Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

                On Monday, October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy made landfall sometime in the evening, and ravaged and raged for many hours over night. As a result, a torrent of eight inches of rain fell amidst the constant pummeling of high velocity wind gusts. The farm was devastated. Trellises were toppled, row covers ripped apart and fertile organic farm soil became a swamp. And thus the story is repeated…
                Last year, on August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene visited the farm and left it without power for five days. Then, on September 5, 2011, Tropical Storm Lee visited… alright… devastated the farm pouring 11.5 inches of rain over the course of five days. That was a two week span of time I am certain I will never forget.
                When Hurricane Sandy approached, I was not all that worried about a power outage, but said nothing regarding it. The memory of Hurricane Irene’s winds still lingered in my mind, which to me meant that most of the limbs and trees that were prone to falling fell last year. Again, I did not want to jinx the situation so I said nothing. As a result, we did not lose power, which was actually a great relief.
                What struck me as most important about Hurricane Sandy was the amount of rainfall we would receive. The predictions had our area receiving anywhere from 3-4 inches to 12 plus. The memory that most hurt from last year was the flooding following Tropical Storm Lee. Oh how I hoped the predictions were wrong! Alas, they were not!

Eight inches fell on the farm leaving a flooded mess. For two consecutive years, our area has been wind-beaten and deluged by hurricanes and a tropical storm. What are the odds? Actually I know that answer. It has never happened before. And with the size and scope of Hurricane Sandy, along with the destruction as a result, these “new” events are becoming quite alarming!
Early on in my farming career, I noticed how few farmers grew into the fall, as in, specifically targeted the fall for growing. Most farmers ended their season with summer and waited for the next year. Instead of that approach, an entire other grow season is available in the fall. All one has to do is some more seeding and cultivating for the most part, and peas, spinach and lettuce will return during the cooler months. And I found that the work required was less than in the spring or summer because most of the pests, including the weeds, die back during the colder months. So, for years, I have enjoyed the pleasant cooler months for the fall harvest.
That was over ten years ago, however, and as of recent, in particular, the last two years, the fall has been a very difficult season in which to grow. Up until now, I had not mentioned the six inches of snow that fell on October 29 of last year, an unprecedented amount for that early in the fall. As a result of these weather extremes that are becoming all too common, I have had to readdress my approach to fall farming. It simply is not what it used to be.
And this leads me to the larger point, those dreaded terms, “global warming” and “climate change”. While I consider my approach to farming “scientific”, I am not a scientist who has researched into the reality of “global warming” and “climate change”. What I do know is that weather event after weather event has become vastly more extreme of recent years than anything recorded in our past. There is a current “belief” that these environmental changes are unproven, false, etc., and yet the great, great majority of scientists who actually study the field state that the evidence is clear, due to human excessive release of carbon into the air, the average temperature on the earth is rising. The result of the rising temperature, along with the melting ice caps, etc. is that the weather systems are increasing in strength.
Again, I personally have no proof of “global warming” and “climate change” other than witnessing/experiencing the current stream of weather extremes. And my intention is not to stage an argument on something so important to the future of all life on the planet. No, I will leave that aside.
Actually, I have digressed from my intention, which was to reveal how “global warming” and “climate change” will greatly affect a farmer’s ability to, well, farm in the… actually… today! Farming, to a degree is becoming more and more like a crap shoot rather than the meticulously planned growing cycle it actually is, for me at least. The problem is that a farmer cannot plan on a hurricane, since it is not known in advance. In the past when such large storms happened every twenty years or so, the farmers “took their chances” for a good year, realizing that sometimes a year will be struck with a hurricane, etc. If such extreme weather continues then farmers will be relegated to gambling.
Each crop requires expenses from seeds to labor and tools and irrigation and much, much more. When events such as hurricanes, tropical storms and unseasonable snow storms fall upon the farm, they do not do so without incurring damage, which translates somewhere down the line into money loss. If extreme weather is no longer something that happens every twenty years or so, but can happen back to back, there will be little difference between farming and gambling. Oh, except that if one actually wins at gambling often big stakes are the result. In farming it is a pittance.
In my years farming, I have witnessed quite a few local farms attempt to farm organically, and the great majority have failed. The importance of eating organic food seems to have grown exponentially, but actually only the awareness has. IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT TO EAT ORGANIC FOOD! With the new frequency of extreme weather events it is going to become more and more difficult to provide the fresh, local organic produce desired. And that is a frustrating fact.
But all is not lost. There are ways to get around most of the weather extremes, albeit they are costly. Such things as greenhouses can protect against these fierce storms. There are ways to further secure crops in the fields… even against snow. Again, it all comes down to costs, which does not clear the way for cheap fresh, local organic produce anytime soon. Nonetheless, we will keep trying.