The challenges of a changing climate can also bring new opportunities for a longer growing season in the Flathead Valley and the potential for self-sustainability, said community members who attended Saturday’s Free the Seeds! Seed and Start Fair at Flathead Valley Community College.
The annual fair offers an opportunity for people to swap both seeds and information about gardening, farming and permaculture. Local businesses set up booths and workshops discussed everything from sustainability, permaculture, farming and renewable energy, to composting, beekeeping, botanicals and medicinal herbs. Hands-on activities included building a mason bee house, making seed bombs and exploring the inside of a seed.
Steve Thompson, chairman of the nonprofit Climate Smart Glacier Country, led a community conversation about the long-term perspective of climate change.
Thompson asked attendees the question, “How is climate change relevant to the future of food in the Flathead Valley?” While some said that it presented the benefit of a longer growing season, others suggested it also creates a greater need for self-sustainability.
One woman in attendance offered that locally sourced foods might be a hedge against risk, adding that much of the valley’s produce comes from places like California and Arizona, and that unpredictable weather down the road could lead to shortages.
Thompson agreed, saying that while the valley is “still part of a global food system,” solutions may be found in a more local and self-reliant system.
Robin Kelson, with Climate Smart Glacier County, said that during an educational tour of the elementary schools in the valley, she asked students to bring in packaged foods. Together with the students, Kelson helped them calculate how many miles their food had traveled to get to the Flathead. Looking only at the distance traveled from processing plants to the Flathead, the shortest distance was 7,000 miles, Kelson said. The highest was 30,000 miles.
“We need to acknowledge the true cost of food,” Kelson said, noting that many packaged foods are shipped from places such as China and Mexico where the price for labor is cheaper.
Citing information from the National Climate Assessment, Thompson stated that projected impacts for Northwest Montana include hotter, drier summers, a 7 degree increase by 2100, more rain and earlier snow melt and a burn area that is likely to be quadrupled by the 2080s.
Although summers are expected to become increasingly hot and dry, Thompson said, Montana’s extreme winters still pose a threat to year-round crops.
When Thompson asked attendees what the community can do now to ensure a sustainable future, solutions suggested included buying local, providing education and awareness in schools, eating less meat to reduce carbon emissions and creating an infrastructure for a local food movement.
“After you dig yourself a hole, you have to get out of the hole. We need to stop digging by emitting fewer greenhouse gases,” Thompson said.
Thompson said that adding more organic matter to the soil is a step toward reducing greenhouse gases, suggesting that the carbon-rich soils have been tilled and many of the natural organic minerals have been replaced by chemicals. “We can reverse that trend” to reduce emissions, Thompson said.
“Look at water and soil as crops that need to be managed, not just natural resources that are just there to be used,” Kelson added.
To find out more about Free the Seeds! go to http://freetheseedsmt.com/.
Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.