Growing food in the hottest, driest corners of America is no longer confined to small regions of North America. What to do?
More than half of all counties in the United States are now on the USDA’s list of natural disaster areas, according to one recent Grist article, and that list is expected to expand this year. “As global warming unfolds, knowledge of dryland agriculture will become increasingly valuable,” writes Brie Mazurek.
Drawing on the knowledge and expertise of traditional and visionary desert farmers is exactly what author and local food pioneer Gary Paul Nabhan has done in his latest book, Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land. Nabhan has compiled stories of resilience and adaptation that urge readers to plan for uncertainty, acquire knowledge, and take action.
As environmentalist Bill McKibben mentions in the book’s foreword, drought, paired with rising global temperatures, is having devastating effects on the wellbeing of crops and livestock.
“We’ve raised the planet’s temperature a degree so far, but that’s just the start,” writes McKibben. “Unless we get off coal and gas and oil…the temperature will rise…past the point where agronomists think we can support the kind of civilizations we now enjoy.”
Even if we can’t escape climate change, we can do our best to adapt to it, argues Nabhan. Growing Food in a Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty includes tips on how to:
• Build greater moisture-holding capacity and nutrients in soils;
• Protect fields from damaging winds, drought, and floods;
• Reduce heat stress on crops and livestock;
• Harvest water from uplands to use in rain gardens and terraces filled with perennial crops;
• Select fruits, nuts, succulents, and herbaceous perennials that are best suited to warmer, drier climates; and,
• Keep pollinators in pace and in place with arid-adapted crop plants.
“If there was ever a moment for this book, now is it,” McKibben writes. “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.”
The rain may indeed be dying, as a Sonoran Desert farmer once told Nabhan, but there is hope. If a piece of desert land can be healed and restored to a food-producing oasis, perhaps hope for a food-secure future can be restored as well.
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