A rough year for growers, a tough forecast ahead

Every family celebrates Thanksgiving differently. Some focus on the founding of our nation while others reflect upon their personal blessings, but for almost everyone the celebrating revolves around food and drink.

In today's modern and fast-paced economy, there is a huge gap between the producers and the end-users of any product. Children do not know that beef comes from cows. Supermarket cashiers can't identify the vegetables they ring up on the register. Consumers, no longer tied to the land, don't take the time to stop and reflect upon the year's worth of labor that went into harvesting a crop whether it be grapes or grain.

Yet, on some plot of land, someone still planted a seed, weeded and watered, fought pests and disease, and combated this season's wet spring, scorching summer and wet fall to grow a fruit or vegetable. Although there is wine to open, Mid-Atlantic wineries suffered this year, with some reporting significant challenges or crop loss.

Jim Law, owner of Linden Vineyards in Virginia, commented, "It was a good growing season but a very tough harvest. At the end of August, the skies opened up and there was nothing we could do. It all came down to picking decisions and I lost where a gambled most. I lost 15 to 50 percent, depending on the variety. It was not a year to gamble."

Eric Aellen, vineyard manager for Linganore Wine Cellars in Maryland, had similar comments. "The early varieties were picked starting August 15th, a week early and ahead of the rains, but most of the middle [ripening] varieties don't have the flavors we're used to, but the quality was good. Welcome to agriculture. If the spring frost doesn't get you, the October rains will."

Becoming a locavore goes a long way to re-establishing our ties to the seasons and becoming more aware of the challenges and rewards of growing things. But this does not change the fact that, as a global community, we are frightfully challenged.

John Jeavons, director of Ecology Action, an environmental research and education organization based in California, quotes Will Rogers in his 6th edition of "How to Grow More Vegetables:" "They're making more people every day, but they ain't makin' any more dirt."

Jeavons' work to revolutionize sustainable mini-farming has earned him two World Food Prize nominations and kudos from Bob Bergland, former U.S. secretary of agriculture. In his book, Jeavons offers up some staggering statistics.

"Current agricultural practices reportedly destroy approximately 6 pounds of soil for each pound of food produced (according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics). United States croplands are losing topsoil about 18 times faster than the soil formation rate. This is not sustainable. In fact, worldwide only about 42 to 84 years' worth of topsoil remains" (as noted in "Natural Resources and an Optimum Human Population" by David Pimentel and "Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies," Vol. 15, No. 5, May 1994 and with statistics from the United Nations).

Jeavons goes on to cite that during the last 50 years, since mechanized and chemical agricultural practices have been used in China, that country has lost 33 percent of its farmland, and that at some point between 2014 and 2021, there will probably not be enough land to produce sufficient nutrition for most of the world's population using current agricultural practices.

Mother Nature offers up enough challenges during the growing season. These days we are compromising ourselves. We need to get back to our roots and sustain the thing that sustains us all: the soil. As the saying goes, think globally and act locally.

This Thanksgiving, we should be thankful for our natural resources and we should work toward keeping them both natural and resources. Support your local farms and wineries and find out what you can do as an individual. Log on to: http://www.cbf.org (Chesapeake Bay Foundation) and http://www.hgic.umd.edu (Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center).

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