Monday, May 16, 2011

Farmland and flooding

That is a NASA satellite image of the Mississippi River in March and on May 4th or thereabouts. That's scary. They've opened every dam they can, and they've blown levees in order to try and save Baton Rouge and New Orleans. And yet... I have to ask...

And please note, anyone who lives in those cities, I wish you no harm, nor do I think you are the least bit wrong in trying to save your city. If I were in your shoes I'd be doing exactly the same thing! But in trying to look at the bigger picture, I DO have to ask...

How do we reconcile this? People can move, and cities can be rebuilt. Yes it's expensive, and it's damn inconvenient, and this is a terrible tragedy. But that farm land you see being engulfed by the water? We can't move that! Every field that gets flooded is one less that is growing food to feed me and you and the people in New Orleans. We've chosen to save the people (who, frankly, can load up in buses and go elsewhere) and drown the land (which provides food for all those we've just saved... except now it doesn't).

I see thousands and even millions of acres of prime farmland, farmland that feeds a vast majority of the United States and even other countries, disappearing beneath silt and mud. With the coming of the water, we're not just seeing the possible degradation of the soil (as a matter of fact, the yearly flooding of rivers was one reason farmers chose to plant along them, because silt is a great fertilizer), but the drowning of plants already growing.

I'm scared. Last year, I'd have been nervous but ready. I had an acre worth of garden planted, and food on the vine ready to preserve. I had hundreds of pounds of our own produce taken out of our farm and put into freezer, jar, drying rack... This year, because of the timing of our move to the new house and because of my broken ankle, I don't have a garden. A few tomato plants in pots is just not going to make up for a million acres drowned. And so I'm scared, because I don't know that my family can afford the inflated prices that all that underwater farmland is going to cause.

Because you know that the more scarce an item, the higher the price. Some people like myself were watching prices inch up long before the flooding, but this is the worst flood we've seen since 1927, according to some. That corn you see in the right hand image? That was your corn chips, your bag of frozen kernels, your Reddenbacher popcorn, your breakfast cereal, and a million other things. Now it's just rotting in the fields. When the waters recede, they might leave behind rich silt and fishy fertilizer in the soil, but that won't help us for two full years. What do we eat in the meantime?

I look at our little 5 acre plot we just purchased, an acre of which is filled with house, barn, and other such buildings... and another couple of acres which are fully and thickly treed and which we will not clear because it will provide us with wood for our heat and cooking. It's not going to be enough if the food is as short as I'm afraid it will be.

Are you prepared?