Feast or Famine?

By Pamela Denholm

Saving open spaces, preserving our agricultural heritage, connecting our families to their food source and the seasons – these are all wonderful, value-based reasons to support local farms.  Creating economically viable and self-sustaining communities and keeping dollars within our communities are reasons that touch our wallets, but did you know that there is an even more pressing reason to grow our local food community?  And it starts with ‘food’ and ends with ‘security’.  Food security.

We have seen news snippets covering the drought that has been afflicting California for the last few years, and it’s just not looking up, California is facing its fourth punishing year of water shortages. Going into their rainy season in December, things looked promising with big, heavy clouds, gray skies, promises of snow and soaking rain – instead, January brought record high temperatures and and record low rainfall.


Reservoir levels, photo’s taken in October 2014

california drought 3

The state receives 90% of its annual rainfall between December and April, most of it in December and January, but a bigger cause for concern is the diminished Sierra Nevada snow pack.  At March 3rd, the statewide measurement of the snow pack was at 5 inches, just 19% of its to-date average and barely above the record low of 1991.  What they needed was a snow pack into the 30 inch range, and unless things pick up they are heading for the worst snow pack totals in history.

california drought 7

A satellite view showing the Sierra Nevada snow pack for 2014 vs 2015

Why is this important?  This snow pack provides 30% of the states’ water supply as it melts into summer.  So not only are reservoirs low, rainfall at a record low, there is now another significant chunk missing from their water source.  Landscapes are parched, orange trees are dying, and farmers are leaving acres of farmland to lie fallow because they can’t afford to watch planted fields dehydrate before their eyes.


Jim Jasper walks through his dying Almond grove

I know, I know – California is on the other side of the country from us, three time zones away, what’s that got to do with us?  Plenty, is the short answer.  The rest of the nation is extremely dependent on fruits and vegetables from California, which grows

  • 90 percent of our tomatoes
  • 99 percent of our artichokes
  • 44 percent of asparagus
  • two-thirds of carrots
  • half of bell peppers
  • 89 percent of cauliflower
  • 94 percent of broccoli
  • 95 percent of celery
  • 90 percent of the leaf lettuce
  • 83 percent of Romaine lettuce
  • 83 percent of fresh spinach
  • 86 percent of lemons
  • 90 percent of avocados
  • 84 percent of peaches
  • 88 percent of fresh strawberries
  • 97 percent of fresh plums
Cali-Drought 5

500’000 acres are likely going to be kept out of production this year, negatively impacting the state’s agricultural industry to the tune of $3.5bn

This year an estimated 500’000 acres of farmland be taken out of production, and the agricultural related losses are said to run into the $3.5bn range while businesses supporting agriculture close and unemployment rises – and we haven’t even begun to talk about wild fires.  This short video produced by the New York Times provides a brief overview of the problem, in particular the images of drained reservoirs is alarming:

New York Times on the drought in California

Soaring food prices in our grocery stores are inevitable.  Warm and fuzzy reasons aside, investing in our local food economy will help build a sustainable food network that will lesson the impact of what happens elsewhere in the country, on us.  How’s THAT for a reason to buy local?

Resources: New York Times

Pamela is passionate about sustainable agriculture and supporting local farms.  She started South Shore Organics four years ago and has steadily grown the service to provide a reliable marketing source for local farmers and the crops they grow.  

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ― Dr. Seuss


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