Farm Updates: Thinking About The Fires

Returning to the farm two weeks ago after a long weekend in Northern California, it was 115 degrees and a layer of ash dusted everything. The bell peppers, which had previously been prolific, were ecru and mushy. Even the heat-loving okra wilted away. Impending doom about the state of our climate and its’ future washed over me for a few days as I pulled dead plants out of the ground and smoke-induced migraines pulsed behind my eyes. The air quality index was only a fraction as bad in Claremont as it has been in other agricultural parts of California in the past few weeks, where farm laborers have had to continue working despite extremely unhealthy AQI and red skies.

The destruction that climate change and lack of forest management reeks in California each year now feels routine. To be clear, it is not fire itself that is the problem. Fire is a natural occurrence in California. Colonialism and the ignoring/invisibilizing of Indigenous knowledge and stewardship practices is the problem. Climate change is the problem.

As climate change creates increasingly extreme weather patterns, I am heavy hearted imagining how farms and farmworkers will continue to be affected. A friend of mine that works at a farm in Colorado had to pull out all of the squash early when it suddenly snowed last week. And then two days later, it was back to 90 degrees. Farming is already an underpaid/undervalued job in which the profit margin has a lot of room to change, which these extreme climate changes will only exacerbate.

What does it mean when the farms in the state the produces the most food in the United States are constantly at risk of burning? What does it mean when we are okay and complacent with knowing that the people who work on them are underpaid and working in potentially fatal conditions? It makes me think of The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, the way in which capitalism creates a culture where everyone has to be complacent with other people being harmed in order to live comfortably.  We cultivate a cognitive dissonance in which we accept other people being exploited in ways that we would never want ourselves or our loved ones to be in order to get packages shipped overnight and fresh food on our tables.

As Tr**p said, it is getting cooler. Unfortunately, it is because it’s changing seasons not because he has done anything to reverse the effects of climate change, but for the change of seasons I am extremely grateful. I have finally been able to start planting call crops (onions went in this week!), the new chickens arrived (!) and are settling in. For this new life I am so excited. At the same time, the fire is only spreading. I am oscillating between excitement and a deep fear for the future of farming and farmers.