Climate Change

In this project we are highlighting the experiences of people whose lives are being affected by climate change.


Colette Czarnecki speaks with Andre Houssney, an organic farmer in Boulder, Colorado. Houssney tells us how he’s experienced climate change first hand on his farm. Extreme changes between rain and drought have already caused him loss of crops, and the local food supply chain may be even more threatened in future years.

As his land dries, a farmer hopes to adapt

by | Aug 12, 2022

“You can feel it and see that it’s changing” — how one farmer hopes to adapt to climate change

by Colette Czarnecki | Next Generation Radio, Colorado Public Radio | August 2022

Click here for audio transcript

Andre Houssney: Most people don’t see land the way farmers see it.

(Sound of a farm gate opening, greeting a cow)

I’m Andre Houssney. My farm is Jacob Springs farm and we’re sitting here by Dry Creek, which has water gently flowing in it.

(Sound of creek)

I grew up in a war and there were times when my mom could not get food and it really affected her psychologically and I think that’s part of why I farm is because I like to have that direct connection of being able to provide food for my people.
The second part of my childhood was here in Boulder, Colorado and that was a bit harder. I didn’t really fit in with other kids but I did discover agriculture. I started working for farms that were near my neighborhood and that was a joy to me. It was fun to be outside, play with water…

(Sound of a water from creek)

……drive a tractor

(Sound of a tractor)

….. deal with animals.

(Sound of horses eating hay)

And I always wanted to do that.

Jacob Springs Farm…we grow the grass we feed to the cows. We harvest the manure from the cows to fertilize the oats. The oats get cleaned and hopefully turned into oatmeal and granola and sold to the customers along with the milk from the cows and the meat from the cows.

(Sound of Houssney picking up hay and alfalfa)

So I’m part of the Colorado grain chain. My main market partner is Moxie Bakery. They are an award-winning bakery here in Boulder and they buy all my wheat.

(Sound of Houssney picking up hay and alfalfa)

We have seen over the last several years real changes in our weather and in our climate regionally.

Last June we had seven inches of rain, almost eight. That’s a lot. In a normal year we’d have a little under two this year. But then like a tap turned off. Even by September I was starting to question whether I was going to plant the winter wheat.

By October 15th, which is just the last planting date for winter wheat. I decided not to plant because there hadn’t been any rain since the middle of July.

(Sound of Houssney walking through the grass)

I look at the grass and I see the pale-yellow color indicating a nitrogen deficiency. I don’t have a number. I have a feeling.

(Sound of Houssney walking through the grass)

I walk around barefoot and you know, you can feel when the plants are stabbing you in the feet and when they’re receiving your feet, it’s like there’s a different feeling to the earth when there’s moisture on it.

(Sound of Houssney walking through the grass)

So not planting wheat is for me more than just a failure of a crop. It is also in a small way a failure of a dream or an idea that we can rely on our local food system.

I see this rise in anxiety and then I also see it in me when I’ve never been anxious before.

You can’t be too emotional in farming or be too invested. If you’re a farmer, you’re patient and you don’t expect everything to work out.

I just love feeding people. Last night we butchered a lamb in the morning. We made dumplings with Durum wheat that we grew on the farm. My kids were rolling the dumplings and chopping the carrots. Just had a really nice meal that was all from the farm.

At the end of the day, we’re all eating the same food. And are we going to be able to ensure that it will be here, that it won’t just be for the rich or that there won’t be riots because food stops being available?

(Sound of Red-tailed hawk)

Andre Houssney feels climate change in his feet. When it’s dry, they become calloused. When there’s moisture in the area, his feet soften up.

“I walk around barefoot and you can feel when the plants are stabbing you in the feet and when they’re receiving your feet,” he said. “There’s a different feeling to the Earth when there’s moisture on it… It doesn’t take data.”

On a hot August afternoon, he steps off his 1971 John Deere tractor and onto one parcel of the 450 acres he farms in Boulder, Colorado. The day is sunny, with the Flatirons rock formation hazy in the distance. The brim on Houssney’s baseball cap shadows his hazel eyes as he walks barefoot on the field where he just finished cutting hay. A tiny purple flower catches between two of his left toes, possibly indicating that today, the soil is good.

Left: Andre Houssney checks to see what’s wrong with his tractor. Right: A flower is visible between Houssney’s toes as he rests against a tree. Aug. 8, 2022.


Houssney said his goal is to do a little bit of everything with Jacob Springs Farm, even though it’s a challenge.

Many of his fields are devoted to livestock feed — alfalfa and hay. He also grows winter wheat for a local bakery, Moxie Bread Co., and grass that feeds cattle that produce milk. The cattle’s manure fertilizes fields of oats, which eventually become oatmeal and granola. Oats that aren’t sold feed chickens, which produce eggs. Chicken manure fertilizes his vegetables.

