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A Future Without Coffee

Agriculture

As global crisis threatens our Food Supply, we can turn to self-reliance in food systems.

COVID, and the extreme weather challenges posed by climate change, pose threats to our abundant lifestyles and biodiverse food habits. Will we be able to adapt by decentralization? There are limits to what a localized garden can bring us, but as we combine old self-reliance practices with newer affordable greenhouse technologies, perhaps we can create decentralized options that balance out the stresses on our global food system, maintaining the rich biodiversity that we profit from in our daily lives today.

As a young girl living in rural North Dakota in the 1970s, Glenna Meiers remembers surviving brutal winters with hearty meat and pasta dishes. Hers, and other families of the region spent summers growing food, and greeted intense winters with a diet of preserved fare, and goods that could survive transport.

She recalls the excitement of fresh fruit at Christmastime, tasting “very sour oranges,” picked prematurely and transported a lengthy distance to North Dakota. Glenna was seven years old when she saw her first avocado, a new discovery her brother brought home from the grocery store. Kiwis arrived in her area when she was in grade school, and she remembers the initial disgust towards brown fuzz on the peculiar, green fruit.

Glenna’s story is common for older generations from high-latitude regions. This age group never stood the modern-day task of choosing between varieties of apples; “there was only one, delicious type of apple”, she recalls.

Today one can find nearly any fruit, nut, or ingredient at a grocery store during any time of year. In western culture, people have become accustomed to purchasing whatever obscure food item desired, regardless of season. Younger generations can follow an obscure (pinterest) recipe with every ingredient needed. Modern civilization has come to rely on satisfying cravings. But what if our favourite foods and diverse diets disappeared?

In 2019, the United Nations released a report predicting a global food crisis directly caused by climate change. Research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) emphasizes the connection between a rise in global temperatures and depletion of fertile soil and water resources, thereby triggering substantial crop losses. This rise in temperature will further threaten global food supply with extreme weather and unpredictable rain patterns, probing the question: how will humanity feed itself?

The international food market is already seeing a shortage in many favorites such as vanilla, chocolate, hazelnuts, and coffee beans. The widely coveted coffee bean, for example, is threatened by rising temperatures, causing drought, introducing diseases, and killing valuable pollinators. To really bring the fear home to the millions of Americans who drink coffee daily: if trends continue without interference, studies show that nearly half of coffee farmland will be unproductive by 2050. Consumers have already seen a cost increase due to the loss of fertile land, while the shortage of coffee is creating problems in national economics, causing coffee farmers to abandon their professions. Though this is jarring enough, climate change threatens much more than the price of your morning brew. The cascading impacts of global warming reach beyond damaging the agriculture industry, even putting a tension on international borders. Unable to make a living, Central American farmers are among the mass migration of those seeking asylum in the United States. Severe droughts, floods and food shortages create a desperation for better living conditions and result in many westernized countries experiencing an influx of cross-border migration. Currently, 500 million people are living in areas suffering from desertification and 10% of the world’s population is undernourished. These numbers are only expected to rise. With the human population predicted to increase to 10 billion by 2050, many food-production and seed saving initiatives are gaining momentum, as an act of resilience. For instance in 2015, France enacted a law requiring every new commercial building to install a rooftop with either solar panels or a garden. Norway is home to the world’s largest and most remote seed vault. Environmental engineers continue perfecting artificial environments for growing food at optimum conditions in the form of greenhouses and hydroponic systems.

Simultaneously, consumers are drawn to the reliability of local produce, and supporting farmers as they adapt to changing circumstances.

Amidst the fear of food shortages during the COVID-19 crisis, many are even daring to take food production into their own hands. This new trend of planting “quarantine gardens” not only provides nourishment, but has also been proven to treat anxiety and improve mental health.

Climate change and pandemic panic is forcing us to revisit our roots, encouraging homesteading and food preservation; methods that the generation of Glenna Meiers, and those before her, relied upon. Practicing how to make do with what is available, and adopting challenges towards self-sufficiency may very well be a reliable solution to food scarcity. This requires a circling back to primitive techniques, combined with the technologies and abundant information available to us through the internet and global supply chains of our era, and awakens an urgency for gathering information from our agricultural past.

Self-reliance and active work with the land is a tool to combat the feeling of helplessness, connecting to the earth through agriculture, and finding new understanding and insight into the messages that the land sends out. Reassurance can often be found in accessing a community’s knowledge, and tapping into its efforts.

The world has already been pushed into a state of turbulence. This is undeniable. Food systems will break, others will prevail. The way you can act is by learning about the seeds you use, building biodiversity in your own home and land, and creating your own decentralized food system that will serve you and your community as a backup in times of hardship.

 

This article was originally published on Medium.com

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