Marcelle Paulin and Brendan Grant, Pass LAke
"CSA farms are poised to fare better as we move into the future, because the very nature of a CSA farm [is that] you’re really diversified. And diversity is our insurance policy. You've got to be optimistic about it. We're lucky that we’ve got the advangtage of having 30 or 40 different crops that we grow in mostly small components. They’re not huge plantings of any one thing. And so that diversity affords us a lot of insurance."
Marcelle Paulin and Brendan Grant, Pass Lake
Marcelle and Brendan are the farmers behind Sleepy G Farm in Pass Lake. They bought the farm in 2005 with the intention of transforming it into a "community supported agriculture" (CSA) farm. They now grow a variety of vegetables (specializing in root crops), and raise beef cow and laying hens which they sell through their CSA, at the farmers' market, and at local grocers in Thunder Bay.
Brendan says that as farmers they "live and die by the weather." They check the weather constantly for subtle changes in wind and rain, and try to be prepared for anything. Marcelle and Brendan both think it has become windier, though it is hard for them to be certain, because they've only been farming in Pass Lake for ten years. This spring their 1,000 pound water tank blew off it's stand and across their fields during a harsh windstorm. Wind affects their farming dramatically. Brendan says, "It is so unsettling. When it's windy, neither of us is at ease. We both get very anxious when it's really windy. We're on edge." Because of the short growing season in Pass Lake, they depend heavily on transplants, which easily dry out and die in windy conditions.
In addition to windier weather, Marcelle and Brendan have noted other climate-related changes in the region. They say that there is less snow and shorter winters than they remember from when they were children - even 1,5000 kilometers north of where they grew up. "We've seen that change, for sure," says Brendan. They also note that there are more "extreme precipitation events," which can flood their fields and wash away the valuable rich soil they have worked so hard to develop. Brendan says, "Rather than that nice drizzly wet spring [we used to have] we'll have really dry periods like what we've been having for this last month or so [in March 2017]. And then we'll have a precipitation event where we have four inches of rain in 12 hours. Whereas it would be better of course to get that four inches of rain over a two week period. We have extreme precipitation events [when] you can literally see the soil washing off the fields."
These events are discouraging to Marcelle and Brendan, who may lose up to $8,000 if a single crop fails. "It's just so disheartening. There's nothing you can do from a practical standpoint. When four inches of rain fall in a short period of time like twelve hours, there's nothing you can do to stop the devastation."
Marcelle and Brendan have learned to adapt to the unpredictable weather. Along with several other farmers in the region, they have invested in a silage bailer to make silage instead of "dry hay," which requires several straight days of warm sunny weather. Silage is fermented anaerobically and doesn't require as consistent of weather. Thanks to this investment, they no longer have to gamble on hay crops. Marcelle says, "It's about having options, having that 'Plan B' or back-up plan...You're not going to win them all. You've got to be optimistic." Brendan agrees, but says that when he thinks about climate change, his primary emotion is being "pissed off" and the unexpected events that cost them thousands of dollars. Despite this, Marcelle and Brendan embraces the adventure of farming, and say that the CSA model - growing many different crops, supported by a wide base of members - makes them more resilient and "poised to fare better as we move into the future."