Imagine the heartbreak of facing a field of fall crops drowned by record-breaking rains, just weeks after a heat wave pulled every last drop of moisture from the soil. For sisters and first-generation farmers Jessie and Rebecca MacInnis, these were some of the many climate-fuelled challenges they faced this summer on their farm.
Happily, they were able to draw on the power of community — which had been at the core of their inspiration to grow food in the first place – to help see them through the worst of it.
For them, community is not just a word – it’s a vital part of their approach at Spring Tide Farm. The sisters are part of a new generation of farmers reimagining the ways in which food can bring people together and make communities stronger.
A SEASON OF UNCERTAINTY
This summer in Nova Scotia was filled with extreme weather that tested the most experienced farmers. The growing season started with a heat wave and extremely dry conditions, followed by a summer’s worth of rain falling on parched land in only a few hours, flooding and destroying crops.
On their organic vegetable and flower farm in the rural community of Lapland, sisters Jessie and Rebecca were feeling the impacts. The unpredictability of the weather meant that even proven growing methods were no longer working, and the crops they were relying on were rotting in the ground.
For many small farmers this could have been a devastating blow. While Jessie and Rebecca felt the impact, they found a deep well of support in the community they had built that allowed them to get through the worst of it.
Part of this support came through their Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Rebecca explains, “A CSA allows people to buy into a farm before the growing season even starts. This is typically in the winter months when expenses on a farm can be high, but we have very little cash flow. So when people buy into a CSA they are providing essential start-up funding for the upcoming season. In return, they receive a share of the farm’s produce and flowers throughout the growing season.”
She continues, “Along with this came an education piece. Both in-person at farmers markets and online through our weekly blog, we were able to let our community in on the successes and challenges we were facing along the way. This helped us build a relationship that was more than transactional – it created a lot of trust and solidarity as we faced the uncertainties of the season. When things didn’t go as planned – even when we had to cut the CSA program short by a few weeks – the community was still there for us.”
COMMUNITY AT THE CORE
This community support was not achieved by chance. Jessie and Rebecca made the conscious decision to build community into the foundation of Spring Tide Farm from the very beginning.
Rebecca shares that at the root of their approach is the concept of food sovereignty. This principle holds that local communities should be able to make decisions about what they eat and how it’s produced. Within a food sovereignty model, the focus is on local, sustainable, and culturally appropriate processes in relation to food and how it ends up on our plates.
She explains, “This means we’re thinking of things like our place within the environment, how we can support biodiversity and encourage pollinators, as well as our water and fossil fuel consumption. There’s a lot of critical thinking that goes into it beyond just decisions about what to plant.”
She continues, “This also means thinking about the community more broadly: How are we making food accessible for our community? How are we deepening our relationship with our community? How are we sharing this space and what we know about growing food with our community? We love the practice of farming – the physical aspects and the connection with nature – but the ways in which farms can help make communities more resilient is what keeps us going”
CHANGING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
This community-centered approach stands in contrast with the current corporate approach that sees food as a commodity for mass consumption – and one in which control is held by an ever-smaller group of corporations and institutions around the world.
These structures that currently control the production, processing, transport, and consumption of food are increasingly being destabilized by the impacts of climate change, which in turn makes communities more vulnerable to food insecurity as the availability of and access to food is affected.
For Jessie and Rebecca, changing their relationship with food and the ways it gets on our plate is the key to strengthening communities and helping them be prepared in the face of increasing climate impacts.
Rebecca explains, “In order to make our communities more resilient, we need to start putting the power of food and food production back into the hands of the people who are growing and eating it.”
She continues, “We need to put food sovereignty at the core – to create food systems that actually can feed people and benefit communities rather than simply being an extractive process.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
According to Rebecca, here are the top four ways in which strengthening local food systems can be put into practice:
- Get to know your farmers: “Whether that’s through going to a farmers’ market and having a conversation, or actually visiting the farm, building that relationship is an important step.”
- Join a CSA: “This is one of the best ways to help farmers – especially new farmers – to not only get off the ground but to continue growing and feeding their communities.”
- Advocate for small farmers: “Write to your local officials about policies to support small farmers in your area – your local farmer will be able to tell you about which ones matter to them most. This can be things like land access, financial assistance for new farmers, and starting or extending local farmers’ markets.”
- Shop locally: “When you compare current grocery store prices to what farmers are selling their produce for, these days it’s pretty even. Buying locally allows you to support farmers and cut down on those food miles between where your food is grown and your plate.”
Despite a season of ups and downs, Rebecca and Jessie continue to return to why they do what they do. Rebecca reflects, “We’re so privileged to own this land and be able to steward it. So we always want to take the opportunity to share what this land gives to us; to share meals and remember that food is a sacred thing and it’s something that has the power to bring people together.”