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The Folklorist Next-door: The 806



The 806 was released Dec 2, 2022, as Episode 1 of Texas Folklife's Podcast Series The Folklorist Next-door.

Read monica's blog post


The 806

by mónica teresa ortiz


[00:00:00] Newscaster: It is unequivocal that human activities are responsible for climate change. That's the finding of a new study by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

[00:00:12] mónica: It's September of 2022, and most of us have endured a long hot summer. Some joke, this may be the coolest one for the rest of our lives.

Others say we still have time to change our future, but climate has changed everything around us. From the weather to our crops, to the swimming patterns of great white sharks.

Welcome to the 806, A podcast made possible by the Texas Folk Life Community Fellowship part of the series. The Folklorist Next Door. 

I am Monica Ortiz. I grew up in a rural farming community between Amarillo and Lubbock, where we grow cotton, wheat, and corn, where there are cows in nearly every pasture. 

I come from cowboys, farmers, migrants, people who have worked on the land for decades.

I've lived in Texas nearly all my life and know the red dust of Palo Duro Canyon, as well as the icy waters of the Frio River. 

This past summer was one of extremes, drought, heat, flooding, and I wanted to know what people are doing about these changes starting in my own backyard, the 806, a region that includes the Panhandle and the South Plains of Texas.

So I spoke to a few locals to better understand what we are facing now and how we were responding.

[00:01:56] Jayme Lozano: I did my first story on Cotton. I know cotton's a big player out here. I want to hear more about it. And that's whenever I started to hear the issues that they were facing. And I was hearing it directly from cotton farmers.

And at the time, I maybe didn't immediately put together this was because of climate change. But as I started writing and doing more research, it just became very clear. And it felt like you couldn't have a conversation about agriculture without climate change. Even though they seem they would be polar opposite issues, they are tied together in a very deep way that affects our economy, livelihoods, well-being, dress, and eat. Everything. 

[00:02:40] mónica: Journalist Jayme Lozano covers the South Plains and Panhandle for the Texas Tribune. Jamie has reported on agriculture for several years and spoke about what's happening to crops. During this drought. 

[00:02:53] Jayme Lozano: You have the hot Texas sun glaring down onto crops and onto the soil, and while it's glaring onto the soil, it's warming that up and drying it out. And so the fact that there's no rain, there's no kind of long term relief that either the crops or the soil is getting, and that can be what leads to the feedback cycle when the ground is just so hot and so dry that the heat is essentially radiating off of it and evaporating water before it can even reach the ground.

If you're in this feedback cycle, the water cannot make it to the soil. And that's actually what I've heard from a lot of producers this year, in particular, is that it's just not even reaching it. And they're gonna have to try to do a different form of irrigation. 

This region out here in Texas, not even just the South Plains, but the Panhandle combined, is the - one of the biggest cotton-growing regions, not only in Texas but for the country. Farmers have tried to think outside the box whenever it comes to the issue. There's a lot of farmers out here who are starting to turn towards regenerative agriculture, which really focuses more on soil health and keeping it to where any bit of water would be fine because the soil itself is healthy and it can get through. Another practice that I have seen is more of that turn towards hydroponics.

[00:04:18] mónica: I asked Jamie how local farmers are addressing or adjusting to climate change from these droughts 

[00:04:24] Jayme Lozano: In the Panhandle. I think what I've noticed a lot of is that the drought and heat might still be slightly less severe than what's out here in the South Plains, but it's still so severe that it's an issue.

Um, I believe the last time that I looked at the drought map- what, wait, actually, yeah, for the most recent drought map, it showed that the Panhandle is going back and forth between exceptional to severe drought. And so that alone is a big red flag because that's where you'll start to see more of the cattle sales.

At a certain point, it's just you have to ask yourself if you're a rancher or if you're a producer. Do you continue to put money into this kind of lifestyle, into this kind of crop, if it's not going to make it through the summer? 

[00:05:13] Paige Nester: We used to be tornado alley, and we're no longer that. We're more like a New Mexico climate.

We're not getting as much moisture. In our case, we've learned how to deal with it. We had to. So in 2011, when we realized, oh, there might be years that we don't have rain. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna get honey? So we move our hives. That way, we don't really have to mess with a lot of the weather.

Now, if a big thunderstorm. Tornado or something comes through, which it has, and it's messed up some of our hives before, we have to deal with that. I know in Texas people are shipping their cattle out because there's nothing for them to eat. And so you could get down to a point like that. We put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to move them and to make sure that they're getting what they need.

[00:05:58] mónica: Paige Nester is one of the Creek House Honey Farms owners, which sells local raw honey and beeswax products in Canyon, Texas. She's been a beekeeper since 2011, another year of intense drought. I drove out to Creek House and asked Paige about her Apiary. Creek House Honey has beehives in Wellington, feeding off crops there. We talked a bit about what we have to do to adapt and change. 

[00:06:27] Paige Nester: The farmer that we work with told us it's been a couple years ago, but he said Roundup is no longer effective on his crop. He's having to rethink and go back to 30, 40, 50 years ago when they hired co-hands to go out, and whole wheats and maybe do some more cover crops to regenerate their soil instead of using a lot of fertilizers.

Now in his industry, just like in our industry, there's still a give and take. You still have to use some things. He had to put down; I can't remember if it was a fungicide or what he was gonna run through his irrigating system. But we looked it up, and it was bad for our bees, so he didn't do it because the bees were more important to him than that chemical. So there are some hard decisions they're having to make, and we have to make to work together and to survive. 

