Farmers stand on the front lines of the climate crisis. Their livelihoods are threatened by it, their work can contribute to it, and, crucially, they have the opportunity to combat it using sustainable farming practices. Our entire food system is connected to climate change – making agriculture a big part of the conversation around how we reach a brighter future. Changing how we interact with land – through better farming methods and restoring ecosystems – can help avert climate catastrophe and feed the generations to come.
Our local farmers here in New England know that climate change impacts are here now – they see them firsthand on their farms every day. Rising temperatures are driving longer but less predictable growing seasons, making it hard for farmers to know when to plant their crops. More frequent and intense heavy downpours are delaying planting and damaging harvests. And pests and plant diseases are spreading more rapidly, which in turn lowers yields.
One key to ensuring farms can stay resilient and productive in the face of our changing climate is soil health. Building soil health can make farmers more resilient in the face of drought, floods, and extreme rain events. Healthier soil drives a range of benefits, including cleaner water, improved crop productivity, enhanced biodiversity, and reduced need for pesticides. At the same time, it helps absorb the very emissions that are causing climate change in the first place.
So, how can farmers keep soil healthy? Well, many here in New England are already doing it. Practices such as always having a crop planted – even in the winter – protect the soil ecosystem. Different crops depend on different nutrients in the soil, so farmers can also use thoughtful crop rotations and avoid using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers that deplete the soil of nutrients. Techniques that avoid or minimize tilling the soil also help.
Farming practices that focus on building soil health are sometimes called regenerative agriculture. It draws upon the age-old idea, rooted in the knowledge and practice of Indigenous people, that farmers can farm in a way that improves the health of the soil. This practice works with, not against, the natural cycles of the land. For example, Indigenous farmers in the Northeast planted the complementary crops of corn, beans, and squash together, which built the soil. Today, farmers rotate crops or plant a variety of crops together, mirroring those practices. Farmers using these practices are already showing how successful they can be. Organizations like the Northeast Organic Farming Association are training aspiring farmers in regenerative practices, preparing the next generation to transition to a more sustainable food system.
New England’s farmers need our support both to adapt to the changing climate and to implement sustainable practices. At the Legal Food Hub, we’re advocating for better farming policies – specifically ones that recognize how farmers are our partners in addressing the climate crisis. We want farmers to have the tools they need to fight climate change and to keep their farms prosperous in the process.