a beaver tale

By Caitlin Hall in Community

It was a beaver that saved our farm this year.  He took up residence in our creek this spring and set to work building his dam. An industrious creature, he tirelessly chewed down our trees and packed them across our waterway.  Just as quickly as we tore it down, he re-built it.  Finally, after the fifth demolition, we were so busy with the farming season that we gave in and let him keep his dam.  Three very dry months later, as the creek beyond his dam dried up, we’re so happy he chose our farm for his home.   The beaver pond he created has allowed us to irrigate endlessly as many of our colleagues’ ponds have dried up and wells have dropped dangerously low.
2012 has proven to be a challenging year for agriculture. With record high temperatures and record low rainfall, the drought has proven disastrous for many farmers who have no way to irrigate their acres of crops or pastures.  Crop farmers are calling in their insurance claims and cattle farmers are selling off their herds with no grass to graze them on this summer and no hay to keep them fed this winter.   As a small-scale market garden, we are among the lucky who have methods of bringing water to our plants when the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Vegetables need about an inch of rain per week to thrive and with no more than a few drops falling from mid-June through July, we were forced to rely on our irrigation system to keep our 5 acres of certified organic vegetables growing.  Every day for about 50 days straight we ran our pump, drawing water from our beaver dammed creek and distributing it though drip tape to our rows of vegetables.  Every evening we switched over to our sprinkler system and watered as much of the garden as we possibly could.  Even with all the irrigation, our crops still suffered.  Not enough water created stressed plants and that, combined with our mild winter and early spring, has made for a welcoming environment for many garden pests.  Cucumber beetles, flea beetles, tomato hornworms, and cabbage moths have all been thriving this season and enjoying more than their fair share of our bounty.  All this paints a bleak picture of the 2012 growing season but again, we are among the lucky.
We market all of our farm products directly to the people who eat it and primarily through an arrangement called Community Shared Agriculture. This arrangement means that our vegetable customers invest in the garden at the beginning of the season and agree to share in both the bounty and the risk of the farm.  In exchange, we grow a wide variety of crops to keep them fed throughout the harvest season. Each week they visit the farm and pick-up their share of the vegetables we’ve grown and harvested for them.   With over 40 types of crops in the ground, we keep them in fresh, organic produce from June through October.  When there’s a bumper crop, everyone benefits.  When a crop fails, everyone accepts the loss.  It’s an amazing relationship that builds resiliency into a food system that traditionally has meant the farmer accepting all the risk in a job that is at the complete whim of mother nature.  This year, we’ve fared well throughout the drought, our irrigation system has kept our garden growing and while yields are down a little and certain cool-season crops have suffered, the diversity of crops we grow has meant our vegetable customers are happy and our bottom line hasn’t suffered.
So the moral of the story is that as we prepare to deal with the inevitability of climate change and what that might mean for agriculture, we should explore ways of building resiliency into our food systems, supporting the farmers who are growing our food and of course, making peace with our furry national symbol who I can credit with helping to save our garden at reroot organic farm from the drought this year.
Caitlin Hall is the owner of reroot organic farm, a 70-acre diversified farm in Harriston growing certified organic produce and raising pastured chickens, pigs, and cows. www.reroot.ca