Climate change is here and it is affecting our food supply.

By robshepler on Sat, Aug 25, 2018 - 7:10am

I can’t run with the greatest of minds here at Peak Prosperity but I read and learn from them without commenting. Where I can comment is on our long journey to learn how to grow food for us as well as others. 

We have a “market garden” and we now run the local farmers market, this has been a ten year journey to become a producer.

Having just read Chris’s latest two part, we are preparing too and it is less a gut feeling than a stark realization. Climate change is upon us and it is affecting us this year in tangible ways.  Two of our market growers have been hailed out already this year, one had seedling failure due to the heat. We were brushed by a super cell and lost all of our lettuce, much of the rest of our garden was damaged but is working its way back.  Food in the future just might be a big deal.

Frankly I am spooked.

We have been adding high tunnels (hoop houses) every year and yet we still have about a half acre that is very exposed to our changing climate.

The weather is weird this year, instead of a steady monsoon season we have alternating highs and lows that are both scorching hot or drenching wet and cold. It has been hot enough that our tomatoes and cucumbers (both in high tunnels) will not set fruit until it cools a bit. This is a new, this has not happened in the last five years that we have been selling at market.

I worked in the packaging industry for 25 years and as a commissioned sales guy I focused on food producers to become somewhat recession proof. The “just in time” system of our food production is just amazing, our truck would be unloading our packaging onto the line as finished product was being loaded for shipment in the next bay.

The stark reality to me is there are only three days worth of food on the shelf at the retail level. The time to learn how to grow food is not when you need to.

I participate in some online market grower groups, these are amazing intelligent folks that have mastered the growing of multiple crops organically. My queries about their plans for coping with climate change have not produced replies. This is a global group of over ten thousand members. I have to think that we are woefully unprepared when it comes to our food.

As a grower we are looking ahead to our winter “vacation” and planning to add hail structures to the rest of our garden as well as planning new fruit tree plantings under high tunnels. Most of the structures we are looking at come from other countries. The US is way behind most of the world in controlled environment growing. The cost of adding these structures will probably exceed the annual income of the market garden below it. It is our own food security that we think about as we ponder the expense.

The Wal-mart effect has hit our growers, the dollar is way up against most currencies and we are importing most of the veggies that we consume in this country. The Farm Safety Modernization Act will add cost and a raft of paperwork to what we do, some small growers have quit in defiance.

We are now shopping for winter hay and in some cases feed has almost doubled. Climate change? The cost of diesel fuel? Hard to tell but we have plans to cut our grass fed beef herd by two thirds before winter. Maybe our egg layers too.

We have gained a USDA growing zone in the ten years we have been here, we are taking out some of our hundred year old heirloom apple trees to make way for peaches. It is getting hotter and we are doing our best to look into the future.

We are a model sustainable farm according to the NRSC, we generate a lot of our inputs on site. The source of our composted material comes mostly from the hay we bring in from the outside, the cows happily help break it down. We do augment our pastured layers with organic feed and then compost the nightly deposits. I wonder about our sustainability as there a lot of imbedded energy in the feed we buy. To truly be sustainable and grow without our purchased inputs my guess is that our output would fall by half in a few years.

Our favorite tree nursery in California has cut way back on the number of peach varieties that they will produce this year. According to them the hot ticket is almonds, the California growers are pulling fruit trees and planting almonds as they can be mechanically harvested. Farm labor is almost impossible to find at this point, and don’t we know it.

Limits To Growth (pardon the pun)

The strong dollar and expensive labor have made it very easy to import a lot of our fresh food.

The average age of the average farmer in the US is now 60.

The high cost of farmland coupled with a high rate of student loans makes entry for the next generation difficult.

Just when our growers need to be investing in infrastructure for a new climate, our globalized food makes returns on investment look pretty bad.

Drought and water, if you can’t water it, it won’t grow.

Floods and water, too much water is a very real problem to growers, really as bad as or worse than drought.

Peak oil, food is highly impacted by the cost of oil with 10 calories of fuel (or more) needed for every calorie of food.


I will admit to being an addict. I am addicted to food, without three fixes a day I get grumpy. 


