Community and climate change at Meadowcreek

Winter before last was the coldest we’ve ever seen at Meadowcreek.  This summer is shaping up to be the hottest, but it’s wet.  Two years ago we had the driest summer, right after getting 7 inches in one night in May.

We love the great thunderstorms we get at Meadowcreek.  You don’t have a lot of warning as you do in flat land.  You can’t see the storm coming.  It just pops over the ridge and its here.  Keeps you on your toes.

Extreme weather events, many say, are increasingly caused by man made climate change.  Climate change resilience is what everyone from the White House on down is trying to achieve.  Resilience is one of our main interests at Meadowcreek.  So some think we are focused on climate change at Meadowcreek.

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Not exactly. The resilience we are trying to understand is a more general resilience.  We are interested in how systems, especially farms and food systems, respond to all sorts of disturbances, not just weather extremes.  Unexpected weather is a huge disturbance for farmers, but market changes, labor changes, input prices are all huge disruptions.

A farmer breaks his leg and the resilience of his farm gets tested.  A farmer’s baby gets cancer and he has to spend weeks at the hospital.  What happens to the farm?  We did a case study on just such a situation in Tupelo, Mississippi.  Neighbors pitched in and the farm seemed to run about as well as always.  The parents could be with their baby until she was healed.

Ecological resilience researchers call that redundancy.  We call it having good friends and family. Whatever you call it, it means having someone to take over, someone who has your back.  Ecological systems aren’t resilient unless they can replace missing components.  When the last wolf is shot, the caribou population explodes and the mountains erode from vegetation loss.  The wolf and the caribou are part of the same system, neither species can be healthy without the other.

The independent farmer is an enduring myth of American life.  No farmer survives as a lone wolf.  All resilient farmers have extensive networks.  They create community wherever they are.

We are creating community at Meadowcreek, starting almost from scratch.  Two years ago, we had a sudden outflow of residents.  Long time members of the Meadowcreek community had opportunities in other areas.  We were left with five empty residential houses and two empty dorms.  Gradually we have been finding great people to come to Meadowcreek and create a new community which includes families up and down the valley outside Meadowcreek’s 1600 acres.

The first residents were pioneers and being a pioneer is tough, especially when the winter is the coldest ever and you arrive in the middle of it.  It’s also psychologically tough for some people because Meadowcreek is isolated and some folks are used to cities and lots of social interaction.  We feel lucky to have a great brew pub less than an hour away, but its not like having one on the next block.

So new members of the Meadowcreek community are always welcome.  If we fill up all the houses, we have great ideas for new resilient building design and plenty of room to build more.

The only way you will find out if you are cut out to live in a pristine mountain valley away from TV and cell phones is to try it.  Come on up for a weekend, a week or a summer.  We look forward to seeing you.

By the way, a great book on agriculture and climate change is Resilient Agriculture, written by our friend Laura Lengnick. Our own book, available free here, builds on her work and give specific tips on how to build resilience on your farm and in your community.

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