Why You Should Be “Berry” Concerned About Climate Change

Adam’s Berry Farm has been an anchor business for over a decade in the innovative community farming program developed by the Intervale Center.  Most of the farms in Burlington’s Intervale grow vegetables.  So, the early spring flooding that often affected this floodplain in the middle of Vermont’s largest city were just before planting season.  But in the past 10 years there have been surprising super rain storms in the middle of the growing season.  This hurts the harvest of farmers who produce annual vegetable crops.  But for growers of perennial crops like Adam Hausmann he not only can lose his crop but the floods can also kill many of his berry bushes.  These floods also can stress remaining plants making them more vulnerable to disease and pests.  Such is the challenge of climate change for farmers and gardeners.

I asked Adam about his decision to move thousands of mature berry plants to a new farm 10 miles away on higher ground.  Here’s his email back to me:

“The move is bittersweet. I love the Intervale's mission and community but my business cannot sustain staying in such a vulnerable area. In 2004, 2006 and 2011 I lost large portions of my farm due to flooding and seasonal high water table (30 to 40 percent). As a perennial grower this is too risky. A crop that takes 3 plus years to become established cannot be wiped out every three years. It is simply not profitable. On top of this, disease has become worse due to these events. As a vegetable grower I can understand taking these risks and perhaps even building them into one's business plan, but they have the option to replant and harvest in relatively short periods. This is not the reality of a perennial farmer. As you know the flooding used to be a regular springtime event that coincided with snow melt. What has changed in the 11 years that I have been at the Intervale is the irregularity of the floods. We have now had flooding in every month of the growing season from spring to fall. This seems to be related to the intensity and severity of the summer rains we have been receiving as of late. Farming is already an annual gamble. I decided that I need to eliminate some of the risk by moving to higher ground to protect my crop, livelihood, employees and markets.”


Digging 8 year old blueberry bushes at Adam’s Berry Farm to move them to higher ground as summer floods make river bottom farming too risky.

 

 

 

Adam was good enough to sell some of his mature blueberry bushes to me for a half acre U-pick berry garden that’s part of a 70 person CSA called Farm at South Village.  Like Adam’s new farm, Farm at South Village is on a hill and does not flood but both farms are located on clay soils that drain poorly.  So, in both cases drainage tile is needed so the water table is effectively lowered and plant stress from excessive rain is reduced

.Adam’s blueberries full of blossoms 2 weeks after re-planting at Farm at South Village and right after 8” of rain over 2 days saturated the soil.

As a gardener, my experience with climate change is less about warming weather (although that is clearly a trend) and more about extreme and surprising weather events.  This April in Vermont was far more warm and dry than usual.  And then May was cold with record rainfall and even snow.  Garden writer Anne Raver of The New York Times calls this pattern “global weirding”.  These extremes stress plants and can intensify pests and disease pressure.  But most of us can’t move our prized plants to higher ground or better soil.  What’s clear is that farmers and gardeners alike will need to work harder and be more creative in dealing with the coming climate weirdness.
 


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