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Farmers Preparing for the Year 2000

by Mark Musick

The following article has been submitted for publication in the Washington
Tilth journal, January, 1999. Tilth is a Northwest network of organic
farmers and gardeners devoted to sustainable agriculture and urban ecology.
For more information contact:

(Mark Musick is the farm director of Seattle's Pike Street Market,
one of the world's most famous public markets. He is a long-time
leader of the nation's sustainable agriculture movement. The
points he's making here are of critical interest to the American people.
Mark grants permission to distribute this article. -- Larry Shook )

Tilth people have an important role to play in preparing our homes and
communities for what may be a stormy few years. After more than two decades
of nurturing bonds between people and the Earth, Tilth members are well
positioned to assist our families, friends and neighbors in responding to
potential impacts of the Year 2000 Computer Problem (Y2K). We are also in a
position to help ensure that, rather than a day of chaos January 1, 2000
will be a day of planetary celebration.

Whether or not you own a computer, it is becoming increasingly clear that
Y2K threatens an economic and social crisis for farmers and consumers alike.
I urge you to learn more about Y2K and contribute what you can to minimizing
its potential negative impacts. (See box, "Get Informed About Y2K.")

To save computer space, starting in the 1950s programmers routinely left out
the first two digits for years in clocks that now control computer systems
around the world. As the clocks roll over from December 31, 1999 to January
1, 2000, it is anticipated that many of the computers and imbedded chips
that control global food, energy, transportation, health care, defense,
water and sanitation systems will fail. Time has run out to fix them all.

While the full consequences of Y2K are unknown, what is certain is that in
the coming year many more people will see the absurdity of our globalized,
petroleum-based food system in which the average unit of food travels 1,300
miles from producer to consumer.


"Experts" differ widely on what may happen when clocks strike Midnight on
December 31, 1999-from a minor bump in the road to global chaos. The truth
will probably lie somewhere in between, but it's important to prepare for as
many contingencies as possible.

Washington State Emergency Management officials are approaching Y2K as if
preparing for a major earthquake. In the event of any major disaster,
individual families and local communities must be prepared to be on their
own for a minimum of 3 days to a week before government agencies mobilize to
fully respond.

The basic message from the federal government is, "Don't look to us for
help." As far back as 1960, computer scientists began sounding the alarm
about the impending Y2K crisis, but they were steadfastly ignored. Last
spring Bill Clinton finally set up the President's Council on Year 2000
Conversion. While hoping for the best, behind the scenes senior officials
are preparing for disruptions of our nation's technological infrastructure.

In a US Information Agency Y2K teleconference held December 17, 1998, Janet
Abrams, Executive Director of the President's Council on Year 2000
Conversion, revealed that the US government anticipates "a large series of
mild to moderate disruptions across the country.... We are stressing to our
local officials that they're going to have to take care of these problems on
their own." The federal government will have too many problems of its own to
deal with.

That became evident with a January 6, 1999 Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) alert urging all public agencies and the general public "to
get ready now for Y2K." Over the next few months FEMA will be mobilizing
emergency management agencies around the country to develop contingency

Y2K will hit computer systems and embedded chips all over the world-all at
the same time. As White House Y2K czar John Koskinen said, "We could have,
if not the equivalent, something that is very much like a hurricane on the
East Coast, an earthquake in San Francisco, and flooding on the Mississippi
River all at once." Add to the list typhoons in India, avalanches in the
Alps, and tsunamis in Japan. Y2K will hit every industrialized nation as the
world enters the year 2000.

Speaking about his agency's response to Y2K, USDA Secretary Dan Glickman
noted that the work of "tens of thousands of people" is required to feed
American families. "I must confess," he said, "that until recently I hadn't
thought very much about the connection between food on our tables and
computers. But, as a new millennium approaches, that link is becoming all
too clear....We are facing the potential of serious disruptions because of
the problem."

