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Climate Change and Local Food

Seminar challenges crowds at Boise Farmers Market

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Under an overcast Saturday morning sky July 27, bright blue and red signs proclaiming "Climate Action: It's Our Obligation" and "It's Time to Cut Carbon" were taped to a table boasting equally eye-catching mounds of ripe tomatoes. A cluster of Boise Farmers Market shoppers paused to listen as local-food advocates discussed the intersection of local farming and climate change at a rally dubbed Producing Food, Reducing Carbon: An Event for People Who Grow and Eat Food.

"Probably nobody in our community deals with weather more than farmers; we are always checking the forecast," said Meadowlark Farm owner Janie Burns. "Is it going to be good for planting? Is it going to rain? Is it going to snow? What's the wind going to do? And so, when we think about the weather that's just what's happening today, sometimes we don't pay attention much to those very small changes, those insidious changes that are happening in our climate."

Weighing in on the topic, Burns was joined by Boise Democratic Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, a member of the Idaho Senate Agriculture Committee; Chance Requa, owner of Requa Farms, Inc.; Dave Krick, owner of Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge; and Greg Koenig, owner of Koenig Distillery.

Koenig discussed how recent subtle and not-so-subtle swings in temperature have affected local grapes. He said his 2010 and 2011 vintages started out cool and ended up ripening well, while his 2012 and 2013 vintages have been affected by "incredible heat waves."

"These things are all very transparent in how they end up in the quality of wine," said Koenig. "Now, that being said, how global warming affects a little winery in Idaho and whether or not we can make quality wine is really not as important as what is happening on the global scale as far as: How do we feed our planet?"

Koenig suggested solar power as an untapped local resource.

"We deal with sunlight all the time--wine is essentially bottled sunlight--and we live in this great state where it's sunny all the time ... and really don't take advantage of solar enough," said Koenig.

But most of the other speakers eschewed offering solutions in favor of issuing calls to action.

"We can no longer delay, we must take action now. As we know better, we're compelled to do better," said Buckner-Webb.

"The bottom line is that crops are at risk because of this climate change, and that's important to farmers, but it should be important to you because what we do is what you eat," said Burns.