This growing season has been an incredible test of the spirits and ambitions of the farmers scattered across the Southeastern United States. The ample rain turning quickly into saturation and finally, over saturation, has limited our sunshine, brought about ideal conditions for parasites, fungi, and diseases, made certain crops flavorless, and even caused devastating floods which wash away weeks of hard labor, topsoil, and the dollar value of anything planted in the path of the surging water. When crops sit in soil where their feet (roots) are always wet, they tend to weaken and rot at the level of the soil and below, their cell walls are filled and sometimes burst from the Turgor pressure of the excess water and the plants become overly lush, a condition that makes them easy to chew on if you are a sneaky little beetle or invade if you are a disease or fungus. The consistent rainfall cuts down on the amount of time pollinators are able to do their jobs and can even kill off crucial soil biology necessary for the proper breakdown and dispersal of nutrients from the soil to the plant roots.
Excess rain also limits the amount of time a farmer is able to work their soil. If using a tractor or a draft horse, a roto-tiller or your own brute strength, a farmer has a limited window between showers where the soil is of the proper consistency to till, spade, double dig, or disk. If soil is worked when it is too wet, the soil structure is compromised and the result is a nasty hardpan that dries and does not allow for the proper percolation of rain during the next storm. This means that the water washes across the top of the soil, which can perpetuate erosion and leave your plants high and dry during times when rain is less frequent, in soil that is slowly losing its nutrition. You know what loves lots of rain though? Weeds.
On top of all of these issues, the rain also presents a problem when the farmer is attempting to market these products they are tirelessly attempting to salvage and sell. A rainy day at the local Farmers Market not only means hours of standing out in the rain, but it also means a lower turn out of market shoppers who, like the farmers, would rather not go out early in the morning or after a long day of work and get soaked or chilled. A lower number of market shoppers means an even lower number of sales, which subtracted along with the subtractions of crop failures can begin to deduct quite a large amount of the gross income of the operation. This loss of income makes it more difficult to cushion the following season, generating a cycle of loss which is difficult to catch up from.
While the pain of this season can be felt every time I look out the window and see those persistent little drops, this is all a part of the beauty and the beast of a local food system. When you look at the situation from a very broad sense, the increase in rainfall has helped eliminate the threat of drought that has had its claws in the Southeast for a number of years. As you get closer to the mechanisms of the local farms themselves, it is obvious that our foodway is hurting and it needs your help. Obviously as a customer, volunteer, or advocate we couldn’t ask for you to slow the rains to the perfectly timed storms we all dream about at night (or can we??) Being realistic, there is never a season without challenge and we wouldn’t want it that way. What we can ask for is for your support during this time of great stress and uncertainty.
Ever had that funny feeling in your belly like you wanted to go out and work on the farm? (It’s okay, this is a safe space to admit it and others are doing it.) July 2013 is the perfect time to act on those passionate feelings. Get your boots out, get your rain gear on, and get yourself some mud on your brow. Just go through your facebook feed and find that farm that seems to be feeling it the hardest and make the first move. If you don’t have the time for hands-on aid, then maybe the most important thing you can do for your local foodway right now is to buy local food. Go to the Farmers Market of your choice and buy what you need. Buy what you need for the week. Plan out your meals and bring a list with you. Go to several farmers and lay your money down for some of the best food available to you. Buy spontaneously. Go to the Farmers Market with no idea what you want to cook and make it up as you go. Tell your friends to go with you. Guilt them into it. Take your next hot date to the Farmers Market and spice things up with some locally grown hot peppers or some sexy heirloom tomatoes.
The beauty and the beast of the local foodway is a complex relationship whose integrity we are all responsible for. It takes every single localvore and farmer to make this magic happen and during times of hardship, we all have to contribute the very best of ourselves to see it through. The layers of this food community are all connected and we all have a role to play in its success. While it is my role to push through these storms, meet the challenge and become better as a farmer for my sake, for the sake of the farm ecosystem, and for the sake of my reliable customers, it is the role of the customer to meet me with flexibility and support. The rainstorms of 2013 have been the beast this year and those who come out every weekend to the market rain or shine to support those that grow their food; there are few things on this planet more beautiful than them. See y’all at market.