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No Water = No Food

July 19, 2012

This is wordy….please at least read the bolded words. I tried to spice it up with a cute animal picture.

I have been complaining about the drought recently and how I have been trying to keep my flower garden and lawn alive…..I should probably shut up.

Why? Michigan’s agricultural business has been suffering this season because of the early Spring, which ended in a hard frost, and now the severe lack of rain which has all but destroyed whatever crops did make it through the frost.  I haven’t even mentioned the effects the drought has had on Colorado, my hubby’s home town, or the rest of the country.You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

pregnant cow and buddy at Old Pine farm 2011

It’s not that I have been out of the loop. I have been reading about the national drought in the paper, and listening about it on the radio, but not until this week did it actually become real to me. I mean, how real could it be to someone who can turn on the tap WHENEVER I want to get a cool glass of water, turn on the sprinkler for as long as I like, or run a bath at my convenience? Not very real.

Well it changed when I received a disheartening message in my inbox this week.  The food that I eat is being compromised by the lack of water and is in need of help.  If you shop at the grocery store this is probably sort of a strange statement. You might ask, “Well, isn’t everyone’s food being affected? All of our food comes from the same places, right?” I think this is true for most people, and for me to an extent. However, the food in grocery store is far removed from my life. The abundance is always the same – it’s there whenever I want it, in no short supply. It just appears – I don’t know who grows it, or how it gets there. It may cost a little bit more, but other than that I don’t feel a difference. This situation is no the same.

When I say: The food that I eat is being comprimised by the lack of water and is in need of help.

I mean: My farmer – someone I personally know – is struggling to feed her animals, the ones that end up on my plate.

Yikes. That is upsetting to say. It was just as unsettling to read. Here is an excerpt from this months newsletter in her (yup, my farmer is a woman)  own words:

Not only did the heavy spring frosts hurt the fruit farmers in Michigan, but the pastures and hayfields have been hit hard by theworst drought in 27 years One of the key aspects of how we treat our animals at Old Pine Farm is pasturing our cattle every summer.  Our cattle eat only grass either in the pasture or via hay when pasture is not available.  Right now, our herd of almost fifty cattle is out to pasture…with no grass!  I’ve been pasture farming for quite a while and have never had this problem.  Our cattle are rotated on pastures, but this year when the cows returned to “square one”, there was no grass to eat.  It’s been too hot and dry.  This causes multiple interrelated problems.  First, we are buying hay to feed the cattle in June, July and August.  Second, we will be lucky to harvest any hay this summer which means we will have to buy hay to last us through the winter.  Lastly, we are not the only farmers facing these problems which have driven the price of hay to all time highs.  Following the advice of Michigan State Extension planner Jerry Lindquist, “the hay supply is small.  Buy early because there may not be any hay on the market this winter, and what there is will be impossible to afford.”

Current summer hay prices (when hay should be abundant) have more than doubled since last winter (at the normal height of demand).  The big round bales that we normally use are virtually impossible to find, most likely bought by bigger farms.  Our current hay supplier only got 20% of last year’s yield and would have to charge $20/bale to break even.  It’s affecting farmers everywhere.  Many Michigan farmers are taking what hay they do have to other parts of the Midwest where they can charge even higher prices.  Being faced with this hay shortage and drought, many farms are culling their herds; it’s easier (and cheaper) to butcher the animals now rather than feed them.  This is not an option for Old Pine Farm.  Neither is selling the cattle at reduced prices.  Or selling cattle to the industrial system.  As a result, we have decided to make a switch to the small square bales.  This will require several changes at the Farm.  First, we will need to invest in our barnyard equipment and hardscaping for appropriate winter feeding ($$) and second, we are preparing for the more labor intensive process of feeding square bales.  We have ordered 1000 bales to be delivered this week from Owosso (at $5/bale, compared to $2/bale just six weeks ago) along with another 1500 bales at our pasture about an hour from here (also at $5/bale).  To buy this hay, we’ve had to take loans that we would normally not have had to use.  These 2500 bales will last us through June of 2013. 
We’re trying to be proactive because with the short hay supply the situation is only going to get worse as time goes on.  With our efforts already underway, we are hoping that the “community supported” part of community supported agriculture will emerge from our participants.  As many of you know, the Old Pine Farm CSA raises cattle for 2 ½ years before butchering.  This means that the new calves this spring are being raised and fed for CSA shares in 2014.  The money that comes from selling shares of the CSA is collected in advance to ensure the ongoing supply of humanely treated, organic, pastured livestock.  We have some participants who are new and are trying out the CSA process, and we have some participants who have paid for shares through the end of 2013, and there are many people in between.  The extreme nature of this year’s weather has put us in the position where we need your help to ensure the continued success of Old Pine Farm.  If you can afford to help us buy hay now, please let us know. Depending on your preference, we can apply your support to future shares or for those who would like to donate, add some weight to your monthly packages next spring/summer when/if extras become available. If you know of anyone selling hay, please let us know.  If you are growing hay and have not yet found a buyer, we’re interested.  Our goal is to raise enough money to buy enough hay to last us through next summer.  Hopefully it will rain before then (hopefully a lot), but we cannot wait and see anymore.  We have to act now, and we need your help to do it.
So that’s it. I have the privilege of living in a place where I have direct access to my food – farm to plate. As a result I am more connected to what I eat and where it comes from. I am doing what I can to help support Old Pine Farm through this season.
As a a reader who may enjoy my recipes, gardening, and CSA posts, or anyone who cares about local business and mom&pop operations and good food, you can help by:
  • Donate to Old Pine Farm here.
  • Pass this post on (the more people who know the better)
  • Tweet this post
  • Share the post on facebook

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2012 6:43 PM

    Oh my gosh. You are right. It is so easy to not even think about it when you’re loading your cart at the grocery store.

    Typically, California is used to not having enough water, so that is a common problem here. But when it hits areas that don’t normally have droughts, then it must be very very bad.

    sharing this post on facebook.


    p.s. you are funny Rachel. I love how you posted an animal pic to add more “interest” for your readers 😉 Cute cows!

  2. July 20, 2012 7:22 AM

    Great post. I think sharing your farmer’s letter really makes it real. Like you, I’m very lucky to have that farm to table connection.

  3. July 19, 2012 7:49 PM

    My heart goes out to farmers right now. I hear the news finally beginning to explore how the drought is going to affect everybody, but I don’t hear people outside of the agricultural community talking about it very much. Thank you for sharing this.

    • July 19, 2012 9:17 PM

      Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. This is a tough economcial climate for small business as it is, and the weather couldn’t have made it worse for those working in agriculture. My farmer doesn’t know I posted about her situation, but I think people need to know that food isn’t “a given”. It comes from somewhere, and all of this heat isn’t just affecting the electric bills…it’s folding small businesses like Old Pine Farm that make my life better by providing good, wholesome food from happy animals.


  1. No Farms, No Food | my sister's pantry

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