I haven’t written in a while. I wanted to, but the garden called and so did the great outdoors. Instead of typing words, I listened to what was written in my mind as I planted vegetables, weeded, cursed woodchucks and rabbits, hiked through woods and up mountains. My thoughts were full. Sometimes grand ideas entered and then left. Sometimes whispers echoed and said “don’t forget.” Always, the plants smiled, bloomed, and greeted me as I walked passed.
I think a lot about food. I like to eat and I love to cook. I enjoy trying new cuisine. In the back of my mind is the voice that says “how will this food feed my mind, body, and soul?” Nutrition and food-as-medicine also matter to me. Farmers and their crops matter to me, as do those who are challenged to afford quality food for their families.
The recent hurricanes and now the fires in California have me thinking about food in other ways. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria caused property damage but they also caused food shortages. According to CNBC and ABC Action News, between 50 and 70 percent of the Florida citrus crops were lost due to Hurricane Irma. A few citrus groves lost everything. It isn’t just the citrus, either. A large portion of the sugar cane grown in the U.S. is in Florida. This crop was also heavily damaged by the hurricane.
Because the hurricanes were coming one on top of the other, we didn’t really get to understand the full impact of Hurricane Harvey on Texas agriculture. In some parts of Texas, cotton was already harvested. The areas that still had the crops in the field lost it all. While rice was harvested, many silos were flooded, ruining the crop. Cattle were displaced. This may not seem like a problem, however, cattle have to eat. Will there be feed or will feed have to be trucked in? The storms compromised the quality and safety of crops and water. How will this affect the quality of the meat?
Ricardo Fernandez, president of the Puerto Rico Farm Credit, told NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro that 80 percent of the crop value for Puerto Rico had been lost due to Hurricane Maria. Farmers are hoping to recover some of the coffee, banana, plantain, and papaya crops, but this will not be enough to feed people in a country that already imports 85 percent of its food.
As I write this, Santa Rosa, California and surrounding towns are being burned to the ground. The loss of lives, homes and businesses are devastating.
The commonality in all of these places is that there is very little left for human sustainability. In addition to the potential for disease amongst plants and animals, soil contamination, soil mineral leaching, decreased production now and potentially in the future, and higher prices for the limited supply that remains, people who rely on these crops and animals for their family’s income are heavily impacted. It isn’t just the farm and winery owners who stand to lose money. It is also the tourist trade in the Napa Valley area. It is the worker in the field, grove, and farm yard who gets displaced when there is no work due to reduced yields in crops and animals, thereby needing fewer workers. In the case of cattle, if they get a disease that can’t be cured, they are put down. Loss of cattle means the cowboys, haulers, and meat processors don’t have work. This country’s farmers and ranchers work 24/7 to make sure we have food to purchase while making a living for their own families. It is hard work to break even and harder to make a profit.
Not all is lost, however. In the case of Puerto Rico, Fernandez says that “…we need to rethink our whole food distribution and supply chain…this actually gives us an opportunity to rethink that business model and say, hey, we need to produce more here. We need to have fresh produce, etc., so that we can have enough supplies inland in case this happens again.” He wants to see the small farm operations flourish again rather than be lost to big farming. Perhaps we as consumers need to rethink our purchasing models. Buy just enough food to feed the family for a week including a stock-up of non-perishable staples. Eating up the perishable foods we buy means less waste, potentially better eating habits, and decreased matter in the landfills. When we waste food, we cost ourselves money. On a world view, we are wasting food when there are those who go without a meal. We can support our farmers, growers, and ranchers by shopping locally and making use of the farmers markets in our areas. I will never forget the first time our market accepted food stamps for vegetables. A woman in front of me was purchasing greens, onions, and more. When told that she had a couple dollars more to spend, her delight and excitement made me smile and also want to cry. She valued the opportunity to buy good food to eat. For this woman it was a gift to buy nutritious, fresh food at the market yet many of us take that for granted. I try to remember her when I buy my food. I vow not to waste and to be grateful for the opportunity to get what I want and need. I will give an extra dose of appreciation to the people who grow and sell the beautiful food I buy the next time I am at the market.
I want to share other ways to appreciate food and have it last. In future articles I will share with you ways to freeze, dry, and can food. We will discuss ways to get nutritious meals from foods obtained from the food bank. I want to share my adventures into fermented foods. There will be recipes. Yes, I think a lot about food and I hope you will too. Please, don’t forget to thank a farmer.