This is part two of a series of interviews with local farms about how the recent weather conditions have been affecting them and their crops.
Last week, we took a look at how Full Circus Farm in Pine Plains, NY was navigating the recent flooding they experienced due to the excessive rain. This week, we took a look at Rock Steady Farm in Millerton, NY.
D Rooney, owner and general manager of Rock Steady Farm, shares that they too suffered from the same storm that washed out Full Circus Farm.
“The storm on July 13 washed out a big portion of that field that was empty and waiting to be planted, and we lost some already planted crops in that field as well,” D says. “This issue is a water management issue off of the adjacent Riga mountain, in which we experience a washout from a similar type of storm in September of 2018.”
D shares that the change in conditions means that they “aren’t finding as much balance and predictability in the weather anymore.” D says that too much rain can bring about fungal and bacterial diseases on the Cucurbit (cucumber, squash, etc.), Solanacea (tomatoes, peppers), and Legumes (beans) families that can cause their seasons to end a lot sooner. D also says that diseases can stay in the soil and reemerge in the next and future seasons, which can cause issues years into the future.
As we know, weather conditions after flooding can either make or break crop survival, and farmers often implement changes in an attempt to offset the harm done to the soil from the drastically changing weather conditions.
Rock Steady Farm adds cover crops during the growing season to allow the fields to restore. “Cover crops are specifically grown crops (such as oats, peas, and rye, to name a few) that depending on the type, are intended to add nutrients back into the soil, help to create better aeration with their root systems, and to hold soil in place to prevent topsoil loss as well as add carbon back into the soil.”
Rock Steady also grows cover crops in the winter to restore soil during dormant conditions and they add organic compost to their soil every year.
“We are always looking for ways to be the best stewards we can be to the soil, so that has become more articulated in the last year as we have decreased production for other reasons, but it feels good to rest a lot of our soil,” says D.
D says that Rock Steady has shifted to growing in more large high tunnels, which “support a growing space that can sometimes be easier to grow in and control than in the fields.” High tunnels, also known as hoop houses, are made of polyethylene, plastic, or fabric that cover hoop structures. Though these tunnels can provide a safer growing space, they are easy targets for wind if there is a heavy storm.
Many of the seasons have been the opposite of what they typically are. Usually in the Northeast, we have a wet spring. Instead of rain, this year we experienced a late frost in May. For many farmers, this killed some crops that they had already planted, or led to slowed growth.
Rock Steady didn’t lose any crops during the late frost this year due to a fabric they use called “floating row cover,” which is a light-weight material that is usually used for pest protection, but can also be helpful against frost.
“We’re definitely feeling sad for the fruit tree farmers in our region and throughout the country that had frost issues this spring that led to a significant loss for some with stone fruits,” D says.
D also shares that the farmers at Rock Steady have had to adapt in a variety of ways in recent years. “In 2017, we experienced a microburst on our farm that physically injured three folks, two resulting with long lasting brain injuries to this day, and for me still some PTSD with high winds and storms,” D says.
For the past eight seasons that Rock Steady has been a farm, D says they have experienced a major or impactful weather event nearly every year. Each event has taken either physical or emotional tolls, or both, on the Rock Steady team.
“Therapy has helped. I am still farming because people need to eat and we need to understand how to adapt and grow food in a changing climate. The unpredictable weather hasn’t deterred me from farming, maybe it’s emboldening me,” says D.
Because of this, the changing climate and difficult conditions haven’t been terribly different, given that Rock Steady has experienced intense weather conditions in one way or another nearly every year. “I will say the smoky conditions are truly unsettling, both when I think about what that impact has on the ecosystem of Canada and its peoples, but that for folks as far as the Carolinas, the smoke has traveled and affected multiple times.”
D shares that the air quality has been one of the biggest battles this season at Rock Steady. “Personally, I have a lung and heart condition, so I am in an ‘at risk’ category. There is another team member that is in the same category and it affects them as well.”
D says that they adjust work days according to the air quality level predictions, but that typically means that many of their days end up being short, or “full of pivots depending on if the air changes.” This has made it very stressful for them to complete their work at this point in the season, but also creates panic at a “greater environmental level.”
“Whether you believe in climate change or not, there are ways in which we can be in better relationship with our natural resources and for too long we haven’t been,” D says. “I can’t imagine how poor behavior towards nature can’t have an effect on the environment and what the whole world is currently experiencing with extreme weather and climate events.”
Rock Steady Farm
41 Kaye Rd. Millerton, NY 12546