This has been a very physical journey and my Wife and I have done it and lived it together. Because of what we do we have found our place in this new community, we are the providers of good food and health. Folks just show up to pull weeds not expecting pay and refuse the food we offer in exchange. We drop what we are doing and give farm tours on a moments notice, we sponsor rows in the garden for kids who want to learn how to grow. They are the true stars at the market and sell out before anyone else.

It is a great life we have earned, and yet I fear for our ability to continue to produce at this high level. Economic uncertainty brought us down this road to our own food security. This year climate change has me very worried about our ability to continue to produce. It took us ten years to set up the infrastructure and to learn enough to produce a significant amount of food. The cold hard fact is, my family will eat before those customers who paid for our high tunnels.

Food, water, shelter. Food is the one that has me worried this year as the affects of climate sneak up on me. Get good at growing your own food, be responsible for your own food security. Your growers have trouble ahead, this one is pretty spooked by what may be coming.


Tude's picture
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thank you

Thank you for writing this. I have no answers, but I hear you. I have no farming experience and live in the SF Bay Area, but I have so many of the same feelings as you. I have started growing anything and everything I can think of for the past few years, and have been working very hard to turn my black thumb green. Something inside myself just said, start growing. I don't have a lot, but my beginning permaculture garden has allowed me to start providing neighbors with bags of fruits and vegetables, and start expanding my connections to the community.

Every day I wonder if I should stay here and be a positive contributer to this community, knowing the very real dangers, or if I should cash out and move to a smaller and more sustainable community. Knowing what we know and figuring out what to do is extrememely difficult.

Thank you for sharing. You're not alone.

Bytesmiths's picture
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Considered Perennial Polyculture?

Have you considered looking into perennial polyculture? Check out Mark Shepard's Restoration Agriculture.

You are certainly, absolutely right that climate change is going to change everything. But I think our best fighting chance is perennials and diversity. Although we have a 3,600 sqft high tunnel, I feel a bit guilty to be so dependent on it, as it is a petroleum product. Outside the greenhouse, all our tomatoes succumbed to late blight last year. We managed to save the greenhouse by making everyone change shoes and clothing after being in the outdoor garden.

Here in southwest British Columbia (the "banana belt" of Canada), we are not seeing the extensive climate change that you seem to be experiencing. We're having a good year, but have been troubled by different pests than before.

I hope you can hang in there until The Great Reversal™, at which point, you won't be competing with global producers any more.

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Food Security

Thanks to Rob Shepler for focusing our attention on the increasing adverse affects of climate change on our critical food supply.  Here in Virginia, we are also experiencing more weather extremes.  Last winter was milder than usual (with almost no snow or prolonged cold to kill insect populations), and this summer has been unusually mild and wet (making it difficult for cultivating grapes and heat-related crops like tomatoes).  Last year our crops were decimated by Japanese beetles, and oddly this year the annual onslaught never appeared.  As other insects and animals are dependent upon the timing of cyclical hatchings as a food source, the consequences are of yet unknown.

We are also desirous of installing greenhouses for year-round, controlled environment production of agriculture - but the cost are very expensive, cannot be financially justified, and therefore very difficult to find investors.  With inexpensive food prices paid to the producers, local farmers simply cannot compete with imported (California and Central/South America) agriculture from large producers.  Nonetheless, we are pursuing greenhouse production for food security because, as Rob noted, at least my family and friends will be able to eat.

Another important topic not expressed in this thread is the long, painful learning curve in producing food.  You just can't read a book and become an expert in gardening - it takes a lifetime of experience (usually learned from mistakes of losing your crop).  If you wait until you need to learn, you will be too late.

Thanks to Rob and the others in the vanguard of providing food security for their local communities!

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Thoughts on climate change & farming & people & food

When the trucks stop running, it will take all of our efforts to feed ourselves.  I was a weekend backyard gardener for 25+ years, and grew a lot of food, but still bought food at the grocery store.  For the past four years, I have been a market gardener.  I grow on a 4-acre plot of land within the city limits of our small community.  Vegetables, laying hens, meat birds, and cold-hardy fruits (apples, rhubarb, raspberries, sour cherries...)  It's a LOT of work.  

