Climate change is here… So now what?

On September 8, a wildfire started on the north edge of Ashland, Oregon, a storybook-like town nestled in the base of Mount Ashland and surrounded by forests, farmland, rivers and streams. The fire ignited in an unusual windstorm that rushed in from the east, combined with extremely low humidity and an unknown ignition source, and unleashed its fury of near-absolute destruction. By the next day, 2,800 structures had burned to the ground, barely a trace of anything left but ashes. Significant portions of the neighboring towns of Talent and Phoenix were entirely flattened. Thankfully the human death toll was low – only three fatalities are currently known. But, the devastation on this community is unspeakable, and the even more unfathomable part is that this level of destruction has been seen all over the West this year.

This is climate change. It is here.

As farmers, what do we do about it? As human beings, what do we do about it? As the shock of the initial aftermath of this latest natural disaster settles in, this more existential question emerges for many. I know it has for me; I live two miles from where this fire started.

I spent the last few weeks since the fire looking at maps showing predictions for where in the United States climate change will wreak the most havoc, and where it might be “safest” to live. With wildfires in the West, tornados and flooding in the Midwest, extreme rainfall in the East and hurricanes in the south, it feels like the answer is really…nowhere.

Working for an organization whose mission is to cultivate legal resiliency on farms – in other words – how to run your farm business in a way that leaves you least vulnerable to risk and financial doom – I have been feeling unsure of how to translate this looming climate change problem into action items for farmers. How can farmers become resilient in the face of climate change and its destructive weather patterns?

Over the weekend I watched a documentary called Kiss the Ground. It’s basic premise is that although we might be on a path of climate-change driven destruction now… farmers can save us. That’s right! While reducing carbon emissions plays a huge part in the climate change solution, the other vital piece is drawing down carbon – or putting it back into the earth – through regenerative farming.

When farmers sequester carbon in soil through practices such as agroforestry, cover cropping, no-till sowing and rotational grazing, they become the heroes we so badly need right now.

If you are a farmer and the strains of the season are getting you down, try watching Kiss the Ground. If you aren’t a farmer, Kiss the Ground might also help you find hope. But…take heed: Watching may cause an intense desire to want to go out and buy a piece of conventional corn and soybean farmland to regenerate right this minute. That’s the effect it had on me anyway…

However, my skills are probably best suited for exploring the legal tools to help farmers manage risk through climate change. On that note, we here at Farm Commons will be working hard to share ideas and solutions in our upcoming Sprout editions.

Read more about Kiss the Ground here. Watch this short video about the Savannah Institute, one of our amazing partner organizations dedicated to agroforestry and its ability to create both climate stability and financial stability for farmers! Also, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin runs the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance in Minnesota, which is another partner organization doing amazing work to advance regenerative agriculture.

– Sarah Vaile is Farm Commons’ Staff Attorney for Core Resilience.