By Julia Linder
I’ve spent a lot of time talking with Michigan farmers this last year. It started simply as data collection for my undergraduate thesis. I wanted to know how Michigan fruit farmers were being affected by climate change and what actions they were using to adapt to these changes.
While I was initially interviewing farmers to understand what they were doing on their farm to adapt to climate change, I ended the project with a better understanding of what I could do to help their farms adapt to climate change. The best place to start is to simply make more connections with your local farmers.
Every time you go to a farmers market, stop at a farm stand, or sign up for a CSA share you are putting a face to the food you eat on a daily basis.
These connections form important community ties that can build social resilience to shocks in the system like climate change. Grocery stores give us a false sense of security. You can buy sweet corn out of season and cherries when local farmers lose their entire crop. But, the reality is that climate change is already impacting farmers in ways that are affecting what they are able to produce.
It is very likely that as climate change progresses, the agricultural landscape will have to change — possibly very drastically. Variable and extreme weather, pests and diseases may lead to blemishes on produce. Sometimes, entire crops may be lost to weather impacts or disease.
Farmers may try new, unknown crops that are more resilient to changes in climate. It is important that farmers know that they have their local community’s support to adapt to these changes and try new things.
You can help build your community’s resilience to these shocks in the system by talking to your local farmers to navigate what is available locally. Ask them why the apples have little frost ring blemishes and why the growing season is late this year. Ask what is available during the winter season, and try things you haven’t tried before. Your local farmers want to have these discussions with their community members because they know simple misunderstandings often prevent people from enjoying their produce.
Writing my undergraduate thesis showed me that no matter how much formal research I did about local agriculture, I would never learn as much as I could by speaking directly with farmers.
This summer I have been lucky enough to continue these conversations with farmers through my internship at Taste the Local Difference. I have been working on a project called “Know Your Farmer,” where I profile a different Michigan farmer each week to help community members connect with their local food system.
I hope these stories have inspired people to get to know their farmers and connect with them in ways they haven’t before. If you want to get to know your farmer, find their stories at http://blog.localdifference.org/category/know-your-farmer.