I recently finished Bill Mckibben’s newest book, Eaarth. He paints a bleak picture of the new world we’ve created, a planet so wrecked by climate change that it’s hardly the same place anymore: melting ice caps, disappearing forests, near-endless drought in some regions and frequent flooding in others, fiercer storms and other not-so-natural disasters.
Climate change is not something that is going to happen in the future; it’s happening now. And even though it’s destroying lives all over the world, many of us are still sheltered and privileged enough—almost—to pretend it isn’t happening to us. We can read about the devastating drought in the Midwest and the biggest fires on record in California, and even the flooding closer to home that has completely cut off parts of rural Vermont in recent years. But it’s still easy enough to pretend that those things are happening somewhere far away.
Unless you happen to grow food for a living. In which case global warming has become impossible to ignore. The weather is getting weirder, more extreme, less predictable. The past few summers have been some of the hottest I can remember. We’ve had extremely wet springs and wet falls, with long stretches in between without rain. There are pests common in the northeast that simply didn’t exist here two decades ago. Plant diseases appear earlier and stick around for longer. Simply put, wherever you live, it’s getting harder to grow food.
So I’ve been thinking about the future, and how I can meet the coming challenges. Luckily, Bill McKibben doesn’t leave us without any hope. The second half of the book is an inspiring look at what we can do to survive the havoc we’ve caused. We’re going to have to learn how to live in community—real community, the kind that’s resilient and durable. Community built on local economies and supported by local industry. Community that can grow a whole lot of its own food.
Which brings us to a little vegetable farm on two acres of national parkland in Concord. First Root is not at all self-reliant. We buy fertilizer, tools, seed. We use a gas-powered rototiller and plenty of plastic. But if industrial agriculture collapsed tomorrow, we’d still be able to feed all of you. The CSA would go on. Fossil fuels are a part of our system, but they aren’t the heart of if it.
Right now, the barn is overflowing with food: a thousand pounds of onions, nine hundred pounds of potatoes, five huge boxes of garlic. The fields are no less bountiful: hundreds of row feet of rutabaga and turnips and carrots, long green beds of kale and arugula and spinach. This is the food that’s going to get us through the winter. It’s the very definition of security.
All this bounty is also why fall is the most gratifying time to be a farmer. I walk around with this sense of fullness, a gratitude I can feel in my muscles. There’s a wonder that permeates everything I do. We’ve survived the crop loss and the weird weather and the new pests. It hasn’t been easy, but here we are, and look what we have to show for it: the most beautiful golden onions, the deepest purple cabbage, new friendships with our neighbors, kids who care where their carrots come from, the biggest sweet potatoes I’ve ever seen. We still have a lot to learn. But this is what sustenance looks like. This is what resilience looks like. This is something we can build on.
Sometimes, during a CSA pickup, the table overflowing with bounty, kids exclaiming over purple beans or picking out the weirdest-shaped head of cauliflower, chatting with folks about the amazing beet salad they made the other night, or their newest innovation for what to do with all that kale—I get a vision of a possible future. It’s a future where the things we’ve always taken for granted are gone, but where our connections, to each other and to the land, are deeper and more rewarding. It’s a future where that sense of fullness, that deep gratitude, is something all of us feel in our bones, because we’ve worked together to create it.