No Farms, No Food

This week I have had such a privilege. I signed my children up for nature camp this week through our county parks and recreation department. Two hours per morning for the week, led by naturalists, conducted at a nature center, and titled: Creepies and Crawlies. My daughter has been looking forward to learning about these critters all summer. If I’m being totally honest, I’ve been looking forward to the guarantee of two hours a day where I’m not in charge, or playing referee, or helping guide them towards a snack we can all feel good about. I did not expect the impact that his camp would have on me. Yes, it’s been fun to hear them talking about hissing cockroaches, ratsnakes, salamanders, and slugs (well okay, not so much the slugs)… but that’s not what has affected me the most. I have been moved by the drive to and from camp.

Frederick County farm courtesy of Wikipedia

I live in middle Maryland and our area is pretty varied in the sense that we have a small city 2 miles from our home and a great number of reasonably modern developments within 5 miles of that city, but once you get out of that 5 mile ring, it’s pretty much all farms – and an occasional cluster of small stores (bakeries, butchers, barbers and gas stations seem to be the most common) with a four way stop or stoplight. I’ve been floating through the farmland of Frederick County all week, marveling at the hard work and persistence that each field and house represent. It is relentlessly beautiful. Everywhere I look there is life and today, finally, there is rain. Sweet rain. It arrived last night in an avalanche of bluster and booming that forced us to drug the dog (yes, I’m serious) and break out the glowing bracelets I had left from the fourth of July for the kids. They fell asleep in a sweaty tangle in the bunk they chose to share during the storm. I stepped out onto the patio for a moment to catch the smell at the beginning of that storm. A smell I remember well from childhood summers, but that we don’t seem to get all that often anymore. It was glorious.

The rain eventually tapered off a bit, and so I am hopeful that it was gentle enough at some point in the evening to begin to ease conditions for the crops and farmers I’ve been admiring all week. I know one storm will not stem the tide. Today’s fits and starts of gentler rain will need to show a little more staying power to make much difference either. I also know that our situation here in Maryland is nowhere near as dire as it is in so many parts of the country. I am thankful for my neighbors that they haven’t yet had to admit to themselves that this year’s efforts were all for naught. I am heartsick for the farmers of the mid-west and other parts of the U.S. and Canada who are likely to lose their entire crop for the year.

There are a lot of conversations that we can have about this drought, but for the purposes of THIS blog, I want to stick with our guiding principle: eat food, real food. Tomorrow is farm market day in many communities. If you are fortunate enough to have a farmers’ market near you, I urge you to visit. If you live in an area where the farmers are struggling, I implore you to go. See what’s on offer, and support those who work such long days to grow food.

My farm stand haul

The prices at your grocery store are about to go up friends. Most products that come in a can or a box or plastic wrap contain some form of corn and/or soybean oil. Corn is used in the fuel that the trucks use to bring those giant packs of beautiful strawberries from California. Wheat (in some form or another) likely makes up a huge part of your diet (unless you are gluten free). These crops are severely threatened. Prices of processed foods are going to go up. I confess there is a small part of me that is curious about the impact that these price changes could have. Would it be easier for more of us to choose real food if pre-packaged food becomes more expensive? And then I remember the farmers…. I suppose I can work my head around to some long-term gain that might be eeked out of this situation, but if I were looking out at those crops, I would be frightened and heartbroken. And so tomorrow, I shall go to the market. I grow a lot of veggies, but there’s always something that I didn’t manage or that didn’t work out in my garden. I will go find those items and I will talk to our farmers and share with them my concern for them and hope to support them with my grocery budget. I will take those veggies home and eat them in the simplest preparation I can muster so I can taste the life in them, and appreciate the tremendous effort that came from someone else’s hands to help me fill my table.

Click here to find a farm market near you.

More about the drought:
A moving story about the drought’s impact on one farm from Rachel of A Home in College Hill here.
Grist describes why the drought is hardest on small farms here.
NPR shows the progress of the drought here.
The New York Times discusses the breadth and depth of the drought and its economic impacts here. NYT also provides a pretty shocking graphic here.
Click here to get up to date drought info for the United States from the National Integrated Drought Information System

Why the corn and soy crops are important:
USA today covers the trickle down impact of crop failure here.
CNN describes how prevalent corn and soy are in American grocery stores, American pantries, and in American bodies here.