Environmentalist David Brower has said he doesn't think it would be such a
bad thing if computers lost their minds and confused the year 2000 for 1900.
The difference is that today, like it or not, we are inescapably part of a
culture in which all major life support systems are governed by computers.
Yes, within a few days, weeks, months---or years---these systems will be
repaired. But in the meantime there could be severe disruption and
suffering. This is where Tilth people come in.

News about the potential impacts of Y2K is galvanizing increased concern for
personal and community self-reliance, both in this country and around the
world. Generally living closer to the land, Tilth farmers and gardeners are
often in good positions to provide for their own needs and link with their
neighbors to build strong, resilient communities.


The frustrating thing about Y2K is that we won't know its full impact until
January of next year. "This daunting challenge," says Spokane writer Larry
Shook, "is not unlike floating on a river with a waterfall and a point of no
return beyond which exit is impossible. The difference: with Y2K we won't
know if rapids or a thundering cataract awaits us until we're beyond the
point of no return."

What may lie on the other side of that "point of no return"? One of the
people who has looked hard at potential worst case scenarios is biologist
Geri Guidetti, founder of the Ark Institute (PO Box 142, Oxford, OH 45056).
"Over the past three years," writes Guidetti, "I have been sounding an alarm
that our food supply is much less safe and secure than any of us can
imagine, largely due to vulnerabilities wrought by the same technology that
has brought us so much food. We've created a monster, and the monster's
about to get sick."

Guidetti's December, 1998 "Food Supply Update" ( ) is
both sobering and frightening. In it she reviews the abysmal preparedness
levels of federal agencies charged with securing our food supply. Y2K
problems for farmers include potential shortages of fuel to run farm
equipment, failures of embedded chips in tractors and combines, and
shortages of fertilizers and pesticides if chemical companies are shut down
by computer failures.

Of particular concern to Guidetti is the potential for seed shortages. "Our
entire human food supply is based on plants and plant seeds," she notes.
"New, hybrid and non-hybrid seeds produced in 1999 for the year 2000 crop
may not reach all who need it due to transportation and distribution
breakdowns....Distribution of diesel fuel and gasoline supplies to run farm
machinery may be undependable. Seasonal planting deadlines would be missed.
Seeds or no seeds, many crops would not get planted, and that would prove
deadly for 2001. That year would be worse than 2000."


If Guidetti is even close to right, we have our work cut out for us starting
right now. Long before midnight next December 31st each of us needs to reach
out to strengthen linkages with our families, neighborhoods and larger
communities to ensure food security for all.

As the year 2000 approaches, increased fear of disruption or even collapse
of our global economy and infrastructure is likely to lead to increased
interest in securing food supplies. There are many practical ways in which
Tilth people can respond.

First, farmers should anticipate greater demand for storage crops next fall
by planting more potatoes, squash, carrots, beets, etc. This is also the
year to build root cellars to provide for long term storage and extending
your market season.

Food preservation and storage will be of major interest this year, and Tilth
people can take the lead in teaching people about canning, root cellaring,
and other means of putting food by.

In addition to stored food, farmers and gardeners west of the Cascades have
an opportunity to make 1999 the "Year of the Winter Garden." With Binda
Colebrook's Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest and Seattle Tilth's
Maritime Northwest Garden Guide, we now have the knowledge of crop varieties
and timing necessary to produce a year-round abundance of fresh vegetables
in our region. Come January, 2000 hundreds of gardens and small farms
throughout Western Washington and Oregon can be filled with cabbages, kale,
leeks, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, onions, and cold-hardy winter greens.
This would go a long way toward alleviating concerns about shortages of
fresh vegetables next winter.

Responding to Guidetti's concern about impending seed shortages, Tilth
people should also join world-wide efforts to grow and preserve
open-pollinated seeds. In addition to storage crops and winter vegetables,
this is also the year to plant a "seed garden" to help save our genetic
heritage (see "Millennium Seed Garden" box).

Note that seeds are likely to be in short supply this year. Local seed
companies are already reporting a sharp increase in demand, so I urge you to
order your seeds for the year now.