If our society slides into collapse (as it is currently doing, IMO), we'll reach a point where UBI & unemployment & other social constructs are moot.  Without fossil fuel inputs, we have no way to feed all of our people.  NO WAY.  Even our small organic farms requires offsite inputs, as Rob Shepler points out.  Plastic sheeting for the high tunnels, diesel for the small tractor (which we use as little as possible), grain for the chickens, electricity for fans in a greenhouse...  Without offsite energy inputs, we will all be working very hard to feed ourselves.  No one will be sitting around waiting to be paid and fed.  It will take all of us doing everything we can to grow enough to feed everyone.

Some of us will be farther ahead on the knowledge curve and with infrastructure spending.  Investing in deer fencing, high tunnels, solar pumping systems, raised beds, chicken houses, processing equipment, soil, etc takes time and money.  I completely missed out on the latest stock market rally, choosing to invest in this farm instead.  In four years of non-stop hard work, my farm has yet to turn a profit when measured in standard accounting terms.  But how many people have been influenced to also grow their own food?  How many people are healthier because of our nutrient-dense foods?  How many birds & bugs & critters are thriving because we don't spray ANY chemicals on our farm?   

Farming this way is fun.  It's hard work.  The feedback from my community at the farmers' market is uplifting and gratifying, and meets an innate human need for connection that I never understood in my BAU engineering job.  

The system is currently stacked against small farms and market gardens (in spite of all those YouTube videos about making $350,000 per year on half an acre - yeah, right).  Many farmers will continue to lose money or eke out a marginal existence as we continue struggling to compete with imported produce and processed food ("edible food-like substances").  But if we don't build the infrastructure and learn to farm NOW, when the trucks stop running it will be too late.

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South East BC, Food Gardening, Climate Change

Once again I savor a spectacular cuppa organic fair trade coffee, listen to a fabulously creative piece of music also from the other side of the world, and read your thoughts at PP.  I'm a working class woman with an income just below the poverty level, and still my life is a wonder of riches no king knew a few generations ago. What I mean to say is, this planet has been extraordinarilly good to me and my kind.

Every day I go for a long swim in the sensory overload that is our lake.  She gives me soundscapes and color drenches that stop the mind and drop me into a deeper place, where the heart works hard to be open enough to even behold.  What I mean to say is that a lifetime in this place is a gift beyond measure.  The water billows and sings, different and addictive each day, with me bouyant, suspended, an honorary water creature for as long as I can take the cold.  She talks about real things: what ancient means, that dependence is real, that she is also ice, and vapor, and that long term drought is the end of life as I've known it.  (And of course she always talks about beauty, that rare and specific beauty that is water on Earth).

We've had no rain since the end of June.  Last night it tried, and we got a few drops.  BC is on fire.  We are exporting smoke across the country.  I have not seen a blue sky in well over a month. Today I can't see the local mountains.  We breathe smoke.  No choice.

Before the smoke, the garden was galloping along.  Some plants still are - unstoppable winter squashes with their huge leaves, cabbages, baby kales, zukes.  But tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, baby plants, anything that needs heat and light is SOL, not growing, not ripening.  The nights are COLD (this is August).  The water is cold.  My tiny local produce business will not be able to deliver to my most lucrative customer, because the lettuce they want in a few weeks simply won't grow until the sun comes back.

Yes, like you other food producers, I grapple with how this changed and changing climate is going to affect my food, and my business. 

But the bigger story is hitting me harder, every day, every swim, every bleary, grey sunrise: what does all this mean for this pearl of the known universe, the biosphere of this age of the Earth?  I deeply, desperately hope to be wrong, but it kind of looks like the wheels are falling off her climate now.  This means she not be able to support the Earth life that we know.  It is profoundly disorienting, not knowing how much more polar ice will disappear next year, whether or not there will be bees, if the creek that supports our 26 households will finally run dry as it keeps almost doing in these rainless summers.  I am not depressed.  There is too much deep wonder here for that, no matter what comes next.  There is a responsibilty to celebrate what has been given, and to love what is loved, body, heart and soul (too bad our busy brains can't remember what we love).  But call me stone cold sober.

