Thursday, July 14, 2011

Crazy Weather and Farm Production

I have been out of California for a while. Driving home, middle of summer, I had the air conditioning on high through Nevada. I drove into the sunny eastern Sierra and once I topped Donner Pass, I looked into a bank of thick black clouds. In July. By the time I got to Sacramento, it was raining cats and dogs. It was still pouring when I arrived home.

How odd, I thought.

The few days before, temperatures were reaching 105 degrees. The days following the rainstorm were, again, hot and sunny. Stifling.

So, how does this unpredictable, unseasonable weather affect our food?

Globally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that there will be, or already are, 30 countries in crisis and in need of external food aid. In January of this year, President Obama readied the military for widespread food rioting that was predicted for the spring. We witnessed the "Arab Spring" that many attributed to a desire for democracy and others to lack of food. In Tunisia,the protests that led to the downfall of the government began after an educated but unemployed 26-year-old man set himself on fire when police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit.

On the home front, our weird weather may mean that cherries split in the late rains, peaches have brown rot, yields are low and what's left in the field and on the trees ripens all at once. The idea of planting for harvest over the entire season is just a memory and things need to get off the farm and onto the shelves fast and now.

As eaters, we may feel like we didn't get enough asparagus or cherries. Did anyone have apricots this year? The harbingers of summer have been less than perfect. Now, plums, plums, plums...and the figs ripen faster than we can eat them. It seems like the tomatoes in my garden have just stopped fruit production and my corn ears -- well, as close as I live to Brentwood, my corn is not an example of that great sweet corn region.

So, as much as I can complain about having too much of one thing and not enough of another, I just keep thinking how hard this must be for farmers. Their lives depend on some measure of predictability and on an expectation of yields. And farmers around our globe are facing unbelievable challenges feeding us.

I'll just keep buying local, whatever is available. At least I have that luxury.

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