As more and more consumers seek to secure their food supplies,1999 is also
going to be a great year to promote Community Supported Agriculture.
Individual CSAs are encouraged to reach out and include more consumers. More
and more farmers are also forming cooperative CSAs, greatly expanding the
potential impact of the movement. Throughout the season CSA farms can be
educating their customers about food preservation. Some are also planning on
providing special "Thanksgiving Shares" next November for people who want
additional reserves for winter storage.

The CSA movement is a powerful tool for building support for local
agriculture. Not only do CSAs directly link producers with consumers, but
they're also a great way to spread the word about the necessity of
preserving both farmers and farmland. In the process, they foster a greater
sense of security and self-reliance throughout the region.

Everyone can contribute to the process of creating what are being called
"resilient communities." Tilth people have an abundance of experience and
skills to share, and many people will be looking to us for guidance and
leadership in the coming year.

Tilth people are already taking leadership roles in assisting their
communities in preparing for Y2K. Groups on Whidbey Island and in Spokane,
Washington are undertaking projects which are excellent models of positive
community responses to potential infrastructure breakdowns.

South Whidbey Tilth members are actively involved in what they're calling
the "Community Resilience Project." In addition to hosting Y2K Forums to
inform residents about the issues, they have organized into more than a
dozen action groups to inventory their island's resources through a process
called Community Asset Mapping. Sectors they are addressing include
transportation, communications, public safety, water, financial services,
and health care. Whidbey Island Tilth members Prescott and Michael
Seraphinoff are taking responsibility for the energy and food sectors of the
asset mapping.

In Spokane a grassroots organization has created the "Y2K Neighborhood
Project." Their goal is to prepare Spokane County, house-by-house,
block-by-block, to be ready for whatever may happen when the "millennium
bug" bites.

Dr Kent Hoffman, a Spokane psychotherapist, is one of the initiators of the
Y2K Neighborhood Project. According to Dr Hoffman, "Y2K Neighborhood is
setting out to create miniature villages among every five or six houses on
every block in the county. It's a way in which we can come together, plan
together, look out for each other during this time of uncertainty." "All
we're really talking about," he said, "is polishing up our neighborhood

Farmer preparedness for Y2K will be one of the central themes of the annual
Washington Farmers Markets Conference, set for March 1 & 2. Larry Shook,
editor of Awakening, the Upside of Y2K, will be one of our keynote speakers.
The conference will also include special workshops on storage crops and
on-farm storage, greenhouse production, winter gardening, seed production
and saving, and Community Supported Agriculture.

I hope that preparation for Y2K will be on the agenda of all farm
conferences and workshops this winter and spring to mobilize the involvement
of farmers in community resilience projects throughout the country.

I see Y2K as an opportunity to wake people up to things that already need
to be done-preserving farmland, supporting local farmers, and striving for
greater regional self-reliance. The more that neighbors work and grow
together the better off everyone will be, whether or not disaster strikes.
Expanding CSAs, strengthening bonds between producers and consumers, growing
more storage crops and winter vegetables, preserving food and saving
seeds---if we do all these things, we will definitely have cause to
celebrate the Year 2000!


A flood of reliable information is now becoming available about the causes
and potential consequences of Y2K. The first step in formulating your
personal response is to get fully informed. Here are some good starting

Y2K Citizen's Action Guide, Preparing yourself, your family, and your
neighborhood for the year 2000 computer problem and beyond, by the Utne
Reader. This is the single best tool for education and action. It is
available for $4.95 everywhere the Utne Reader is sold (although you may
have to ask for it). To help spread Y2K awareness in your community, order
50 copies at a time for $57.50 from Bulk Orders, Utne Reader, 1624 Harmon
Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403.

Awakening: The Upside of Y2K, edited by Judy Laddon, Tom Atlee and Larry
Shook, is an excellent overview of the technical, economic and social
implications of the Y2K Bug. It emphasizes positive steps individuals and
communities can take to minimize adverse impacts. $13 post paid from The
Printed Word, 4327 S Perry, Spokane, WA 99203, (509) 747-8776. They are also
a source of on-going information about Spokane's Y2K Neighborhood Project.

