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Grace Ross: Preventing Fall Hunger in Worcester

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™

I’m thinking about how I have been enjoying our not overly hot summer as we end the time period traditionally referred to as the “dog days” of summer. It’s really a British concept, I believe, that the first 10 days of August were the hottest and most unremitting summer weather.

In the last couple of years, the hottest time in this area has actually usually hit in June, and our growing season has lengthened with earlier beginning dates; the impact on local crops is measurable.

Northeast spared

Of course, the really noticeable weather phenomena haven’t been happening here as much as we experienced numerous flood warnings with heavy intermittent down pours. No, the real dramatic impact has been in the Midwest and in the plains states. Colorado has experienced worse fires than ever before recorded. There have been more numbers of acres under fire in Texas and other states and temperatures approaching or surpassing record after record after record.

If we look at this as a longer trend, 9 of the 10 warmest years globally on record have been since 2000. Remember the way that they figure out the overall global temperature is by looking at temperature readings across the world and averaging them out, so this isn’t a local phenomenon. It’s not just perception; it’s actual measurement and math. Weather monitors measure real weather temperatures across the world all year long every year. They know what the relative temperature is across the world in any given year.

The changes have been so dramatic it has been hard to deny with the earliest hurricanes hitting earlier this year than ever before. Dramatic weather events happening more frequently than ever before. Even the President of Exxon in his speech in June admitting that yes, they’ve been using their resources to deny climate change, but saying in his remarks that it doesn’t really matter because even having to move all crop production around the earth to places where crops can still grow at the same rates is “merely an engineering problem”.

The human arrogance, and a term I’ve never used much until recent months, hubris, is staggering.

Food crops affected by climate change

Regular people will pay the consequences of not having the money to just “engineer” their own existence and the food costs are coming soon.

Half the counties in the United States have been declared a disaster area for some period this year – with the record high heats coming at critically sensitive moments in the growing cycle in the bread basket areas of our country. Corn and soy crops – huge staple crops for the United States and our exports to hungry parts of the world – are going to have been chopped off at their knees so to speak; our farms will not provide the food stocks that the rest of the world and we ourselves depend on.

A couple of years ago the huge price spike was because of the sudden cost increase in oil, but now it’s going to be directly the crops themselves. It will not be the fertilizer and the oil that we use to grow and produce and harvest food crops in staggering numbers across the world, but the weather impact itself killing huge swaths of the normal food production in our world.

Food prices to rise

Food prices are going to be high toward the end of this year.

Right now, the need for food stamps is already higher than possibly any time period before in the United States. This is because of the highest unemployment rates in our lifetime and real falling wages and basic benefits. Food costs are not something that people of the United States can particularly afford to have climb unexpectedly this fall – not while our job situation remains bleak and the basic human need of housing continues to be mangled by the ongoing foreclosure crisis and the related increasing rents.

Shortages of food are not something that take months or years to impact and could be meliorated by savings or staying over at a friend’s house or in one’s car if one doesn’t have a roof over one’s head. No, increasing food costs can become a real impetus to the unraveling of our communities.

On the other hand, advanced planning can make a big difference. I’m not an urban gardener and I don’t know what I should know about growing food, but there are people in the Worcester area who do.

Not too late for a garden

With 52 recognized urban gardens and innumerable private food gardens, Worcester has many resources to assist the inexperienced. It behooves all of us if you have access to a place to grow some food for you and your family and your friends, to look into it even now. It is very late in the growing season, yes, but there’s still things that can be grown and harvested. And it’s a skill worth learning any time of year.

Unfortunately, these are changes in our environment that are going to continue. While we need to work for the larger longer-term solutions to the increasing carbon and methane impacts on our air and therefore our climate and environment, we need to feed ourselves affordably to the best of our ability as well. Hunger is a community responsibility to recognize, understand and avert – and we can. 


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