As luck would have it, Hurricane Irene arrived this late August Sunday, and I had long been scheduled to work all day. So, while people all up and down the eastern seaboard “battened down the hatches” and businesses closed their doors, while much of New York City was evacuated and my housemates were sitting cozy, baking pie and watching Arrested Development, I continued, by and large, with the regularly scheduled programming (one of the most basic facts of livestock farming is that regardless of weather, the animals need to be milked and fed). On mornings when clouds obstruct the light of the moon and stars, I can only just make out the hulking cow-figures, just a shade darker than their pasture backdrop, and for a moment I fancied that I was in the wrong pasture, until I found the herd huddled at the very back along the tree line, sheltered from the wind and rain. In the dark, I couldn’t judge the height of the creek, either, and took the bridge, but when I came back a few short hours later, even that route was lost to us—a waterway that had been nearing dry in the days before has now burst its banks, and the end of the bridge was engulfed in the rage of the river.
Some of our vegetable fields, too, looked more like rice paddies, with standing water up to the tops of my muck boots in some places.
Although I have some anxiety over the wellbeing of our crops and livestock, and the safety of people in the surrounding community for that matter, I have some fessing up to do: I love extreme weather. There is nothing that thrills and terrifies me in such perfect proportion than a good torrential downpour, some flooding, and a few lightning flashes and thunder claps for good measure. Aside from the visceral enjoyment it gives me, there is something so apt about the way a storm like this can humble us. We spend decades, centuries, building up places like New York City, these shrines of modern culture, only to realize that, given the right moment, they could be washed away in an instant by the raw power of nature. In farming, too, we are reminded that our livelihood is inherently vulnerable, that we can tend our crops unswervingly but that once a storm hits, all we can do is bring our tools out of the rain, wait for the waters to recede, and assess the damage.
It’s events like these that really sell me on the idea of diversified farming ventures (well, truth be told I was already sold, but the storm reminds me why). I don’t know yet how much damage was actually done—our vegetables seem surprisingly resilient, heads of lettuce that were underwater yesterday looking decidedly alive today—but under a system like this one with diverse income streams (we depend on vegetables, dairy, meat, and value-added products like bread and sauerkraut to meet our budget requirements), the loss of a few rows of carrots or tomatoes is regrettable but not catastrophic.
Quote of the day: “But the distinction between livestock and agriculture is a red herring. The conflict is not between animal and vegetable, or between peasant farmer and nomad herdsman, who often […] are in ‘symbiosis’. The conflict is more often between a locally rooted and proven tradition of land-use which invariably has its animal element, and a superimposed ‘efficient’ agricultural improvement, often a monoculture, designed to extract and deliver resources for the international market. Whether the commodities so delivered are to provide consumers with meat that they don’t need, cotton tee-shirts they don’t need, or palm oil they don’t need, is almost immaterial.”-Simon Fairlie, Meat: A Benign Extravagance