By John Lee
Someone just recently said to me while discussing the vagaries of our profession, "Mother Nature is such a bitch; another woman I just can not live with!" So much for the joys and sorrows of domesticity. But, really - what a winter and spring this has been. Truly confounding if your work is in the realm of agriculture or horticulture production in the Northeast.
Any way you slice it, the challenges of bedding down with Mother Nature are considerable and worth a word of caution. Of course, in every difficult relationship, there are mitigating possibilities which, if stomached, might go at least part of the way to make a silk purse out of the proverbial sow's ear.
Unlike what might pass for 'normal', this year we had no winter. April came in March and March heralded itself in April. Then July arrived mid-April for a brief, if torrid, visit. In late April as I write this, the fields are dry as a bone and the water table is at a seasonal all-time low. Maybe that's good for office workers or utility crews but it is not great for farmers as near as I can tell. Certainly the mosquito population will take a hit this summer for which I feel little anguish but I will be adding water in May that I need not normally be worrying about until July. In the silk purse department, however, we won't be getting bogged down in our wetter fields this spring. There is some comfort in that department.
How, then, to make agriculture and Mother Nature more sympatico? Is there a two-fer that might arise from the dilemma of a tough Mother and the normal but predictable hazards of traditional farming? Perhaps there is if only died-in-the-wool agriculturists were even more entrepreneurial and significantly better capitalized.
All major metropolitan areas are cursed with so-called food deserts where not only is the benefit of high quality fresh produce largely unavailable, but also the proximal high quality production resources. It has been broadly demonstrated that it is much too costly for the regional producers to populate the inner city farmer's markets and sell the fruits of their labor at a locally affordable price and still make a living. We must (and there is a move afoot) find not one, but many, ways to make inner city production safe, cost effective (for both the producer and the consumer) and nutritionally sound. This would seem like a tall order but if we can put a man on the moon and a drone on your windowsill, it seems to me that this is not an insurmountable task.
Revolutions in the use of different light spectra, better moisture retentive media, water management along with re-envisioning the use of public, private and corporate space will go a long way to insuring that Mother Nature can be mollified, that those who need good, clean food at a fair price and the folks who can figure out how this can happen will all be satisfied duly rewarded. Hopefully, rose-colored glasses will give way to clear-eyed, realistic and practical solutions to feeding America's inner city hungry, that city zoning and redevelopment boards will 'come to Jesus' and implement the ideas and our urban BMI will shrink to a more healthful level.
John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local new outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.