When Climate Changes, So Do Family Farming Traditions

Sugaring Season 2011

When I heard that Diane of Big Green Purse was hosting a Climate Change Impacts Carnival, I knew exactly what impacts I wanted to write about – the ones that I am already observing on my family’s small farm in Connecticut. In my lifetime alone, I have witnessed changes in the seasons due to climate change, and I see that my family’s farming traditions, some of which span centuries, could change along with the climate.

A few months ago I wrote a post called Maple Sugaring Season for the Natural Parents Network in which I expressed my desire to pass on the maple syrup tradition to my son. This is one of my favorite posts that I have ever written because I was able to share how deeply I feel about this family farming tradition, something that is utterly unique to my part of the world. Here’s a little excerpt:

On our little farm in Connecticut, sugaring season is the ultimate sign of rebirth and renewal, marking the end of the long, cold, dark winter and the beginning of spring. It seemed perfectly fitting that my son, warm and safe inside my womb, would be a part of this experience just weeks before he was born.

In my lifetime alone, the maple sugaring season has moved from March to February. Maple sap runs when it’s below freezing at night and warms up during the day, and if we wait to tap trees until March we will have missed our chance. It is clear that spring has moved to earlier in the year and we have to adjust, tap early, or risk not being able to make maple syrup for a whole year. The boom of the local foods movement has greatly increased the demand for maple syrup, and every farmer I know in our area sells out each year. It’s a New England tradition, my family’s tradition, and yet I worry that some day we may lose it entirely. One prediction is that we could lose maple trees and maple syrup entirely by 2100.

A few months after we tap trees and boil down sap, spring really gets rolling around here. When the orchards fill with blossoms, I know that winter is really and truly over. We may have spent a few weeks each year making maple syrup, but we spent months in the orchards. If maple syrup runs in my veins, then my soul is a bushel of apples. I absolutely love when the apples blossom; white flowers with just a hint of pink. I found this old prom picture from my senior year in high school, posed in the apple orchard (and yes, I did cut out my date on purpose). Photos in the orchard are a family tradition, too, and my brother and his fiance just took their engagement pictures there.

It has been reported that the warm weather in early spring this year has put the fruit trees as much as three weeks ahead of schedule, though my dad said his orchard is only about a week ahead. When trees blossom early, there’s always the risk of a late frost killing off the flowers or young fruit and decimating this year’s apple crop. When farms like my family’s do most of their business in the fall and apple picking is a big part of what draws families to visit, not having apples to pick can do some serious damage to the bottom line. If we luck out and there’s not a late frost, the apple season comes early, which also means it ends early. There have been years when we had to close apple picking as early as Columbus Day, which means all of the people who wait to pick apples until they get a pumpkin can miss out altogether. When school tours are scheduled into October, we want children to be able to pick apples. There’s a race to pick the apples before they fall off the tree, as any reputable orchard will not use dropped apples, not even in cider (it can cause E. coli contamination in unpasteurized cider). As soon as that apple hits the ground it begins to rot, and if it lands earlier in the season that means that wildlife like deer will run out of a food source earlier in the winter.

I understand that not everybody will think maple syrup and the apple seasons are a major impact of climate change, but these are two things that are such a large part of my heritage and are important for me to pass on to my children. I don’t want to imagine a world where there are no Macoun apples in September or where Joshua can’t teach his grandchildren how to make maple syrup.

Linked up to the Seasonal Celebration at Natural Mothers Network

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Filed under Local Agriculture, parenting

2 Responses to When Climate Changes, So Do Family Farming Traditions

  1. The thought of no maple syrup strikes fear in my heart. How sad to lose this delicious food and family tradition forever. I hope we don’t!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your family story, history and tradition. So many of us have so much to loose with our changing climate. Little by little we are “connecting the dots” between maple syrup, pine beetles, droughts, floods, poison ivy, asthma to name a few, and climate change. Thanks for helping us make the connections…!

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