THIS summer the tiny town of Furnace Creek, Calif., may once again grace the nation’s front pages. Situated in Death Valley, it last made news in 1913, when it set the record for the world’s hottest recorded temperature, at 134 degrees. With the heat wave currently blanketing the Western states, and given that the mercury there has already reached 130 degrees, the news media is awash in speculation that Furnace Creek could soon break its own mark.
Such speculation, though, misses the real concern posed by the heat wave, which covers an area larger than New England. The problem isn’t spiking temperatures, but a new reality in which long stretches of triple-digit days are common — threatening not only the lives of the millions of people who live there, but also a cornerstone of the American food supply.
Recent years have brought spikes in the frequency of strange weather patterns and severe storms, with many blaming the increase on human-caused climate change. If this new normal, as it’s being called, is here to stay, it will have profound implications on food production.
There are two basic ways that this threat to food production is being addressed. One is to develop new crops and agricultural methods tailored to withstand increased heat and water stresses. The other approach is to look to the past for solutions, at crops and techniques used in regions that have historically endured this kind of weather.
A third of a century ago, an unprecedented grassroots movement emerged from American soil.It is a movement that is still alive, one for which Heirloom Gardener magazine has become the freshest and mostly-widely read source of information and inspiration. It may well be worth your while to reflect on the origins of the social change movement to which you belong, for it is a wellspring of food diversity, and as such, an important counter-current to modern agriculture.
On a hot June day in the Flowing Wells neighborhood of northeast Tucson, 45 ranchers, farmers, chefs, butchers and range ecologists met to talk about the future of meat production, processing and local distribution in Southern Arizona.
Most of the participants knew that meat prices and demand were at an all-time high in Tucson and North America as a whole,