By Erin Flynn
Huddled beside our wood stove anticipating the next icy blast of this weeklong polar vortex, I’m thinking about starting over.
Once again our organic veggie and flower farms have been rocked by extreme — a partial list includes Bastrop fires in 2011, unprecedented flooding and Hurricane Harvey in 2016 and, now, acres of food and flowers entombed by record-breaking cold.
Like other farmers, we had been working hard to ensure a successful spring CSA season — our 15th consecutive year of farming. Our fields were full of tender vegetables and flowers planted to ensure a continuous harvest as we were midway through our 10-week winter season and readying for our 10-week spring season of feeding 100 families and farm stand shoppers.
Since this isn’t our first rodeo, we were ahead of schedule. We had done everything right — bought our supplies and seeds early as we anticipated Covid-induced scarcities, worked overtime prepping fields and planting, then spent countless hours readying for the storm by covering, watering, and mulching. We were as ready as you can be.
But when it thaws on Saturday, we will face extensive failure. Despite our experience, financial and physical investment, and careful planning, what we will reap is a black, gelatinized mess of dead plants. Long hours of hauling soggy row cover, clearing the fields and replanting lay ahead. But what does not lay ahead is compensation. There will be no food or flowers to sell for some time. There is no crop insurance to cover our losses. There is no bank to provide a bridge loan. There is no organization we can turn to to fill this gap.
That’s why our traditional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program has been so important. Our members invest in the farm early (before the season begins) and for the entire season. The risk is shared. Our customers understand that we are all at the mercy of Mother Nature and it’s unreasonable to expect a farmer to shoulder such a financial and emotional burden alone.
Our farm has endured because our neighbors want it to succeed. Families like Dolly and Larry Lambdin and Deborah and Brad Freeman, who have been CSA members since our farm started in 2006, have renewed their CSA memberships season after season despite countless plagues and crises. They have kept the faith even when harvests were thin or nonexistent.
Each CSA member sustains the farm in their own way. Azucena Garza brings hot, delicious meals when we’re too exhausted to cook, while Sayuri Yamanaka arranged for a full-feathered Aztec blessing ceremony when it was necessary to tap into a higher power.
What our CSA members understand is that our food and farming systems are broken — something that the Texas Agriculture Commissioner finally admitted on Tuesday:
”Store shelves are already empty," Miller said. "We’re looking at a food supply chain problem like we’ve never seen before, even with COVID-19.”
Local farmers are not surprised by this scenario. Ensuring food security is one reason why Skip and I have devoted the past five years to working with the City of Austin and Roberts Communities to transform our historic east Austin farm into this country’s first agrihood community of tiny homes (more than 100) surrounding a certified organic farm
Living in a smaller space with a community farm at your doorstep is our response to empty store shelves, to homes too big to heat, to anonymous neighbors.
Perhaps it’s time that we all start over.