On the Edge of the Storm, Farming and Looking Forward
We rode out the storm, and the farm is mostly intact. In the end, Hurricane Florence turned to the south, and our farm was right on the edge of the outer bands of the storm. There were gusty winds and three days of rain but nothing devastating. Many farms east and south of us, however, have flooded fields and face huge losses. That could be us, next time.
During the storm, I couldn't help but think about our new land and the farm we plan to build there. We know there will be more storms like this one-or worse-in the future, so how can we plan for them from the start? How can we make our farm more resilient against torrential rain and big wind- or extreme drought, for that matter?
To start, we can invest in our soil. Rich, biologically alive soil can handle extreme weather events far better than average soil. It acts as a sponge, absorbing heavy rainfall, and holding onto more water during droughts. To build up the soil on our new land, we're looking at bringing in 10 dump trucks full of compost this fall to add to new beds before planting next year. I repeat, 10 DUMP TRUCKS. And that's just for the first half-acre!
Growing more crops in hoop houses is another low-tech way to protect plants and soil from storms. High winds can be a problem for hoop houses, so you have to make them sturdy. We've had so many washouts and so much soil erosion this year from heavy thunderstorms that we're looking to build as many hoop houses as we can on the new land-enough to cover half of our growing area.
We can also work on building a more resilient business. If we were growing sweet potatoes for the wholesale market, we might look at a flooded field and see our entire year's income floating away. But instead, as a CSA farm, we're growing more than 40 different crops, and we can afford to lose a few of them to crop failure or storms. By selling directly to our customers, moreover, we're building a customer base that has a better understanding of the challenges of organic farming in this climate. Our CSA members have a deeper relationship to the farm and share in our risk. You can think of a CSA as a form of crop insurance: our members want our farm to be here in the future and to continue to feed them, and they know we can't have blue skies all the time.
Last, but very much not least, we can build resilience in our community. This past week, everyone's been noticeably kinder and more generous than usual. Folks are generally pretty friendly around here, but the storm seems to have brought out the best in us. Countless people have offered to help us out on the farm. In times like these, we realize that you can't ride out a storm or recover from it alone. If only that feeling could linger after the storm-and if we could actively cultivate that community and get to know our neighbors better before the next one-then we could all face future storms with less fear.