This year’s National Farmers Union essay competition received a stellar submission from Young Agrarian’s own Kolby Peterson (YA Alberta Program Coordinator). She wrote about what it means to be a farmer during an era of climate change and how we can find hope in regenerative farming and building strong communities.
The essay topic was “Farmers are on the frontline of the climate crisis. At this critical juncture when farmers must consider and employ climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, what does farming in a changing climate look like to you?”. Enjoy this burst of inspiration!
Hope Beneath Our Feet
Like any dying language, the remaining speakers are too often silent, or silenced. Should we choose to listen, we may hear their fluency through their tongues, but only the observant sees their language written on the land. This language is the relationship between humankind and Earth of a reciprocal kind – a relationship that models how living a human life can be a generative force and does not have to deplete the very entity necessary for life. Earth is our lifeline, yet it is the planet that is growing sick so economic health can be bolstered, the planet whose climate is unravelling into chaos because of unbridled greed and lack of foresight, the planet who sustains all life but whose pulse will grow weak should we continue living at her expense.
Thick-tongued, clumsy speaker that I am, I understand that learning this language may be the most important task of my time, for all human beings to participate, for all beings’ sakes. As one of many farmers in this world, we certainly have the capacity to write and share a different story, should we find the collective will. Let this story first be one of remembering a language of regeneration, then of fluency in generative living. Let it be one that the land will illustrate, and hopefully the climate heeds. Let this be the honorable legacy of farmers.
What could this story look like? Mother Nature has 4.5 billion years of research and development under her belt. She is an expert in generative existence, where life flows into life, where synergy and abundance abound, and where perfection is an inherent quality designed into natural processes and cycles. Let her be our guide and inspiration for the design of our agroecosystems.
No singular technological messiah exists as a fix-all. Leaking carbon dioxide into outer space, or pumping it below ocean floors, are propositions born from the same mentality as the one that is creating this crisis. Rampant consumption and competitiveness remain unquenched, global economies remain dependent on a paradigm of growth that cannot be sustained, and the majority of the perpetrators pushing agendas of the aforementioned paradigm remain untouched by the consequences of the crisis they are perpetuating. Nothing short of a global socio-economic restructuring seems to be in order to fight the climate crisis as well as the ethical and moral crisis we are steeped in. Daunting though this seems, let us not underestimate or undervalue what farmers are capable of in using the wisdom of the land, the genius of roots, and the science of soil.
Farmers are truly in a unique position to build and transform soil capable of sequestering and stabilizing carbon. Rather than looking skyward for ethereal solutions, I propose humbly bowing our heads and examining the hope beneath our feet. If we want the soils to do the behemoth, herculean task of absorbing the atmospheric carbon responsible for climate chaos, our partnership with soil must be reciprocal. We must give back. No longer can we force function these agricultural ecosystems by conscripting thousands upon thousands of acres into producing maximum bushels for commodity markets. Farms cannot survive on intravenous chemical inputs; they really do need to feed themselves. If degenerative systems continue to act as the legs propping up farms and soil continues to be an externality, our partnership is failing. Let us farm like soil matters, with living roots in the ground, with polycultures and perennials, with minimum soil disturbance, and with integrated livestock.
Our farms must not only feed themselves, but the community surrounding them. Economies shrinking to a bioregional scale may just be the richest thing our communities can endeavour in. We can rejuvenate our rural communities, providing pride and purpose in meaningful work through growing grass roots and grassroots movements where young people see that greener pastures can be found right outside the farmhouse door. Let us know our neighbours, nourish one another, and build the communities we really want to live within.
Farmers must relinquish the idea that we need to walk the front lines alone. Less than 2% of this nation’s population farms, and this small number of people cannot uphold the amount of attention, diversity of skills, and love that it takes to manage complex agroecosystems properly. This climate crisis asks for more people with intimate relationships with the land, who feel the land as an extension of themselves, who know every knoll and heave. The masses grow food for the masses, rather than the few growing for the many. The community takes on the risks and the rewards of the farm. Let us find insurance in one another.
A properly grazed and rested pasture; a strategically placed nitrogen-fixing shelterbelt; a swamp left intact and fenced off from livestock; or soil with enviable aggregates full of mycorrhizae – these don’t exactly demand headlines or evoke noble imagery of what being on the front lines look like. However, the solutions to climate crisis are as diverse as the lands upon which we farm and may combine the radically ordinary with the extraordinary. We are being called to try. Let us heed this call.
What does learning a language of generative farming entail? Perhaps asking, first, what is needed of us on this land, and then listening deeply. We might be asked to reimagine how we live and work, and should we boldly show up as we are needed amidst our climate crisis, our legacy will stretch well beyond the farm gates. It will be written on the land and span many generations. This critical and subtle language will be passed on, and it will say that we stood not only at the front lines of a climate crisis, but for the future of all things.