivizes carbon sequestration in forests and grasslands. Bryce currently co-owns the Root Cellar Grocery in Downtown Columbia, Missouri, where the local food store operates a weekly produce subscription program, the Missouri Bounty Box (www.missouribountybox.com). Bryce, along with 135 other farmers, sells his produce through this program.