For many of us in North America, this past summer was a dry one. Southern Ontario had much lower than normal rainfall and California began its sixth year of being in a drought.  For those of us who do not live in a farming town, the effects of this weather can be beyond our sight. But how does a drought impact the food we eat? We found out.

What is a drought exactly?


Beth Cortez-Neavel on Flickr

Let's start with some definitions. A drought is a natural occurrence which can effect any type of climate where there is a prolonged absence of rain based on what is normal for an area.  

Where a drought takes place severely changes its outcomes. A drought in a place such as Ethiopia can have disastrous effects, where a similar occurrence in North America would not be nearly as devastating. This is due to the policies and resources available in richer countries to protect citizens should there be an environmental disaster.  

No matter where a drought takes place, however, there is almost always some sort of agricultural consequence.

How does it impact our food?

The most obvious impact of a drought is the loss of crops. Without adequate rainfall, crops will either die or not reach their maximum size. This means economic losses for farmers and increased prices for consumers. A secondary effect from these losses is the need to source food from outside the local farming community.  

Here's how droughts effect some of your favourite foods:

Avocados require a large volume of water to grow—a whopping 74 gallons is needed to produce a pound of them. That makes these fruits particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. Take into consideration that Chipotle alone uses roughly 100,000 pounds of avocado in a day—you can see how detrimental a drought can be to their distribution.

Corn is highly sensitive to drought stress, which can reduce its maximum yield by 6% per day if it takes effect in its early growth stages. This loss in growth opportunity cannot be compensated for later on.

Almond production has created controversy in California due to their growing production despite the drought. A single almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to grow. You can read more about the problems almonds pose to the environment here.

The production of beef is also dependent on a steady water supply. Starting with growing the crops necessary to feed cows and ending with processing, it can take up to 106 gallons of water to produce one ounce of beef.

How can you help?

Droughts, as mentioned before, occur naturally. However, climate change has exacerbated its effects. Behaving in ways that support the environment can be a small way to create large change in your area. Efforts like conserving water during a drought can help ensure there is enough to go around and enough available for agriculture.

When it comes to your own window sill garden, you can help conserve water by dry farming. This method of growing vegetables requires less water and a greater amount of compost. You can find instructions here on how to try dry farming for tomatoes. Additionally, here are some veggies that require little water to grow.

Finally, supporting your local farmers is a must. Agricultural work is largely entrepreneurial and is almost completely dependent on the climate. It's an industry that we depend upon, but the people who work within it open themselves up to a lot of risk. Try to buy local produce whenever possible to offer support to your local farmers.

Bringing about change may seem like an impossible feat when you consider it on an individual scale, but realize that change has to start somewhere. A conscious effort to avoid certain habits in times of drought can be a contributing factor to bring harm or aid to the situation.