Needless to say, the weather this year has been crazy— the long winter that swept 20-degree weather through Easter weekend, to the 100-degree weather that descended upon North Carolina a few weeks ago. We have entered into the dog days of summer, technically from July 3- August 11, which refers to the hottest and muggiest days of the season. The reason for this title is because at this point of the year the sun is in the same region of the sky as Sirius, the brightest star visible from Earth. Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, the Greater Dog. The ancient Romans believed that Sirius actually gave off heat, and when it was in the same region as the sun they thought it contributed to the heat on earth—thus, we have the dog days of summer. So here we are, covered in humidity with very abnormal weather patterns, still in a drought in parts of the state, and yet farmers must keep farming.
I called Bill Walker of Walker Farms to hear how they have been dealing with the recent weather. Walker Farms is located in Randolph County, just south of High Point, or “red clay country”. When I asked about the recent wave of heat, Walker responded by saying that this heat hasn’t hurt his farm nearly as much as the long winter did. The dry heat can be dealt with through drip and overhead irrigation. It is definitely better than too much rain, as the old saying goes, “you can make it rain but you can’t stop it.” Farming in clay soil is beneficial during hot spells because clay stays relatively cool, especially compared to the sandy soil down east. The heat did hurt Walker’s first squash planting and then the rain came and “scared the next planting to death…but we’re surviving;” he didn’t seem too phased by the weather, they’re just working with it and rolling with the punches. It seems that odd weather patterns come as no surprise to Walker anymore.
The long winter and basically non-existent spring is really what messed with their crops this season. The cold season crops such as cauliflower had a hard time producing because the cold stayed for so long and damaged the fruit and the general growth. Certain plants like colder temperatures but they are usually planted in the cold and then they grow as the season gets slightly warmer; that didn’t happen this year. The winter settled in for the long haul, gave the spring crops a hard time, and caused a slow start for all the summer crops. It affected the pollination of the peppers so they came on really slowly this year. Up until very recently the peppers were producing very little, but after the recent evening storms they’ve finally caught up with themselves and begun to produce. Walker pointed out, however, that it might have been a good thing the peppers produced so slowly because when the heat hit they all would have gotten burned. The Globe Eggplant came earlier than the smaller eggplants this year, when it is usually the opposite— the plants have definitely noticed a change in the weather.
According to Walker it seems that recently every year has had some extreme weather. Perhaps extremes are becoming the norm, but farmers have to continuously learn and adapt with the seasons. This is exactly why it is important to invest in local agriculture: because these smaller-scale farmers have the ability to adapt and to change. Large monoculture crops will get hit with a disease and wiped out in one fell swoop, but smaller-scale farmers can plant different varieties and pay closer attention to how their crops are doing. The answer is not to create a roundup resistant strain of corn in the lab so we can spray more herbicides and not have to weed, the answer is to work with the land as we know it to be and plant accordingly. Farmers, like Bill Walker, that really know what they are doing are the ones that are going to change the food system for the better and it is our responsibility to support those farmers. The interesting thing is that if you want there to be more sustainable food, you have to eat it. So eat on all you foodies and environmentalists, you are doing more good than you realize.