Of Farmers and Firefighters

Farmers’ lives and daily tasks are intimately tied up with the climate and weather. Overnight temperatures for tomatoes. Soil temperature for planting and moisture for tilling. Daylight hours for onions. This morning I took advantage of the cool, still morning to mow down some thistle and creosote plants. All good until the wind came up, whirling the grass and dust directly to the interior of my bra and into my eyes. As the day warmed up, I tried to weed between my tender plants, but the sweat in my eyes limited my effectiveness, and I moved on to the next chore. The way soil absorbs water is also altered by excessive dry heat, affecting root growth dramatically. Irrigation fittings can dry, crack or clog, watering too much here and not enough there. In the heat, plant leaves struggle with the excessive UV rays and dry wind. Last year in Yolo county, the tomato crop was 17% lower than expected. The weather challenges are real and affecting our food supply. The weeds, however, apparently have no such weakness.

In California, summer is fire season as much as tomato season, predictably threatening like the hurricane season around the Caribbean sea.  It’s the season to worry about friends and family who live in flammable places. And the animals who don’t get warnings via the internet. Hourly reports tell of evacuations, losses, and heroes. And the pictures of the hellscape are terrifying. What firefighters used to consider the biggest wildfire of a career is now an annual event. The fires are bigger, the season longer, the resources spread thinner. The big air-tankers fly in and out of the nearby airbase all day, loaded with water or flame-retardants, headed toward the massive wildfires.


Locally, we face mainly grass fires, and the fire departments are incredibly fast and skilled at containing them almost as soon as the helicopters buzzing above spot a plume of smoke. But when it’s hot and windy, all of a farm’s metal power tools should stop, as a single spark can cause disaster, in spite of the excellent fire crews.



In case anybody still doubts that climate change is real and not just part of natural cycles, both firefighters and farmers can attest to the unnatural changes. Both are adjusting as fast as they can. They aren’t looking at charts of accelerating temperature rises or maps of the unstable jet stream so much as experiencing dramatic changes firsthand and looking for solutions.


Meanwhile, what can we do to protect our food, water,  and air — as well as our safety — from climate change disasters? How can we stop global warming’s threats? First, we must demand a green energy. Push the businesses you buy from, and push your representatives in government to get rid of fossil fuels right away. We can’t stand any more air pollution or the oil spills into our waters. How is every parking lot in California not yet covered with solar panels generating clean energy (while my car is still 1000 degrees inside)? Demand better.


Second, the meat industry is a huge polluter. Producing, processing, and shipping livestock en masse creates massive greenhouse gas pollution, accounting for 15% of emissions! As the Meatless Monday promoters say, “Studies suggest that if everyone went meatless one day a week, by 2050 the yearly reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could be up to 1.3 gigatons! That’s the equivalent of taking over 273 million passenger vehicles off the road, or closing 341 coal-fired power plants, for a year.” How about 2 days a week? “Less meat = less heat.”


Third, buy food from small, conscientious farmers who reject pesticides, who don’t pollute water with fertilizers, and who sequester carbon in their soils by limiting tilling. Yes, plants collect carbon, break down, and become part of the soil, and that’s where carbon should be staying. But big ag tears up thousands of acres of that soil and sends the carbon back into the air.


These three things are within our reach as regular citizens and consumers. We don’t have to be smoke-jumping super-heroes. We can do this and save the planet and ourselves.


Food for thought: here’s a fiery, garlicky tomato sauce for summer. The best tomatoes are at your farmers’ market now!


Pasta Arrabiata



1/4 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped

4 cups chopped fresh tomato

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes or 2 whole red chilis

8 leaves fresh basil, chopped, plus more for garnish



Pasta of your choice, cooked according to directions.



In a sauté pan warm the olive oil on low. Add in the garlic, chili, and basil and let them flavor the oil for 15-20 minutes, giving the pan a swirl every few minutes. Make sure it is not hot enough to smoke or burn the ingredients.


At about 12 minutes, boil water to prepare your pasta, timing it to be ready as soon as the sauce is done.


Once the oil is fully flavored (smells basil-garlicky), turn up the heat to medium. Stir in tomatoes, bringing them to a low boil, but being careful to avoid spatter. Cook for only 4-5 minutes, until the tomatoes are just softened and the oil has flavored them. Salt to taste.


Serve immediately over the cooked and drained pasta. Garnish with parmesan or vegan parmesan and a leaf or two of basil.


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