Field Notes: Climate Change

As I turned up the driveway to the farm two Sundays ago, I stared down the face of climate change in the form of several fields flooded out, the product of 4 inches of rain in a single day (the majority of it within a couple hours).

This, along with rising temperatures, seems to be the defining aspect of climate change in the Midwest: the same amount of annual precipitation occurring in harder rainfalls that can erode, flood, and scour with far more force than more frequent lesser rainfalls. In turn, in between massive rainfalls there are far more periods of minor drought–for instance, it has rained 0.4” since that epic rainfall, with very little rain currently in the forecast for us this week.

2018 gave us the wettest May in Chicago on record. 2019 broke that record. 2020 then broke that record again. This is, statistically speaking, far from normal. Farmers throughout the Midwest, of all political and social stripes, know that–whether we are farming on 5,000 acres in Iowa, 500 square feet in St. Louis, or this humble 60-acre property in suburban Chicagoland.       Farmers, though, are all about the future. We have our ear to the ground and our eyes on the rain gages.

At its heart, good farming, to me, is essentially an act of listening and responding; a conversation with both community and crops.

Our responses this year, in particular, include intercropping cover crops between beds of vegetables, utilizing lighter equipment for cultivation, choosing fields differently for the spring, and a larger staff.

In order, the effect of these responses is to dry out fields from record rainfalls (and conserve water when drought comes), allow us to work fields in wetter soil than a tractor could get into, avoid flooding and disease pressure in particularly susceptible spring crops, and, when field conditions are appropriate, get the work done faster.

Climate change takes its toll by putting stress on systems, both environmental and economic. Having open space in the middle of suburban Naperville eases the stress of the surrounding environment by capturing a ton of water and slowing its flow down to the often-flooded DuPage River. Farming the open space sustainably gives an economic incentive to create more open space.

Utilizing appropriate methods to farm this land also reduces stress on the social systems of the farm and community. Having been able to cultivate more in the past weeks and not having crops in the fields that tend to flood makes the farm crew a lot less stressed out.

After all, the soaring temperatures that came after the hard rain made it clear: we don’t have too much time to stress about what we can’t control. The party of summer and the ensuing parade of summer produce is nearly here. I, for one, can’t wait. Summer on a farm is a time of incredible abundance, hard work, and indescribable joy. The climate may be changing, but the deep-seated joy of connectedness experienced in sustainable farming shows no signs of changing or fading.

In addition to supporting our farming methods, there are a lot of ways you can do little things to ease climate change, whether it’s using native plants in your home or business landscape, putting rain gardens in, or even installing a rain barrel.  Explore this website for more information and ideas!  Be sure to check out our recent webinar series for some more in-depth educational opportunities as well.

Written by Jason Halm, Green Earth Harvest Farm Manager

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