Matt Holbert's picture
Matt Holbert
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Similar hazy conditions in Spokane

herewego- As you might imagine we have similar conditions in Spokane. Thanks to the haze and smoke we have not seen blue sky for 6 weeks or so. It has definitely affected the garden. While our peppers, raspberries, and blackberries seem to be doing well, almost everything else is suffering or not setting fruit at all. While it may not be a lack of sunlight, we have a variety of butternut (purchased from Baker Creek) that appears to only have male blossoms.

Here is a link to a germaine article:

Just curious... Do you know Glada McIntyre?


herewego's picture
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Thanks for the link Matt

I hadn't realized how long geoengineering has been underway, or at least has been tested.  I'm sure that will just fix everything.  frown

Happier news - it finally started to rain today.  It's very light, and will not stop fires, and is not really clearing the air, but I'll take it.  Hope you got some too.

I haven't met Glada McIntyre. 

Time for another rain dance!

PS I had one squash plant that couldn't muster female blossoms for severeal weeks, but eventually did.  I guess it's too late for yours....

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Produce safety after urban wildfire


Another result of climate change is the fouling of our soil, watersheds and food from smoke fallout.  I live in Santa Rosa, and am a backyard gardener.  I was very concerned about the safety of eating produce from my garden or the eggs from backyard chickens after our mammoth fires last October. I attended an excellent day of Post Fire lectures sponsored by the University of California Extension Department this past Friday .  One of the lectures were the prelimary findings of three UC Davis MPHs who looked at polyaromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals (Hg, Cd, Al, Pb, etc.) and dioxins in  200 washed and unwashed leafy greens taken from two sites deemed to have been contaminated by smoke fallout as per analysis of one months air quality data for a month during and post fire.  

The prelimary findings are surprisingly good.  Some evidence of elevated furan (from dioxins/burning plastics) but were still considered low/safe for human consumption; two unwashed samples were mildly elevated in nickel.  PAHs were a little unclear, as the reporting limits of the testing lab were apparently too high to be useful...the researchers did not go into details.  They are in phase two now: doing soil testing to see what got deposited in the soil. It is not a perfect study, as no access to  pre fire samples to establish a baseline, but I as impressed by the study design and the large number of samples tested. 


These researchers are not directly involved in the UC Davis backyard chicken egg research, which is lookign at fat soluble persistant organic pollutants in yolks of foraging backyard chickens statewide. But, they are in conversation with that research group and mentioned they have no concerns about feeding free range eggs to their children in Sonoma county.  I also spoke to a representative form our local Water Agency and they are monitering the health of Lake Sonoma which is the source of drinking water for quarter of million people.  They have not formally published their data yet, but also no significant spike in heavy metals, etc into the lake they can detect.  


Here are some resource links:

greendoc's picture
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A couple more resources for the folks in the dry West.

I am "plowing" through (actually, no, as I am no-till practitioner) Gary Nabhan's book 

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty

It has many interesting strategies for us in the drier side of the divide, some I have been already trying to implement. Definitely moving in that direction. Ollas anyone? I have grown tepary beans successfully in the past, planning on doing that more in future. 

 While it does not directly help you East Coasters suffering with too much rain, well, a few principle could help: working with your topography (in this case to maximize drainage, allow water to drain rather than to try to collect/harvest rainwater.) Increase humus and sand content. Raised beds.  Mulch, mulch, mulch.


Finding cultivars more suited to wetter/warmer climates. See what folks are growing in a climate zone warmer than yours.  Switch your fruit orchard stock over to cultivars that require fewer chill hours.  Grow more perennials that like wet soil


I tried apios americana here (indian potato, groundnut)  but it is too dry here without supplemental water.  But I bet it would love it back east, where it is native too anyway...grows in river bottoms and is supposedly very tasty.  got mine here:


I just started Wes Jackson's Consulting The Genius Of The Place.  Looks interesting, if not super applicable to me. Perennial grain can save us, acording to him. 

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A Good Place to Monitor for Ag Headlines

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