Healthy Community Food Systems is a Southwest Colorado based organization. What are the biggest climate challenges your area of the country is experiencing?
We in the Four Corners region are quite familiar with year-to-year variability in precipitation and temperature, but that variability seems to be getting greater. Long-term drought apparently is something we need to get used to for the very long term, but it is interspersed with extreme precipitation events, including hail, that are also stressing food production here. Increased summer heat takes its toll on plants, livestock, and diminishes already limited water supplies. The recent widespread die-offs of large numbers of our iconic pinyon pine in the lowlands and spruce in the mountains signals the severity of the ecological impacts that affect agriculture as well.
Seasons are clearly changing here. Irrigation supplies and timing are being disrupted by earlier snowmelt in spring and more precipitation coming as rain rather than snow. Earlier warmth in the spring is enjoyable and allows earlier plantings, but can be mismatched with irrigation water availability. And, we still get the late spring killing frosts, so early planted crops and earlier fruit tree blossoms are at great risk.
With these current impacts of a changing climate and the clear prospects of this getting worse, we are urging farmers, ranchers, and those who depend on them to start planning for a local food system that can better withstand these changes, and just as importantly, can help reduce the drivers of future climate change. Resilience is necessary but has its limits, so more systemic fundamental changes need to be considered – different crops, livestock, as well as different modes, locations, and more realistic expectations of irrigation. These are tough questions, but we are urging that they be considered beginning now.
What policies – local, state, or federal – would HCFS like to see in response to climate change?
Within the agricultural sector and elsewhere, serious support for renewables and wise use of energy, and serious disincentives for fossil fuel use are essential. Our region is a major production area for fossil fuels that need to stay in the ground, so we need support for alternatives to that revenue for supporting our economy and local government services. We have abundant sunshine, so that is one abundantly clear pathway forward for us. We also need support — financial, research, and educational — for the planning and implementation of more sustainable food production and local food systems as a whole.
HCFS is involved in Farm to School and Preschool work. How does this relate to your overall mission including climate change and food systems?
While we work broadly on redeveloping and rethinking local food systems, our particular focus is to increase the long-term sustainability, breadth of engagement, and urgency around local food system development by adding a focus on climate change and biodiversity in a healthy foodsheds context.
In our Farm to School and Preschool work, our purpose is to facilitate the development of excellent Farm to School and Preschool programs and the healthy local foodsheds they require. Only by insisting on the most local foods possible, real connections between schools and neighboring farms and ranches, the most sustainably produced foods possible (climate-friendly, wildlife-friendly, etc), and hands-on experience for kids in growing food will we reap the multiple benefits of these programs. Only by insisting on deeply sustainable local foodsheds will we maintain the ability to produce the healthy foods that our children and the rest of us need now, but also to provide for the long-term health of our children and their future.