LocalHarvest Newsletter, May 1, 2015
Living the Drought


Welcome back to the LocalHarvest newsletter.

The drought in California has been in the news more lately as the state groans through its fourth dry year. The situation is indisputably urgent, and personally relevant for just about everyone who eats. Last week I realized I was having a hard time imagining the situation because it is inconceivably big, so I decided to start small. I called Linda Butler, a farmer from Lindencroft Farm in Ben Lomond, CA. Within minutes, the drought became much more real.

As a small-scale farmer with no access to municipal water and no water rights, Linda and her husband Steven are living the drought day in and day out. They own 90 acres of sandy soil on a hillside in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Ten years ago when they bought the property, they terraced two acres to carve out a small farm. In the beginning, rain was plentiful. "Back when our valley got 60-80" of rain a year, everything thrived," Linda remembers. "We would lay a heavy layer of compost over everything, and count on the rain to do the rest." The Butlers rely on their well and two reservoirs for all their water needs. Before the drought, the winter rains filled their reservoirs, replenished the well, and watered their winter crops, allowing them to save the well and reservoir water for summer and fall.

Last year they got less than 10" of rain, Linda says, and had to irrigate through the winter. The well level is now precariously low and not refilling. The farm is different. The Butlers no longer grow water-intensive crops like melons, and have stopped watering their roses and other ornamental plants. Fruit trees get watered first. Vegetable crops now get a time-consuming six inch layer of straw mulch to help conserve moisture. Linda says they are "growing less but working more." Even the types of insects that come to the gardens have changed.

Last year the Butlers took money out of savings to buy water from a neighboring water district. This year there is no water to buy. It was too expensive anyway. "Last year we said to each other, 'this could be our last year.' We are saying that this year too."

Every choice comes down to water. Until recently, the Butlers sold their produce to local restaurants and to local families through their CSA. This year they closed down a quarter of their farm because they couldn't water it all. That meant they had to drop their restaurant accounts. They miss the income. "We try really hard to keep our employees employed, but boy is it tough. If our car breaks down, I don't know what we are going to do."

Despite the daily strain and worry, Linda remains hopeful. "We will get a decent winter one of these years. Then we could build another reservoir and we'd be okay. That's my dream." Until then, Linda says that they will continue making do. "We find that we are willing to give up more and more and more. We don't go on vacations or to conferences anymore, but it doesn't really matter. Our farm is where we want to be. In spite of everything, I think it's the most beautiful thing we have ever done with ourselves."

Since talking with Linda, I have been thinking about the drought every day – about the many present and future hardships of growing food; about how easy it is to take abundance for granted. Mostly I have been considering the resilience of the human heart, which has the capacity to love a life this difficult, and does.


Until next time, take good care and eat well.
Erin

Erin Barnett
Director
LocalHarvest



From the LH Store

Plant a garden! You'll be glad you did. And if you get your seeds directly from some family farmers, you'll feel even better. We have a great collection of seeds for your garden. Take a look!

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Planning a summer wedding? Fragrant dried lavender makes a lovely a wedding toss. We have some available here!



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Recipe...