"Y2K: So Many Bugs...So Little Time," Peter de Jager, Scientific American,
January, 1999. An authoritative current report on the status of Y2K
preparations. I hope it is widely read.

"Farming & the Year 2000 Problem," Agriculture & Natural Resources Fact
Sheet #512, WSU Cooperative Extension King County, 700 Fifth Ave, Suite
3700, Seattle, WA 98104-5037, phone (206) 296-3900. Excellent overview of
the Y2K problem. Includes basic action steps and sources of additional

"Farmers Markets in the Year 2000," Washington Farmers Markets Conference,
March 1 & 2, 1999. This conference will include several presentations on
farmer preparedness for Y2K. For details contact Mark Musick, Pike Place
Market, 85 Pike Street, Rm 500, Seattle, WA 98101, phone: (206) 682-7453,

South Whidbey Tilth members Prescott and Michael Seraphinoff can provide
information on the South Whidbey Community Resilience Project. They can be
reached at 3830 S 530 E, Greenbank, WA 98253, (360) 678-4168. is one of the best starting points to learn about Y2K
on the web. It includes current articles and links to other sites.


One of the most important things Tilth farmers and gardeners can do is grow
our own seeds. By growing open pollinated varieties, each of us can help
ensure viable supplies of seeds in the coming years.

Inspired by Tom John's proposal for "Millennium Victory Gardens" in the
Territorial Seed Catalog, Lana Baker, seed specialist with Molbak's Seattle
Garden Center (1600 Pike Place, Seattle, WA 98101, phone 206-448-0431),
compiled the following list of her recommended varieties. While growers will
debate their favorites, and these varieties may not be suitable throughout
the region, please consider this list as a starting point for creating your
own seed garden.

Asian Greens - Ching Chang, Mizuna
Beans - Blue Lake Pole, Fava, Jacob's Cattle
Beets - Detroit Dark Red, Albina Verduna, Golden
Broccoli - Waltham, Nutri-Bud, Purple Sprouting
Brussels Sprouts - Rubine Red, Long Island
Cabbage - Early Jersey Wakefiel, Danish Ballhead
Carrots - Red Core Chantenay, Armstrong
Collards - Champion
Corn - Bantam
Corn Salad - Mache
Cucumber - Sweet Marketmore 76, Lemon Cucumber
Eggplant - Imperial Black Beauty
Kale - Russian Red
Leeks - King Richard, Giant Mussleburg
Lettuce - Black Seeded Simpson, Four Seasons, Winter Density
Onions - Breakthru, Walla Walla
Peas, Shelling - Pioneer, Alderman, Maestro
Peas, Snap - Sugar Daddy, Sugar Snap
Peas, Sugar - Oregon Sugar Pod II, Oregon Giant
Peppers - Early California Wonder, Chile Relleno, Cayenne
Pumpkins - Small Sugar, Rouge vif D'Etampes
Spinach - Winter Bloomsdale
Squash, Summer - Bennings Green Tint, Black Beauty Zucchini
Squash, Winter - Red Kuri, Butternut, Delicata, Blue Hubbard, Sweet Meat
Swiss Chard - Rainbow Mix
Tomatoes - Brandywine, Stupice, Mortgage Lifter, Seattle's Best of All,
Yellow Pear, Sweetie
Watermelon - Sugar Baby


Seventeen years ago Tilth published a sourcebook for sustainable agriculture
called The Future Is Abundant. In mid December of last year a group of
Tilth and Permaculture activists met to discuss the need and potential for a
sequel for the new millennium. Out of those discussions came a proposal to
produce a new sourcebook with the working title, Creating Abundance,
Ecological Agriculture in the Pacific Northwest

In the nearly two decades since the original book's publication, there has
been an explosion of experience and information in all aspects of
sustainable agriculture. Creating Abundance will draw on the wealth of
knowledge of Tilth people throughout the region. To make the process of
researching and writing the new edition immediately useful in the context of
Y2K, a proposal is being drafted to publish Creating Abundance in both book
form and an interactive web site.

If you would like more information on Creating Abundance, contact Mark
at the Pike Place Market.