It’s October, and that means crisp air, apple-picking and World Food Day, a United Nations-sponsored day of action against global hunger. This year’s theme? Climate change.
When we talk about climate and food, our gaze tends to drift overseas, where heat and drought are punishing subsistence farmers. But the carbon crisis is hurting American farmers, too.
Apple growers in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley face a tougher climate than they did a generation ago. Heather McKay, co-owner of Marker-Miller Orchards, says that, today, “It seems like the weather is more extreme.”
Apple trees are particularly sensitive to small deviations in temperature. A 2013 study published in the journal Nature found warmer weather is robbing apples of their tart flavor and crunchy texture. In some instances, it is derailing production.
“If you start getting warm temperatures in February, these blossoms will be blooming in March and not April, and then you have the possibility of freezing,” said McKay. A single cold snap can ruin the harvest.
Across the country, warming is reconfiguring ecosystems — drying some, drenching others. Fertile lands are drifting north, and in some cases, disappearing altogether. For now, the Shenandoah Valley marks the southern edge of the Atlantic apple-producing region, but climate change threatens to drive out decades-old Virginia orchards.
“The worst thing is you’re dependent on the weather,” said McKay. “I mean, Mother Nature kind of makes it or breaks it. So, that’s the part I have trouble with because I like to be in control.”