I am interested in helping organic farmers adapt to climate change. And one very important part of that is constructing and maintaining a strong community that supports organic production. That community needs to be farmers, buyers (yes Whole Foods, etc.), and customers. Consumers need to eat with our heart and minds as well as body. Growers need to look out for one another.
Those are the words of conference presenter Carrie A. Furman, PhD, (pictured here at left with her family) whose Educational Session on Saturday is certainly a big highlight for this year’s conference.
She’ll be presenting, alongside UGA’s esteemed climatologist Pam Knox, in “Hot, Wet & Weird: What to Expect and What To Do About Climate Change.”
Furman is an Assistant Research Scientist with The University of Georgia Dept. Crop and Soil Sciences, works with the Southeast Climate Consortium, and is the Georgia State University Department of Anthropology Visiting Scholar.
This real quick Q&A should show you why we are so excited about this session.
How does your research link agriculture and climate change?
Well that is an easy and complicated question. My research with the Southeast Climate Consortium SECC (and UGA) is to work with farmers and climate scientists- I consult the former, work with the latter, and when possible bring the two groups together to ensure that climate tools and research questions are relevant for farmers in Georgia and the greater SE.
This topic spans both issues of climate variability (seasonal) and climate change (long term) and aims to help farmers adapt to changes across this timespan (ie making farming in the southeast more resilient).
My personal focus as a cultural anthropologist, however, is to understand and articulate the various ways in which farmers knowingly or unknowingly create community networks that increase resilience. This is what my paper was essentially about. The organic community is an amazing example of this- because eaters and growers are much more connected- and have it as their goal to support one another.
The act of building farmer to farmer and farmer to consumer ties I argue, the increases farmers resilience to climate variation and change. In the future I would like to look into how shifts in organic food production and marketing change (or maintain) this dynamic.
So you have found that the “community” element of the organic community is what makes it more resilient. What exactly do you mean by resilient, and what does community have to do with resiliency?
When I say resilient- I mean that the farmer has the ability to first respond to or make quick changes in their production to meet and survive a climatic event or series of events. (like a freeze or excessive rainfall). These events will more likely happen at higher frequencies and at random times in the future (frankly we have no idea exactly what to expect for SE climate in the future, except that it is going to become more extreme and potentially harder to predict).
If we look at climate change from a farmers perspective, I think and based on what I hear from farmers, we need to think about it as a long series of events and to be resilient the farmer needs to be able to navigate each one.
So yes, my thesis (and others) is that community (or what others might call strong social networks) helps farmers adapt to climate change (or helps a farmers resilience- in some way adaptation and resilience are interchangeable in popular literature). Social networks help do this in many ways.
For this case- I think the fact that farmers really help each other out in the Georgia Organic community- look out for one another; offer advice on production techniques, sell produce to one another at cost to help with a CSA, etc. These things help farmers survive events and keep their customers.
When consumers sign up for a CSA and give money up front this helps farmers navigate future events. It also means that the consumer is willing to pay a premium to keep a farmer in business. I think the 2010 flood is a great example. There was a region wide fund raiser for these farmers. During that time I happily paid more for eggs because I knew that was the only thing my ‘friends’ were able to produce and they needed to make ends meet. Would I do that for a conventional farmer I didn’t know personally? Would you?