An idea that once seemed as if it came from a science fiction movie is suddenly and quickly being brought to the top of the world agenda. Climate change. The thing about climate change is that it affects us all, and all facets of life. Some changes don’t directly affect you and your restaurant, but most do.

“Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”

I’m sure after reading that you nodded and agreed. Most people at this point in 2016 also agree that climate change is real and is already starting to play an impact on our daily lives. The question is, what do these changes mean for your restaurant, and how can you adapt.

According to NASA, here are 2 major changes that are happening to our environment, and what it means for your restaurant.

1. Frost free seasons are lengthening.

This is measured by determining the last time a temperature hits 32 degrees F in the spring, to the first time it hits 32 degrees in the subsequent fall. Over the past 30 years, there has been in increase in this season over the continental United States. This reflects an overall warming trend in our climate. This seasonal change is very important because frost seasons determine the potential growing season for vegetation.

Reading this first, I thought, wow, cool, farmers will have a longer period to grow what is needed to feed our population, so this must be a good thing? But it is quite the opposite. Seasonal change, and frost, in particular, are all a part of the growing cycle that benefit it. With fewer frost days every year, different pests and pathogens are affecting many of our nation’s forests and farmers crops, that are not being wiped out by the first frost.

Many farmers are quickly adapting to this change and are preparing for this trend to keep up. Just like you, they are asking, “did we even have a winter?” With the warm winter, and very short frost season, many local New England Farmers are expecting heavier pest and disease pressure, so are planning to grow their crops in a different way to control these external factors.
As a restaurateur, keep these issues in the back of your mind when creating your menu, especially if you are trying to hop on board that farm to table trend. Be aware that the world is changing, and some of the vegetables and fruits that you have been expecting to get in accordance with the season, are changing, and there is nothing a farmer can do about it.

2. More droughts and heat waves

In January 2014, the state of California declared a drought emergency. 99.86 percent of the state is in drought. The sierra Nevada mountains snow levels measured just 5% of their historical level. The reason for this? Well, that is up for debate. Some believe it is just part of the climate in California, and some describe this as a very clear evidence of global warming. Whatever side you believe, or maybe it is a little bit of both, no rain coupled with hot weather (that has been seen globally) basically is the recipe for a severe drought.

But I live in Rhode Island, we have plenty of water, this does not affect me.

Well, NASA doesn’t think so. They warn that unmanaged climate change will likely cause 30-year “megadroughts” across much of the United States by the end of this century.”

california drought

But, wait… there’s more.

Imagine running a restaurant without food? Yah, not possible. The number of produce that California supplies to the country alone is astounding.

  • 99% of the nation’s artichokes
  • 99% of our walnuts
  • 97% of all our kiwis
  • 95% of celery
  • 95% of garlic
  • 71% of spinach
    And the list goes on.

It comes down to this. The drought becomes not just California’s problem, but a country’s problem. It is not just a drought problem but a problem with our entire food system. Here are some questions that I think about if the golden state can’t meet its production goals:

  • Is another state going to take over? Like maybe New Mexico or Nevada?
  • Are we just going to get it from another country? How much will that cost? Will it taste different?
  • Is there a way we could fix this drought from a consumer perspective?
  • Is there a way we could help fix this through science or even technology?
  • How did this happen? Why did we place all our eggs in one big Californian basket?
  • 95% of today’s diners want the freshest food possible. Why not have smaller farms in local areas producing for the region?

Not to scare you, but this drought does affect your restaurant, and it probably already has. As consumers, as restaurateurs, as farmers, and as a nation, this is a problem that is in the process of being solved. We promise to follow up digging deeper into these issues.

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Hannah can be found riding the slopes of New Hampshire by winter and riding the waves of Rhode Island by summer. In order to satisfy a constant sweet tooth, you can find her bouncing between Ellie's Bakery and Pastiche, both in Providence, RI.