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Exploring connections: food, farming and climate change

photo of article author with box of turnips
Melissa Hochstetler
I’ve been running the vegetable gardens at Gale Woods Farm for 14 years, and it’s harder to grow vegetables now than it was when I started. At Gale Woods, we raise vegetables for a 40-member Community Supported Agriculture program, as well as a Saturday market, high school cafeteria, a summer camp, a café, and three food shelves. I love growing food for people, and knowing that I’m helping them to get something that is healthy, and that they need.

As the climate has changed, growing vegetables has become increasingly difficult. I have personally felt the impact of climate change in my work as a grower; I’ve needed to change the ways that I plan and my strategies for the season. There have always been occasional extreme weather events, but now — cold, heat, drought, flood, and hail all in one year — is to be expected. New invasive insects have arrived on the scene, and pests like the Japanese beetle are flourishing — and Minnesota winters are no longer cold enough to reliably kill them off. Heat and humidity are on the rise, and can make working outside uncomfortable, and at times even dangerous.

Dealing with unpredictability

The combination of heat and humidity encourages the spread of fungal diseases, which can devastate entire vegetable crops; that’s why basil and cantaloupes were harder to find this year. The unpredictability of what the season will bring makes it even more important to grow a diverse set of crops, and to go to extra lengths to protect them, so that you have something that can thrive.

This is the reality that growers are facing in the midst of our changing climate.

One of the important aspects for me of working at Gale Woods farm is our Youth Farm program. We work with teenagers in the garden, to teach them what it’s like to have a job, how to work as a team, and the practical skills for how to grow and cook their own healthy food. Many youth today have lost their connection to food and to the land.

Fewer grandparents live on farms, so young people are less likely to go to the country. Many of the youth farmers who work here don’t know where food comes from, or how to cook. They don’t know what many of the vegetables are. It’s rewarding to me to pass along the knowledge of farming, to cultivate positive experiences in the outdoors, and to help educate young people about food and why it matters.

When we’re working with youth in the gardens, they get a front-row seat to watch how weather impacts agriculture and farmers. As farming becomes more difficult in our changing climate, the rewards of farming are more difficult to point out to younger generations. I know that most of them will not go on to become farmers, but I hope that when they go to a grocery store and see the tomatoes, they will realize that somebody picked that — that there was effort and planning and hope involved.

It’s personal and emotional

For me, being on the farm is not just practical, it is personal and emotional. When I go outside, I feel like I’m going home, or going to church. There is a welcome, a feeling of comfort and familiarity. When I’m in the garden, I feel most like myself — it’s formed such a strong part of my identity. I fear how much is threatened by climate change. If we pass a point of no return, I could lose my sense of home in the outdoors and an important part of who I am with it.

I hope that our youth will also experience this personal connection. If they find something to enjoy in nature, and if that sparks a passion, they will be motivated to help protect it.

I would like more people to know about the connections between food, farming, and climate change. I’m excited to help plan a Climate Conversation at Gale Woods Farm on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 1 to 5 p.m. We are planning the event together with Climate Generation, and we’ll have a focus on food and agriculture — we’re even planning a climate-friendly happy hour.

Gale Woods Farm is owned by Three Rivers Park District, and there will be three more Climate Conversations hosted by Three Rivers in the coming year. We hope to get lots of folks who are new to this conversation, and we hope you will come join us!

Melissa Hochstetler has spent the last 14 years raising two acres of vegetables at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista. She lives in Minneapolis.

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