The flooding from Hurricane Irene devastated Vermont. I am grateful to share that we were high and dry in Winooski, spared from the intense flooding that other communities dealt with. Other communities were not so lucky, with widespread damages in the central and southern portions of the state. This was an extraordinary and unusual weather event in Vermont. It is also part of a pattern of extraordinary and unusual weather events (or, as some say, Global Weirding). This pattern is not something that I see people discussing with regularity. The mainstream media reports on the weirdness, but doesn’t ever make connections from the 100 year floods in Australia to Vermont. It’s like we hear about the dots, but never on the full picture. Thankfully, there are people that are speaking up and making the connection.
People like Andy Jones, the farmer at the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington. I have been a member of the CSA program at this farm for four seasons. I can say, without hesitation, that being a member of the CSA has changed my life. I eat more vegetables. I have had to learn how to prepare and/or save big quantities of vegetables. I have been able to pick part of my “share” each week from the fields, taking some time to connect with the land and the food that I will eat for the upcoming week. It is a wonderful thing to have fresh organic veggies each week. I have come to enjoy the surprise of finding out what we are getting in our shares each week, knowing that I will have to be creative when I cook things that are new and foreign to me (like kohlrabi!). I have also come to be more connected with my food supply, and the challenges inherent in providing fresh food in the New England climate as it becomes more weird. I have come to learn that, even though I love strawberries and want to eat them early in the summer, if something bad happens during the growing season there will be no strawberries.
Earlier this year, for example, we had flooding that destroyed a fair bit of the early crops. Andy and the team of farmers at the Intervale worked overtime to plant things that would fill out our shares and make up for vegetables that we lost (we lost strawberries, we gained kohlrabi). We then had a drought for a good three week period. The drought is not as hard on the farm here as the flooding, as the farmers can always add water to the fields manually. I didn’t ever think about something like this 5 years ago.
When Irene hit, and the flooding reports started rolling in, I immediately thought about the food supply. This isn’t a thought I ever would have had before joining the CSA. Previously, I would have just continued on with my life after the worst of the rain and flooding was over, knowing that the supply of food to the supermarket is immune to such problems (In reality this isn’t true, it just seems like it is because we haven’t yet had large-scale interruptions in our industrial food system). I wouldn’t have skipped a beat in my vegetable shopping habits.
The flooding hit the Intervale hard. Most of the fields were completely covered in flood water. Volunteers rushed down the day after to harvest as much as possible. The flooding came the day after the flood, with sunny and clear skies above. Check out this time-lapse video that was taken by the good people at Digger’s Mirth farm in the Intervale to see what it looked like, if you can stomach it. The flooding starts at about the 1:44 minute mark. All of the food that wasn’t harvested needed to be plowed under if it was touched by the flood. This resulted in tons (literally) of food being lost. Our CSA ended this week, about a month early. The winter version of the CSA was also cancelled. I know that the farm will persevere and that Vermont farmers are a hearty lot, but this was a serious blow.
So our share ended early, and we missed out on the spectacular fall harvest. With a CSA, you pay up front and you share the bounty and the risk with the farmers. Generally we get a good bit of food more than we would for the same amount of money at a market. This year it worked out to be about even. It is a blow to lose the vegetables that we were counting on for the next month, but we will make it work. The important thing to me is the connection that I feel to what I am eating and the people that are providing that food.
I am deeply grateful for this. I know my farmers, and I know how much it pains them to have to plow food under, cancel fall pickups and the winter share, and start trying to get the fields ready for the next growing season. I know that these weird weather events are connected, and that there is the very real possibility that my food system is in danger. I know that Andy is one of the only people that I have seen talk about this with the media, in this story in the Burlington Free Press. I share his concerns. It is a melancholy feeling to end early – but we press on. I will be signed up for the CSA again next spring, ready to share the risk and the reward with the farmers that have dedicated their lives to providing healthy food to Burlington residents.