My 2018 season on the farm began with rain and lots of it. I had vivid dreams about the irrigation pond at the back of my caravan slowly filling my home while I slept.
The rain and the cold delayed the planting of crops and meant our two acres of asparagus lay dormant. We took advantage of the heavily sodden ground to dig docks out of the first acre of asparagus. We hoped to see spring soon.
Spring came with the first two swallows. It was a very short spring. The trees all blossomed and then greened in unison; the different shades of fresh greens were really beautiful. The asparagus responded with a bumper harvest over a month and a half. Some days we took 100-200 kg a day from the two fields. Spring flipped to summer very quickly.
We loved summer’s first month. We could plant whenever we wanted, not having to worry about sodden ground anymore. The seedlings responded well to the damp earth and constant sun. Then we started to miss the rains. I threw up while weeding the parsnip field. We began to really notice how hot it was. We missed breezes. We became obsessed with weather reports. The rains always seemed to miss us. The ground hardened. The irrigation ponds shrank.
A tame jackdaw named Morgana became part of the team. Driven into someone’s kitchen by hunger and thirst. We fed her by hand and she’d dosed with me in the hotbox that was my caravan during lunch. Sometimes we had 2-hour siestas to get through the hottest part of the day. We’d never needed siestas the 2 previous years I’d worked on the farm.
The summer continued. The grass browned. The crops suffered. We planted cabbages, kale and broccoli into sand. The soil blew off the fields into our eyes. I had to wear glasses to protect mine, which became red and itchy, my eyesight so blurred I couldn’t see properly. We drained both ponds. That had never happened in my time there or during the grower’s 16 years producing crops. We prayed for rain. It didn’t come.
The crops started wilted. Some started dying. We became desperate. We started taking water from the river. Bringing it back up to the farm in a water tanker. We fed our wilting crops sparingly through 120-metre-long irrigation pipes. We realised the true value of water. We we’re thankful then for that wet cold spring, which filled our rivers so they still ran during the drought. The rains that had kept local reservoirs full enough, so we could still water tunnel crops with mains water.
The river kept our crops alive. We heard other farms weren’t so lucky, losing whole plantings of crops twice over.
Rain finally came. We drank the 50 ml caught in the rain gauge with champagne I had saved for a special occasion. The rain had some effect, most of all on our morale, which had been waning as the summer continued. But we still needed to take from the river to truly feed the crops.
The news spoke of UK crops failing and lettuce was sailed across the Atlantic. Brexit talks continued with no definite or security.
The crops managed to survive through our sheer force of will and luck. Luck that someone had leant us that tanker; luck that the rivers and reservoirs still had enough water for us to feed our crops with. We were tired from the effort. I thought about it all and what it meant if that luck ran out.
My 6 month season ended. I felt emotionally and physically battered. I’d thought we’d had time. I thought we’d change it before it all happened; before the climate truly broke down. Then I, a Western, got a taste of how the other half of the planet lives, the half that truly knows what climate change means. Food insecurity. I saw what that looked and felt like. It was terrifying to contemplate what happens when the luck run out. I thanked whatever’s up there for the March rains which filled our pond, reservoir and rivers. Do we hope to based our food security on the luck of the weather? Because we can’t be certain about how the weather behaves anymore. 2018 was a year of ice and fire, neither of which we were ready for; I know I wasn’t.
I have a sadness in me I didn’t have before this year and before this season. It’s the sadness that comes from dead hope. From truly feeling what dying, sterilised earth feels like and that we are heading for big, uncomfortable changes.
From my comfortable position as a Westerner I’ve cared about the environment almost in the way you care for a pet. I got upset about it, signed petitions about plastic in the oceans and the extinction of species, tried to champion the natural world through my art and chose to work in organic farming. But it was only this year that I realised that I’M in danger. My little taste of food insecurity, which must be laughably small in comparison to what African or Middle Eastern farmers experience, made me realise how little we are ready for the dramatic breakdowns in the status quo of our weather. Which are going to happen. This was a year of ice and fire; the Beast from the East to The Grapes of Wrath.
I still carry this sadness in me. It pops up regularly; snatches away happy moments; the pointed end of the stick bursting my optimistic bubble. I guess that’s why I wanted to write this for Extinction Rebellion, because they acknowledge this sadness, this dire experience that we are apathetically allowing to happen, but they are showing such energy in response to it. They speak common sense and they speak it loudly so we can all hear and maybe have enough time to change. They call up the utter nonsense and self-interest that has infested out politics and our systems and they inspire me to continue.
Next year I will still be growing crops; my partner and I will be renting a market garden from the start of 2019 and we plan to incorporate all kinds of plants and habitats to benefit the wildlife which shares the land, but I now know that these actions also benefit me, that protecting nature isn’t an act of sacrifice or parenthood, but one that means I too can keep living on this earth.
Written by Rebecca Mackay