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Foreword: Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land

Foreword: Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land

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In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, Nabhan—one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands—draws on the knowledge of traditional farmers to offer time-tried strategies for growing food in the face of climate change. In additional to colorful “parables form the field,” this practical book is replete with detailed descriptions and diagrams showing how to implement desert-adapted practices in your own backyard, orchard, or farm to mitigate the impact of these rapid environmental changes.
In Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land, Nabhan—one of the world’s experts on the agricultural traditions of arid lands—draws on the knowledge of traditional farmers to offer time-tried strategies for growing food in the face of climate change. In additional to colorful “parables form the field,” this practical book is replete with detailed descriptions and diagrams showing how to implement desert-adapted practices in your own backyard, orchard, or farm to mitigate the impact of these rapid environmental changes.

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Published by: Chelsea Green Publishing on May 20, 2013
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07/29/2013

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Gary Paul Nabhan

* Growing
Food in a Hotter, Drier Land
Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty

*

* Foreword by

Bill McKibben

Foreword
If there was ever a moment for this book, now is it. In 2011 we saw record heat across Texas and Oklahoma—the hottest summers ever recorded in the US, helped along by a drought so deep it killed 500 million trees. In 2012 that heat and drought spread across the heart of the nation, driving crop yields down to lows not seen for decades and setting a new hightemperature mark for the entire United States. If you’ve reached the point where you can’t grow corn in Iowa—in the richest soil on earth—then you’ve reached the point of real trouble. And of course more to come: we’ve raised the planet’s temperature a degree so far, but that’s just the start. Unless we get off coal and gas and oil far quicker than any government currently plans, the temperature will rise 4 or 5 degrees this century, which is to say past the point where agronomists think we can support the kind of civilizations we now enjoy. Even in the best-case scenarios, though, agriculture is going to get much harder than it is at present—that’s what those scenes from the Midwest last summer demonstrated. To cope, we’ll need more hands on the farm. And Gary Nabhan, with both beauty and precision, demonstrates exactly why. He has a dozen wise prescriptions in this book for how we might be able to keep growing food even in very harsh places. But all of them demand people out there working with their hands: building the “fredges,” sinking the clay jars into the soil. We’ll need to interplant and intercrop and shade—and none of that can be done by one farmer piloting a giant combine across a ten-thousand-acre sea. It will have to be done by caring human hands, connected to very smart and nimble human minds. The good news is that those humans are starting to appear. In the last few years, for the first time in a century and a half, the US Department of Agriculture has reported that the number of farms in the US is increasing instead of shrinking. There are plenty of kids each year now who head out of WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) to work on organic farms around the planet, weeding and planting in return for room, board, and a serious education. Local food networks have begun to spread around the nation: the farmers’ market has been the fastest-growing part of the food economy for a decade now. vii

Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land Whether it will happen in time to catch up with the physics of climate change is an open question. I watched in 2011 as Hurricane Irene dropped record amounts of water on Vermont. Among the casualties were plenty of our most hopeful small farms, their rich fields turned into rocky stubble. Whether you look at the hydrological projections for the Colorado River or for the Jordan River, it’s hard to see how it’s all going to work out. But the basic human question, for as far back as we can imagine, has always been: What’s for dinner? We’ll try, as best we can, to make sure the answer is: something. And as this entirely lovely volume makes clear, there will be beauty as well as despair in the solutions and fixes. We’ll be forced away from relying on the almost military might agribusiness has brought to bear, the attempt to overwhelm nature with chemicals and fossil fuel. Instead, as Nabhan says, we’ll need to understand nature with more precision and insight, mimicking the things that it does with such unrelenting vigor. We’ve thought ourselves wise for several generations now, but in fact that wisdom has been a simplifying kind. Now we’re going to need exactly the kind of complex, place-based wisdom that Nabhan outlines here. We’re going to have to wise up, in a hurry. And the biggest part of that wisdom will involve realizing that we depend on others. On other farmers who can help us, and on other species whose aid we’ll require, too. Some mixture of humility and new pride just might see us through—that’s the note to take from this book, I think. That and a thousand good ideas about what to do as the growing season begins!

Bill McKibben Middlebury, Vermont February 2013

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