retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a pair of stories posted on its website this morning about the potential impact of climate change on our food supply.

One story, while conceding that the impact is not yet obvious at the store and consumer levels, says that if you “drop a pin anywhere on a map of the United States … you’ll find disruption in the fields. Warmer temperatures are extending growing seasons in some areas and sending a host of new pests into others. Some fields are parched with drought, others so flooded that they swallow tractors.

“Decades-long patterns of frost, heat and rain — never entirely predictable but once reliable enough — have broken down. In regions where the term climate change still meets with skepticism, some simply call the weather extreme or erratic. But most agree that something unusual is happening … Because the system required to feed the country is complex and intertwined, a two- or three-week shift in a growing season can upset supply chains, labor schedules and even the hidden mechanics of agriculture, like the routes that honeybees travel to pollinate fields. Higher temperatures and altered growing seasons are making new crops possible in places where they weren’t before, but that same heat is also hurting traditional crops. Early rains, unexpected droughts and late freezes leave farmers uncertain over what comes next.”

The story points to 11 everyday foods - including watermelon, raspberries, chickpeas, cherries, and popcorn - on which climate change is having an impact … and you can read the details here.

The Times also has the story of tomato farmer Brad Gates, a successful California tomato farmer for a quarter century. “For most of that time, he sold his tomatoes to top restaurants, including Chez Panisse in Berkeley. But a few years ago he completely rethought his work. Galvanized by climate change, he joined a growing number of farmers who are trying to find a future for their threatened crops — in his case, the queen of the farmers’ market.

“Mr. Gates now grows thousands of tomato plants each year, selling the young ones to local shops and the seeds all over the country through his website and catalogs, encouraging people to grow their own at home. He believes that the tomato’s survival and continued deliciousness depend on the plant’s diversity, and he considers breeding hardy, cold-tolerant and heat-tolerant varieties an essential part of his work — not just to provide food, but also to expand the number of places where the plant can flourish.”

You can read Gates’ story here.
KC's View:
I think these are important stories, because everyone in the food chain - from farmers to stores to consumers - has to be aware of how climate change has the enormous potential to reshape our lives. For me, the debate about how much of it is manmade is specious - as a culture, if we want to survive, we do everything we can to reduce humanity’s impact on a fragile planet, because it is irresponsible to do anything less.

I find one comment from Gates to be enormously illuminating: “In the last 10 years, tomatoes have changed more than in their entire existence.”

Some of this is because of climate. Some if it is because of breeding. Some of it is because of innovation.

But to ignore the realities of change is to risk everything that can happen when the dominoes begin to fall.