Dec 06, 2018

As an organic farming apprentice in Veneta, US, I have come to love Oregon’s soil. With a little love, our ground can give rise to a bounty and diversity of vegetables and fruits that many parts of the country have come to envy. That, coupled with the cornucopia of foraged treasures (wild mushrooms, truffles, huckleberries— need I go on?) make me sure that Oregon is one of the tastiest states in the nation.

I am not alone in this certainty. Oregonians care deeply about eating local and supporting the small-farmers that make our communities rich. Like the people who bought our produce when I worked for Ambrosia Farm in Veneta or L’Etoile Farm in Noti, our population wants to eat what’s in season and take care of our own in the process, wrote.

But there is one benefit of sustainable farming and natural lands that doesn’t end up in a patron’s belly or the farmer’s pocketbook: The carbon sequestered through growing food and maintaining wild spaces.

Trees, of course, use carbon dioxide to perform photosynthesis, and forests have long been seen as assets in our ongoing battle against our own emissions. But the utility of working lands goes far beyond the crop yields. Sustainable and organic practices such as no-till, cover cropping, permaculture techniques, and rotational grazing can all help to sequester carbon and keep the environmental costs of local eating down.

A policy to reward farmers for doing their part

The inherent value of these practices is being highlighted by the Clean Energy Jobs Bill, now under review in the Oregon Legislature. The bill would create a carbon budget and use allowances to certain industries to help bring greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

This plan also sets up two funding streams for farms to apply for the money they need to implement sustainable practices and make themselves a bigger asset. Through grant money from the Oregon Climate Investment Fund and offset credit projects paid for by emitting entities, farmers could obtain more efficient irrigation equipment, purchase cover crop seed, or install solar panels. This will all make the small farms more resilient to the coming changes, and the ones we already face.

Climate change is already hurting the food we eat -- and the people who grow it

Climate change is not an out-of-sight, out-of-mind problem for small and medium-­sized farms in Oregon. When wildfires made worse by climate change caused smoke to fill the valley for weeks at a time, it hit the farms I worked for twofold.

During the smoky times, plants didn’t grow, and fruits and veggies didn’t ripen as quickly. This slowdown led to lower yields — and on top of that we had to shut down our u-pick berry operation and farm stand for the health of our farmers and our patrons.

Some days were so bad I had to wear a particle mask in the field and had to take frequent breaks to control my breathing during basic farm tasks that I usually completed like clockwork. On these days we lost hundreds of dollars in revenue that the farm counts on from the people who come to see the plants and be close to their food.

Aside from the fires, precipitation has also become a variable out of our control. While there have always been fluctuations year to year, rain has become harder to predict. I was at a listening session with farmers from across the region earlier this month and I heard many farmers (old and young, conventional and organic) say that they can’t find the pattern anymore.

Last year, for example, the cold, wet spring put the growing season about three weeks behind. This year has been much milder, and fruit trees were already breaking bud in mid-February. The swings in timing are hard on small and medium-sized farms with little financial wiggle room, which means we need to find more efficiency in other parts of the farm to make ends meet.

Farmers can be and want to be part of the solution when it comes to climate change. The Clean Energy Jobs Bill will simultaneously help address the source of the problem and meet the needs of affected rural communities and farms. In 2019, the Oregon Legislature has a historic opportunity to use our working and natural land assets to help ameliorate the effects of one of the greatest problems of our age.

Guest blog post by Alice Morrison, organic farming apprentice in Veneta. This originally appeared in the Register-Guard as a guest opinion piece.

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