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From the Frontlines: Notes from young farmers in the face of the climate crisis

The climate crisis is the greatest threat facing agriculture today. 

As farmers, our livelihood is the land, and that puts us on the frontlines of the climate crisis. 

As young farmers in particular, we are grappling with the onset of the climate crisis as a warning sign of what will come to define our lives. 

“Dramatic weather changes – we’ve had two flood event years in a row, with what is usually a 5 year flood event. We have an approximately 90 day growing season that was cut short on August 10th by frost the last two years in a row. In the winter, we’re getting challenging freeze/thaw cycles. If you’ve left anything in the ground, it’s going to be damaged.” – Tiffany Traverse, 4th Sister Farm

“What it’s forcing us all to recognize is that whether we want to or not, we’re all going to have to start shifting our practices to adapt to a hotter, dryer climate.” – Michael Abbott, Blue Grouse Winery

“The climate crisis affects me deeply because the insecurities around what things will look like year-to-year is pretty up in the air. Just in the five or six years that I’ve been farming, I’ve noticed a lot of changes especially with tried and true indications of when to plant things, when things will be ready – that’s seeming to shift every year. It just makes everything a lot more uncertain as far as how I make my livelihood.” – JJ, Flora and Fungi Farm

“Changes in weather patterns are hard to predict – so how do you maintain a livelihood on something that’s so fragile? You just have to have so much faith that something else is going to work out. Your ability to spin in another direction, to be able to think on your feet all the time, it’s really amped up for farmers.” – Ashala Daniels, Solstedt Organics

“I’m looking at trends and what’s going to happen in the future to decide where I’m going to farm.” – Kevin, Kelowna Free Graze Lamb

“I don’t really see a circumstance where my future in farming won’t be interfered with by climate issues.” – Cara Legault, young farmer

The climate crisis is already narrowing our limited choice of land, interfering with crop planning, raising questions about water security, intensifying seasonal damage and forcing expensive adaptive measures. 

As if farming isn’t hard enough by itself, farming in a climate crisis is a herculean task. We know that elsewhere in the world, it’s becoming impossible. 

“Currently in the Caribbean, which is where my lineage comes from, it’s hurricane season. There have been devastating hurricanes, some of the highest on record. Farming is something that those people are not able to do right now. There’s a massive amount of privilege to be able to farm and have it as something that can bring me a living as opposed to something that would mean surefire poverty at home.” – Alisha, Legacy Growers Collective

For all the present and looming impacts of the climate crisis on agriculture, you’d think young farmers would be leading the charge for immediate action on climate – and we want to be. To the extent that we can, young farmers are leading from the land and changing our practices to reduce emissions.

But the climate crisis is just one of many disturbing trendlines facing young farmers today

Sky-rocketing debt, plunging income, the corporate takeover of agriculture and financialization of land – farming is in a full-blown livelihood crisis, with many young farmers facing unendurable pressures to exit. It’s hard to take more climate action in the midst of an economic pummelling. 

However, there is hope. 

The farm crisis and the climate crisis share many of the same causes, and that means they can share many of the same solutions.
Over the last 100 years, agriculture has re-structured itself towards a maximum-input, maximum output model of production. In a federally directed effort to elicit the highest possible yields, farmers have contended with rising costs of inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals and seeds. As a result, transnational agribusiness corporations now capture 95% of farm incomes and agriculture is pumping out more emissions than ever before. 

 

High-input max-output agriculture is screwing farmers and the planet.

“Two things happen when farmers become overdependent on petro-industrial inputs: emissions go up, and incomes go down. Reducing input use, a key part of the solution to the climate crisis, is also the solution to the farm crisis.” – Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis, National Farmers Union 2019

To learn more about ‘Tackling the Farm Crisis and the Climate Crisis’, read the full NFU report at nfu.ca/climate. 

The bottom line is that if we act now, we can leverage the immensity and immediacy of the climate crisis to save the future of farming as well as the future of the planet. 

We can create a farming future that re-integrates social and ecological systems through the combination of modern innovation and timeless traditional practices — while increasing the number of farmers on the land and recovering net income levels. This is both possible and necessary. 

“In this historical moment, as the physics of our atmosphere and climate system force us to reduce energy use and emissions, farm families have a chance, perhaps the last we will ever have, to break free from the corporations that extract our wealth, decimate our numbers, endanger our farms, indebt our futures, weaken our communities, and force our children to leave their farms.” – NFU 2019

From the frontlines of the farm and climate crises, the way forward is clear – the fights for viable futures for young farmers and a livable future on our planet are one and the same

There’s going to be an overhaul of our agricultural system as climate change starts taking hold. Supporting small agriculture in our regions today is going to have a longterm benefit for our general food sustainability in BC and Canada.” – Michael Abbott, Blue Grouse Winery

“The biggest thing that we are dependent on as farms is weather, our livelihood and everybody’s food system supply is dependent on a stable climate. That impacts everybody, not just us as an industry, but everyone that eats.” – Gemma, Zaklan Heritage

There is zero way to separate farming and climate change. That comes down to that connection with land again, and to bring it from my indigenous lens, everything is connected. To think that they aren’t, or to try to disconnect them, is the reason why we’re in this issue.” – Tiffany Traverse, 4th Sister Farm

Stay tuned for our final installation of this blog series!

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