It is a grand understatement to assert that life has been an interesting ride for 2020. Our food system and consumer behaviors during this time have made it through some challenging adjustments and still many Americans are food insecure.
As summer fire and smoke abruptly gave way to September freeze advisories, it appeared our Northern Colorado outdoor growing season was coming to an end September 9. But Mother Nature bats last and only low-lying fields got cold damage. This was a seasonal fake out of the highest order. Even I was sounding the alarm bells and undoubtedly many farmers, hedging against losses, harvested some crops, row covered others where possible, and simply hoped for the best. The optimists won that round and thankfully we will see more crop harvest in the near term.
Peak harvest season thankfully goes on for growers and for us indulgent lovers of local food. This is a great for kitchen creatives and even better for farmers.
If you’ve been on the fence, waiting to visit the farmers market, place an online order, or patronize a farm stand, this is your final call. We’ve gotten our warning shot. The seasonal change will be upon us soon. Maybe some growers will make it past the next wave of cold weather. Make it through the first frost and often there are several more weeks before the next. And they need it. Many have incurred additional costs to pivot from reduced volume or dead-end sales channels (think restaurants), staffing up for record CSA shares and/or launch and management of online sales platforms, increased communications, etc.
This is more than a plea to patronize local businesses. It is call to action to support the new look of a more resilient food system. In my view, food systems are much like ecosystems. The more diverse they are, the more organisms performing both different roles and similar roles, the more reserve function there is in the system and should something injure part of it, the more likely it is to continue to perform the services needed for others players in the food system. Are we going to see the end of supermarkets? Nope. End of convenience motivating consumer decisions? Not a chance. But the co-benefits of food system diversity are worth noting.
Not only do we get connection to the seasonal pulse of local harvest, something dumbed down for us in many grocery stores or simply non-existent, but through farm patronage we invest in land stewardship, vistas, and ecosystem services. I find myself experiencing many days in front of computer monitors. If I didn’t have mixed vegetable farming in my experience, I would have no clue when harvest happens in Colorado. I wager many of you are the same with no reference point for what was once common sense less than 100 years ago. We get lost in an increasingly digital, modern society and disconnected from nature. Farms reconnect us. And they increasingly implement farming practices that conserve water, soil, pollinators, and wildlife while providing open, undeveloped lands sequestering soil carbon, recharging ground water, and the ongoing flow of irrigation ditches that are a hub for wildlife habitat on the plains.
None of this comes for free. Farming is risky business and 2020 has brought this to a crescendo, following massive crop losses in 2018.
For those who can, would you invest in our local food system? Anywhere you can, buy local at your supermarket, farmers market, online, CSA, farm stand, and the impact of your efforts will go further than your upcoming meal and immediately help with farm cash flow. They ripple out into the ecosystem and create a more diverse and resilient food system.
By Adrian Card, Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information on agriculture in Boulder County, visit the CSU Extension Boulder County website at boulder.extension.colostate.edu/agriculture.