Unless we take action soon, the problem is only going to get worse.

In my fourth year CSA farming, 11 inches of rain fell the night of August 24th, 2016. When I woke up the next morning, all the buckets on the farm were filled, and the Upper Iowa River - usually about 100 meters from my field - was rushing fast and rising quickly. The water had risen all the way to the vegetables by the time I checked after breakfast.

By the end of the day, the river had covered all of my fall crops and the entire acre of lowland where they had been planted. I remember looking out over it and only being able to see the very tops of the four-foot high kale.

After the river receded, most of my plants had survived, but they were so covered in river silt that they were never going to be safe to eat, so I ended my CSA early and had to get an off-farm job to pay the bills. I remember being so dazed for a while afterwards. 

There wasn’t any one thing that caused the flooding that year, but there are many things we can do to establish more resilience in our agriculture and to mitigate the climate conditions that led to this flood. First and foremost, we need to address climate change and to reduce the amount of carbon that our economy is putting into our atmosphere. But, that’s only one part of it. We also need to build more diversity into our agriculture and to change the way we’re managing our landscape.

Because of the monoculture way many farmers plant crops (the focus on corn and soybeans and other plants with small, shallow root structures), the soil can’t hold much water during these heavy storms. All that water just runs off the fields, taking whatever happens to be on the fields with it until it flows into the nearest water source. This, in turn, leads to water pollution and worse flooding than we’d otherwise have.

I recognize these issues can’t be fixed easily: even with the political will, it would still take years for any changes to have an effect, but I hope that my story can bring attention to the real world effects that climate change is already having on our small-farm communities. Unless we take action soon, the problem is only going to get worse.

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Hannah Breckbill

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