The Heat Dome and How Small Farms Can Better Survive Such Calamities

One every thousand years. That’s how often we should expect a heat event like the one we just had. Or maybe not. Scientists are warning that with global warming, we could be seeing a lot more of these types of events. Already this year, in addition to the heat dome, we’ve experienced and suffered the consequences of an unusual windstorm (lost five big trees and a few dozen trees damaged), a rare and destructive ice storm, and two winter floods. And last summer, the fires caused Three Goats Farm to evacuate with livestock and a few personal possessions. 

Sadly, according to a recent New York Times article, in addition to the hundreds of humans who died in the historic heatwave, somewhere close to a billion sea organisms perished. And, articles abound reporting that farmers across the entire Pacific Northwest lost significant portions of this year’s crops. 

A pear burnt by the sun

As a small farm, we were able to protect most of our crops. We did so by erecting shade structures, using more insect netting, and toiling in the broiling sun. Still, losses were considerable, including our entire crop of blueberries, about a quarter of our raspberries, 40% of our apples and pears, and all newly sprouted plants, lettuces, and cilantro, which will put us back about 3-4 weeks. The seeds that we direct seeded into our rows didn’t germinate, so we had to resow after the heat had passed. The heat also delayed our squash from blossoming. Luckily, we averted most of the destruction larger farms experienced (which undoubtedly will affect food costs of locally produced products), but we still worry that shares will be a little sparse for the next few weeks. Hotter weather means more insects and weaker plants, so the outcome of this season is still uncertain.

For us, a personal tragedy was losing Lucy, our beloved goose, one of her duck companions, and two hens. She-Ra, our livestock guardian dog, was just too exhausted by the heat to fend off the coyotes successfully. That was our first coyote loss in the last two years of having She-Ra as protector.

Three Goats Farm Community is committed to living as lightly on the earth while feeding as many people as possible using the most regenerative methods available to us. We strive to use the least amount of water, eliminate waste, use organic and sustainably produced inputs, and collaborate with nature. But what happens when nature seems to turn on us? We adapt. 

This year we have begun to grow things that traditionally do better in drier, hotter climates, like figs, kiwi, artichokes, grapes, and olives. These are all in the experimental stage, but how exciting! Small has its advantages – easier to pivot, quicker to mobilize help (our fantastic volunteers are always here to help!), and more able to improvise. We also learned how to be better prepared to handle such a disastrous event in the future.

As many small farmers do, we rely heavily on our CSA partners to succeed in our food production. Our CSA members (Community Supported Agriculture) buy a share at the beginning of the year at a set price, which allows us to purchase seeds, soil amendments, compost, tools, irrigation, etc. They share in the bounty in good years and help carry the burden of hard years. They, along with volunteers and interns, are the lifeblood of the small family farm. It’s hard to overstate the importance of the community’s help in making possible local, sustainable food systems. We believe that local food systems are key to food security in the coming years and to food justice, which will be a topic in a later blog.

With the help of our members, we have been able to double our food production this year. More produce means more visibility at the market, more donations to the food bank, and more contact with the local community where we get a chance to educate people about the value of knowing where their food comes from.

A milestone for us this year has been partnering with Allium Restaurant to supply them produce, and in return, our members benefit by having access to their delicious recipes. This partnership with Allium also resulted in our presence at the July 2 (and upcoming August 14) Field and Vine event (where fine vintners are paired with local produce and meat producers for an exceptional farm-to-table alfresco dining experience.) 

A new goose

This week, we brought home four geese, six ducks, and a  rooster, new rows are planted, and fresh berries are ripening on the vines. Life goes on (or, as Farmer Levi likes to joke, life goats on), and we will continue our mission to grow food in a way that is sustainable, regenerative, and fun!

By: Gabriella Cordova with contributions from Sarae B. and Sydney M.

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