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Lorna Midgelow-Yearwood talks about climate change

This is Bill Dautremont-Smith, guest host this evening. Our guest is Lorna Midgelow-Yearwood, an environmental consultant; she teaches vegetable gardening at Northampton Community College and is active with many local environmental non-profits.

Lorna, let’s set the stage by talking about the predicted impacts of climate change in Pennsylvania?

According to reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists, over the next several decades we should expect longer and more intense summer heat waves, reduced snowpack and declining yields in agricultural crops. 

Which crops will be affected most?

Sadly, our apple production is likely to decline significantly – it is predicted that by mid-century only half the winters in the southern part of our state will be cold enough to have a sufficient number of chilling days for apples to fruit properly.  Grapes will be similarly affected by the warmer winters.  By the end of the century corn and soy bean yields are predicted to decline.

What can we do to help reduce climate change?

We need to significantly reduce our dependence on electricity produced from fossil fuels, right now we have a small window of opportunity to reduce our carbon emissions which will give us a chance of not seeing the predicted devastating changes to our climate by the end of the century.

But you are specifically interested in food production, what can we do to slow down and adapt to climate change in this area?

I’d say - Follow the crowd! Support local food production! Plant a garden!

Happily there are many thriving Farmers Markets in the Lehigh Valley and more and more CSA vegetable shares are becoming available every year, plus lots of people are starting their own gardens.

Eating locally-produced food avoids the greenhouse gas emissions that occur when food is trucked hundreds of miles from where it was grown.  Just because we can buy strawberries grown in Chile in January does not mean we should!

The more local farmers and experienced backyard or community gardeners we have, the more resilient we will be as a community to the effects of climate change. 

What steps specifically can people take in their backyard vegetable gardens?

So let’s just look at dealing with the hotter weather – firstly, to ensure good plant growth, you need to moderate soil temperature and reduce the loss of moisture from the soil – so mulching in between plants will become essential  – you can mulch with natural materials such as leaves, compost, grass clippings,  etc.  You need to spread a layer of mulch at least 2 inches thick – it’ll also help to keep the weeds down. 

Secondly, you can provide shade for your plants by rigging up shade cloth structures – these can reduce the temperatures underneath by about 10 degrees. 

Lastly, we may also have to gravitate towards more heat tolerant varieties of vegetables that are more commonly used in the South, for example there are special varieties of tomato that will still pollinate at 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit.

On the bright side, we may be able to grow crops we haven’t before – like long season peanuts, who knows, we may even be growing oranges in Pennsylvania by the end of the century!

How can listeners find out more about gardening and local food in the Lehigh Valley?

We’re very lucky in this area, there are plenty of resources – I teach a hands-on education series for home gardeners on Growing Organic Vegetables at Northampton Community College – go to Northampton.edu and under Business & Community tab – click “browse the catalogue” under personal enrichment.  My next class will be held on Sat March 23rd and is all about how to start your own seedlings and planting in cold frames.

Plus for aspiring farmers, Penn State Extension’s “Introduction to Vegetable Production” Course is starting in April -  for more information go to extension.psu.edu/start-farming

Last but not least, for listings of farmers markets, CSAs and restaurants and retail outlets carrying local produce  - check out the Buy Fresh Buy Local website @ buy local greater lehigh valley.org

Any final thoughts?

I think it’s especially important that we pass on our knowledge to the next generation - for it is they who are likely to suffer the worst effects of climate change and are really going to need these adaptation skills.  So grab your kids and grandkids and get them out in the garden getting their hands dirty with you!

So tell me more about the classes you teach at Northampton Community College

This series of classes are unique in that they include a combination of traditional indoor classroom learning and outdoor hands-on learning – we have some teaching plots in the community garden where the students will be learning by actually getting their hands dirty.

The classes are held monthly – until May on the third Saturday of every month and then the third Wednesday in the evening from June through August.  

The next class is on Saturday March 23rd and is entitled “How to Grow Your Own Seedlings” – we’ll be looking at the theory and practice of growing seedlings at home.  On the practical side, we will be making our own seed starting mix and sowing seeds into different types of containers.  And then, weather permitting; we’ll be going into the community garden itself to plant peas and other cold hardy vegetables into the cold frame.

What other topics are included in the later classes?

In later classes we’ll be looking at soils, composting, growing in raised beds, transplanting seedlings; wise watering – how to make your own rain barrel; organic control of insects, weeds and diseases; extending the harvest into the winter; produce preservation and storage; composting and fall clean-up. 

So the classes really are a great and comprehensive introduction to organic gardening, where can listeners find out more about the classes?

All the classes are listed on page 24 of NCC’s Community Programs Main Campus Spring Catalogue.  Listeners in Northampton County should have received one in the mail or you can go online to www.Northampton.edu and go to the Community Programs page – and download the catalogue.

There is a small fee for the classes, anyone can sign up – not just Community Gardeners – and you can sign up for the whole series or pick and choose as you like.