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Saving the Family Farm

Dec. 22, 2009

Usually when we talk about saving the family farm, we are referring to the need for a new generation of farmers to replace the aging farmer population, the need for affordable land for these new young farmers, and the need for economic assistance for the failing rural economy.

Looking back on the past decade and looking ahead to 2010, it might also start to mean something else. Climate change has brought new woes to the family farm in the form of floods, drought and tornadoes, as well as resulting disease and problems like late blight etc.

The summer of 2008 was a sad tale for Iowa farms ravaged by the overflowing rivers. Obviously large scale industrial farms were hurt by this as well, but it’s small family farms who tend to lack insurance.

The fall of 2009 brought devastation to many Georgia farms (covered recently here on our blog). Tornadoes in Georgia in December? Very strange and possibly predictive of the future unpredictability of our weather.

Of course weather has always been a risk factor for farmers, so that’s not a new story. What’s newer, though, is the extremity of the disasters and the vulnerability of the farmers. With profit margins so slim, and the existence of the farmer so tenuous, how can they survive?

While it wasn’t a natural disaster that claimed hundreds of chickens on Terra Madre delegate Alexis Koefoed’s Soul Food Farm last September, there are some interesting things to be gleaned from that story including that this beloved and seemingly successful farm was living on such a slim margin that the farm would have been put out of business if not for the community rushing to fundraise and help. There is also here—and in the story of the Slow Food chapter-founded Georgia Flooded Farms Relief Fund—a story of rescue and rebounding. Soul Food Farm was in fact saved by the support of its community, just as the GFFR Fund has been amazed by the generosity of its donors as well. This evidence of how a food community can band together is extremely comforting but does not obscure the reality that as we move forward into the next decade, we’ll likely be looking at more extreme weather challenges, and relying more on our food communities to come in and lend a helping hand, financial and otherwise.

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