Jean-Claude Bourrut

I’m Jean-Claude Bourrut, and I live in Jamaica Plain. I currently work as an organic farmer at the Natick Community Farm, in Natick. The farm is also an educational place, so we do run educational programs for kids and adults around food, farming nutrition, and food issues. I’m also a professional beekeeper, and I run workshops and classes on beekeeping. I’ve been doing this work in the Boston Area for 22 years. 

In my field, you’re working constantly with nature, so at the farm we are totally influenced - almost dictated by what the climate is. It influences planting dates, and right now at the farm, we’re in full maple syruping season, and the timing of tapping the trees, collecting, finishing the season – out of everything at the farm, syruping is the activity most dictated by nature, but really everything I do follows the climate.

On the farm, things have been changing. I worked in Natick 20 years ago for five years, and I went back there four years ago, and between those two times, I’ve seen a lot of changes. For example, the health of the sugar maple trees - I knew those trees pretty well, tapping them year after year starting 20 years ago, and the health of the trees has changed a lot. It’s a species that is pretty sensitive to a number of different factors. Roadside trees have been damaged by salt and compaction, but we also tap a lot of trees that aren’t close to roads, and those are showing more of the environmental impact. Whether it’s climate change, or acid rain, or something else, I don’t know for sure, but overall the health of the trees declined. That was very obvious. It was shocking to me, coming back almost 15 years later, to see those same trees have taken a pretty harsh beating, and I think that in the short run, maple sugaring is an industry that’s going to disappear, in New England at least. They’re saying it’s going to move up to Quebec.

You know I remember having frost in suburbs of Boston in September, that was not necessarily common, but maybe every three or four years, but after that, our main frost was in October. Now sometimes we have one in October, but the main frost is in November, sometimes, even December.

As a beekeeper, I have to pay attention to the flowers that the bees rely on. I think beekeeping leads you into a number of other interests as you discover the fascinating world of honeybees, but one of the things that I look closer at is the blooming time of different species around here, so I take regular walks in the arboretum, and other places all around Boston, looking at bloom times and how it’s changed. I’ve kept track some over the last 20 years, but more seriously in the last five or six years.

I probably have a hundred different species of plants, trees, and shrubs that I keep track of, and there are years where there are tremendous changes, especially in the last few years. In 2009 or 2010, all the blooms were really, really early. More than two or three weeks earlier than usual, and I think it’s a pattern that’s repeating itself. But it’s not just individual years, it’s also over time, in the few species that I’ve been looking at for a longer time – blooming time is inching up earlier and earlier in the season.  

Looking at all of this, I often think about my daughter – about what kind of world we’re going to leave for our children. I try to bring her in contact with nature as much as possible. She’s been keeping bees with me for many years now, and she works in the farm in the summer, and she’s very involved and she loves going there. I think it’s important. Also at the farm we have a program for kids, putting them back in contact with nature – it’s a kindergarten program, and kids are outside all the time, shine, or rain, or snow.  I think we need more of that, because I think people have lost the connection with nature, and they don’t see the impact, that we have, and what it means.

It’s not something that’s really talked about much. I mean, we mention it once in a while, when we talk about length of the season. That is kind of a bonus for us – those who produce crops and vegetables, because it allows us to start earlier in the season, finish later, grow longer, and so I think a lot of the more commercial growers will get a better income with that. But aside from noticing that the frosts are coming later or the last frost is earlier and earlier, I don’t think there’s much talk. I think Europeans are more aware of those things, and it’s discussed much more, I mean every time I go back to France, it’s striking to see how it is, much more so than here, in the forefront of discussions, you know even in the mainstream media, and politicians talking. I think reaching the mainstream media is going to touch the wider public in a way that small farms like ours can’t.

In the organic farming community, I think that a lot of people are aware of what’s going on, so I’m not sure how effective we can be. At the farm, we have a series of movies that we show on different issues that seem to be effective, but often, I feel like we’re reaching to a public that is already half convinced, if not fully convinced of the problem, and they’re seeking advice on solutions, not information on what’s going on. I think we need to reach a wider audience. Maybe bringing in a well-known speaker would do that.

I think it may be useful to connect more with conventional farmers too, and help get them on board with changing things. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think we would have to demonstrate the ties between chemical ways of farming and climate change. You know, the high usage of energy for food production compared to other societies and cultures.

It’s also hard because I work in a fairly wealthy area of suburbia, and so you know, a lot of people don’t see any contradiction shopping for organic food, driving to the farmer’s market with their SUVs, for example. You know, that’s not a problem for them. To the farm – it’s incredible the number of SUVs that are parked at the farm. In an organic farm! To me, it’s always shocking. I think the awareness has not reached the point where people are going to change their way of life enough. So is it going to continue faster? I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know, but I think it’s not reversing any time soon.