Practices will have to change. We love to educate. We go out to schools a lot. Schools come here, we talk to kids 'cause that's really the only way things are gonna change ever is through our children.

But understanding why we need pollinators; if we don't have pollinators, you go into a store, and you won't be able to find cherries or apples or coffee, almonds. Some of these major crops will just go away. Again, squash. I can sit here and talk to you all day about. Fruits and vegetables we would and wouldn't have, and it would be a big hit, and it would even affect our livestock.

I think just educating and and making people understand that our earth and these things do matter to our livelihood. I feel like we don't understand how to conserve, be conservationists and really recycle and do the things that we need to for mother earth. 

[00:08:09] Vikram Baliga: We've now seen two hundred-year droughts in the last decade in change. That's not super encouraging. The worst drought on record before 2011 is in the forties or fifties, coming on the back end of the Dust Bowl. We, in Lubbock County, at least I believe, are 53% dry land cotton. And none of those farmers are gonna make this year. Even the irrigated folks that are on drip and Pivot and everything else, they're gonna have a bad year.

Drought has huge implications on our economy and our productivity and everything else.

[00:08:44] mónica: Dr. Vikram Baliga is a lecturer of horticulture in the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech. He also manages the Plant and Soil Science greenhouse and horticultural gardens on campus in Lubbock. Dr. Baliga is also the host of the podcast Planthropology, which is how I came to know his work and he offered some suggestions for planting and drought conditions.

[00:09:09] Vikram Baliga: Any kind of salvia, so it's a sage mealy, blue sage, a may night salvia. There's autumn sage, red salvias. They're about as tough as you can get in this climate. They're natives. Even if they're not a native, they're close enough, right? To do well. I love Blackfoot daisies. I love gaillardia. Uh, which you'll see called wheel of fire or pinwheel. Uh, sometimes Indian Blanket, a few others. I like grasses in the landscape. So things like blue grandma. There's some really nice ornamental varieties of blue grandma and curly mesquite and buffalo grass. They tend to do very well in our climates. What else? We plant a lot of yarrow, which has a kind of a feathery appearance and really cool humbles of brightly colored flowers.

You almost can't kill those things. Once they're established, they will seed out and spread, and they're great Texas natives. So there is a long list of things that are wildflowers, things that grow natively and out in our landscapes that there are improved and bred varieties of that still take the heat, still take the drought and look really nice.

[00:10:23] mónica: Across Texas, we have been hovering between severe and extreme drought, but in mid-August, huge amounts of rain came and drenched parts of Texas, causing major flooding. Like a pendulum, the weather swings from end to end with no middle, no balance. We spoke before the floods happened, so Dr. Baliga's words sounded prophetic.

[00:10:46] Newscaster: The downpour was made worse by the fact. Dallas just endured a long stretch of extremely dry weather conditions that make it difficult for the ground to absorb heavy rains. It's just the latest part of the US South to swing from drought to flash floods.

[00:11:05] Vikram Baliga: Everything is gonna become more extreme. That's what we're seeing all over the world.

There is this idea, because of how climate change was originally billed and marketed in the late nineties or through the nineties as global warming that we get a cold day and everyone's like, "ho, ho, global warming's not real." I hear that so much and it's so frustrating because it's not that, it's that the climate changes and we get more extreme weather. So droughts are more persistent. Hot days are hotter. When we do get rain, I would not be shocked to see flooding, right? After it's been so dry. My fear is that we won't get a week of gentle rain that gives us our three inches of rain to make up for some of it. We'll get it all in about eight hours and we'll see extreme flooding.

So the challenges we're gonna face is - one, as a species, are there ways we can roll back to clock? And the answer is, yeah, but are we willing to do it right? That's the big question. 

For me, whenever I see all these debates about climate change, we're asking the wrong question. We shouldn't be asking, is climate change real? Because the data's clear. We should be asking, in my opinion is, are you willing to do the things necessary to make sure that your grandkids still have water? That your grandkids still have a livable planet? 

The way we communicate matters, and I follow a lot of like climate scientists on Twitter and they say, we should be scared about this. And they're not wrong. They're not wrong. We should be more concerned about this than we are, but maybe we couch that in a way that provides solutions and things we can do. I think it's really important because you can only tell someone there's nothing you can do, everything is terrible so many times before they believe you.

And I think that's, unfortunately the point we're getting to with some people is that even the folks that believe that it's an issue and believe that we have solutions to it, or are hearing we're doomed, that we've got 12 years of whatever left, it's, they're starting to believe it. And that's not what we need. We need people who are willing to fight. Um, and, and the thing that gives people fight is hope. And so we've gotta change the way we brand a lot of things. 

Again, the biggest thing that I would want people to hear is that you have been told that you don't have any power in this. And it's not true. We can't be politically apathetic, 'cause it is gonna take policy change to make anything happen, but it doesn't take away the power people have in their own landscapes, and their own homes to make a difference.

We've gotta start thinking of how do we play the long game? Because it's not over, regardless of what you've been told.

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This episode was hosted and produced by mónica teresa ortiz, a 2022 Community Folklife Fellow

The Folklorist Next-door is brought to you by Texas Folklife. Our technical producer is J.A. Strub. Our executive producer is Jeannelle Ramirez

You can learn more about the fellows and their projects at This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.