My climate change plan: foster community

Casey distributes CSA shares.

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

Last season was different. A noticeable shift. And based on what I’ve heard from other farmers, they’ve noticed it too. A term that describes what’s happening is on our tongues: climate change. It is impacting our plans for next season as well as our outlook for the future. My plans will be based on which crops I’ve seen do the best last season with an awareness of what will build towards greater overall sustainability for the farm.

Casey and Fawn

All the beans but the Dragon’s Tongue did awful last year, so this year I’ll definitely grow the Dragon’s Tongue again as well as a solid green bean like the Provider and a new variety that hails from my region—perhaps a tepary bean. These beans are accustomed to dry heat and very little water, so with an eye toward the future, it would be wise for me to start learning how to grow them. Of course, even though I have hesitations, I’ll continue to grow tomatoes. But I won’t be growing all of the same types. With the heat and drought we have been experiencing, there are definitely varieties that simply won’t work. Instead we’ll try to find tomato varieties that grow in other desert regions and see how they do here. This is the same principal behind our own seed saving—farmers in other desert regions have bred similar desirable traits into their fruit, and hopefully that will give us a leg up. (more…)

I need more information: Balancing rain and irrigation

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By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

The monsoons finally arrived in August. They were more than a month later than usual, but I am grateful for them all the same. It was apparent that everything growing in our fields was equally grateful for the reprieve from the oppressive summer heat. For the first time in almost two months, the temperature was consistently under 100 degrees for longer than a week. All of our crops were much greener and had a certain vibrancy they lacked back when they were just fighting to stay alive. The outdoor tomatoes finally set fruit and rapidly increased in height. The sweet potatoes grew lush and quintupled in size.

Unfortunately, the weeds loved the rain, too, and grew at an even faster pace. There were more insects buzzing about, there was an unfamiliar humidity in the air, and the farm had a beautiful tranquility in the early morning before the rest of the city had woken up. Even though a main city road is just a few dozen feet away from our okra patch, standing there made me feel like I was transported back to a time before automobiles. The full bounty of the season had finally arrived.

holland_harvesting_croppedThe rain always throws an interesting conundrum into planning our water use on the farm. To water or not to water? Every time we get rain, it allows us to pull less from the well. But how much less well water should we use? We always go back and forth, depending on data from the weather service, about how much rain we received versus how much we can expect to receive in the coming days. Sometimes a rain is deep and soaks in enough that it can get us through a few days without needing supplementary irrigation. Other rains just sprinkle the fields and only make the plants thirsty for more.

Based on the research I have been doing, most of our vegetable crops demand about two inches of water a week in order to survive. If it’s windy or extremely hot, like it tends to be out here in New Mexico, that amount can increase to almost three inches. But how many inches did we actually get in that last rainstorm? How many inches of water per hour does our drip line deliver to the crops? (more…)

When the heat doesn’t stop: adapting to climate change

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By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

Heat. Some of the most intense heat you’ve ever felt. 100 degrees and climbing; sweat dripping out of every pore. In mid-July, I looked at the weather report and realized it would be 100+ all week. The heat had already lasted a month The fields didn’t look much better than the heat felt. The plants were clearly stressed despite all the water they were getting. Nothing does well in that kind of heat.

It is moments like these that I remember that I’m farming in the middle of a desert; that many of these blooms are unnatural and this green unsustainable. Last year was the warmest year on record; this year looks like it’s going to be even warmer. And this year we don’t even have El Nino to depend on.

By July, I am facing so many struggles due to the heat that I am just trying to make the best of it and ride it out. This season has been so intense that I am already spending a lot of time thinking through what I plan to do differently next year. What crops are doing best in this severe heat? Which pests have become even worse as this heat is beating down on us? The brutal reality of living in a desert during one of the biggest shifts in our global climate, is one of the biggest barriers facing the farm.

Tomatoes at Red Tractor Farm. This photo and the portrait of Casey were taken by Eva Verbeeck.

Tomatoes at Red Tractor Farm. This photo and the portrait of Casey were taken by Eva Verbeeck.

It’s a reality that is difficult to face, but year after year, as the heat becomes more intense and the rain becomes more scarce, I have to come to terms with what this new reality truly means for the farm’s future. All of us, myself included, enjoy a rather luxurious bounty that is not at all in line with what our local environment is suited for. Tomatoes are a tropical fruit, for instance, and definitely not at all adapted to the arid region I find myself struggling to grow them in, season after season. For now, it is worth it. We have the water. A question that haunts me though is – when will it cease to be worth it, and what will I do when it isn’t? What will that mean for those of us who have grown accustomed to the bountiful, year-round availability of every type of food that the global food system has created? How will we survive? (more…)

From droughts to contamination, our water supply is precarious

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One of my partners, Dory, flood irrigating a field at Red Tractor Farm. We have an underground pipe from the turn out that takes the flood water directly from the ditch to our fields.

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

Where does our water come from? Too few of us in the United States ask this question as we turn on our faucets and partake in a seemingly limitless supply of clean drinking water. Some communities, such as Flint, Michigan, have recently had to directly address this question as they find their water sources poisoned and toxic.

Here in Albuquerque, our water supply is quite precarious. Despite the beautiful Rio Grande flowing directly through our city’s heart, our situation is not one of plenty. We have been in a mega-drought, and March of 2016 was proclaimed to be the driest March on record. The last few months definitely have not shown an increase in precipitation.  

Here in the desert Southwest, lack of water is not the only threat we face within the Rio Grande-Albuquerque watershed. Contamination is as serious a concern as it is for the residents of Flint. Just a few years ago it was revealed that the Kirtland Airforce Base has been aware of a massive leak of jet fuel since as early as 1999. Albuquerque sits directly atop of an aquifer, leaving it particularly vulnerable to contamination.

In addition to the jet fuel, developers have come through seeking to build large housing compounds on the edges of our cities. Projects such as the proposed Santolina development would stretch our already scarce water supply even thinner. We must protect our water resources for future generations, not squander them away in a bid to make the desert bloom more than it already does. (more…)

Meet Casey: “I’ve finally found the farm I hope to spend the rest of my life on”

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Welcome to the arid West! For the next six months, four young farmers/ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico will be blogging about their experiences with water access and explaining everything from what it feels like to clean a 400-year-old acequia to how they’ve learned to make the most of the water they have through conservation and crop selection. To help you understand the terminology around water access, we’ve put together a short glossary at the bottom of this blog post.

 

By Casey Holland, Red Tractor Farm

It’s been raining the last few days. Not the deep, penetrating rain that all farmers hope for, but instead the fickle on-and-off showers that leave you wishing for more.

I grew up with the sort of weather that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what happened while enjoying the sweet scent of earth coming to life with moisture—the kind of weather New Mexico is known for. I grew up in the small southern New Mexico town of Deming. In my youth, afternoon showers were common, and in the summertime we all eagerly anticipated relief from the daily heat.

Summertime not only meant evenings playing in puddles, but for my family it also meant gleaning seconds from the large onion, pumpkin, and corn fields surrounding our small town. We were hungry, as were dozens of other families in similar situations, and the food left in the fields was one of many ways we were creative so that we would have something to eat.

NYFC_social_2.inddNew Mexico has one of the worst rates of both child and adult hunger, with one out of every five people receiving SNAP Food Stamp benefits. My mother grew up on a large farm in Belen, New Mexico but thanks to the convenience culture of the 1950s and ‘60s, she lost touch with the land, so gleaning was really my first introduction to formal agriculture. (more…)