“We aim to really grow all the aspects of a diet and have all the aspects of an ecosystem here on the farm,” he said.

Andre Houssney sits against a tree on a parcel of his Boulder farmland near a creek.


Making things harder, he’s noticed unpredictable patterns in the weather over the last several years. Droughts have been occurring more frequently, and sometimes it rains a great deal in a short time. Both can harm his grains.

Although climate change causes him disappointment, Houssney’s patience and persistence keeps him going because of his love for community, and for what he does.


In 1985, while in grade school, Houssney immigrated to the United States from Beirut because of Lebanon’s civil war.

Life changed drastically when he moved to Boulder. There was no war but he didn’t feel like he fit in. He remembers feeling like the only brown kid at his school, leaving him nostalgic for the place he’d left.

“I didn’t really want to be in America,”Houssney said. “I wanted to be back home. It was way too boring here where there wasn’t much going on. I liked the chaos of the war better than being an outcast here.”

Food and where it comes from has always been important for Houssney because he remembers how his mom struggled to find food during the war.

“It really affected her psychologically,” he said. “And I think that’s part of why I farm is because I like to have that direct connection of being able to provide food for my people.”

And as a kid in Boulder, he’d walk home from school through fields near what is now his farm. He got to know the owners and he ended up working for them on their land.

“I think they first saw me throwing rocks at their horses or something, but they put me to work there and it was really transformative for me,” Houssney said.

He loved everything about farming – from the animals to driving a tractor to irrigating the fields. His love for animals still shows – each of his 50 dairy and beef cattle has a name: Hershey, Ginger, Ivy and his favorite Rose.

“She’s my perfect calf,” he said, speaking about Rose, who’s red with white horns.

Andre Houssney walks towards the barn to get Rose, his favorite cow. Aug. 8, 2022.


Houssney leans against a fence and watches his small herd of cattle.


As a person of color from a non-farm family, Houssney didn’t see a path from farm worker to a farm owner.

In an article published by Agriculture and Human Values, researchers Megan Horst and Amy Marion found that in three studies between 2012–2014, white people owned 98 percent of all farmland and operated 94 percent of that acreage.

“That’s actually a really big social justice issue that I’m pretty passionate about,” Houssney said.

After years working around the world as an ethnomusicologist and audio engineer, he felt inspired to farm again. Houssney said that in 2010, after 19 attempts, he finally won a bid and became the first BIPOC leaseholder of Boulder city public land.


During the last few years, weather in Boulder County has been more unpredictable. Houssney lost close to $25,000 during torrential rains last June.

“Then, like a tap turned off, we didn’t have any moisture for the rest of the year,” he said.

The soil dried and parched with each passing day and forced a tough decision: Should he risk planting winter wheat?

“I was just really thinking, do I want to spend $2,000 and just bury it in the ground when there’s no moisture?” he said.

By October 15, he decided not to plant.

“Not planting wheat isn’t for me more than just a failure of a crop, it’s also in a small way, a failure of a dream or an idea that we can rely on our local food system,” Houssney said.

Andre Houssney cleans off his feet in the creek along his farmland in Boulder. Aug. 8, 2022.


Houssney sees signs of trouble all around: the fields across the creek usually harvest 300 to 400 bales of hay. This year they only produced 50. Farmers tell him their corn isn’t maturing. Grass that should be green is yellow.

“What’s interesting right now, if you drive north on I-25 or on 287, you can see crop failure all over the place on both sides of every road. And I cannot remember that before,” he said.

Earlier this year, Houssney planted spring wheat, hoping to harvest it this week. But, there’s barely been enough moisture for it to germinate. He wonders if it’s even worth harvesting.

Houssney isn’t normally an anxious man. Warming weather is changing that, but he’s trying to resist.

“If you’re a farmer you’re patient, if you’re gonna be at this for very long, you’re patient and you don’t expect everything to work out,” he said.

Since his farm is organic, Houssney believes the methods used to care for the soil have insulated him somewhat from the worst effects of climate change.

During normal years of rainfall, he said organic crops yield about 80 percent of conventional farm yields. However, during dry spells, because organic farms typically have more organic matter in the soil, they’re more resilient and their yields can be somewhat higher than conventional farms, he said.

“I was a bit more of a computer guy and a technology guy and I’m still intrigued by the possibilities that technology presents… but I think more than I ever did before that our solutions to our problems are ecological, not technological,” Houssney said. Where strength and resiliency comes from is actually knowing your neighbors and working together and talking frankly about the problems that are common to our whole Earth… like, ‘hey, if we have food shortages coming, how do we deal with that?’”

Andre Houssney cuts hay before he realizes he needs to fix his tractor. Aug. 8, 2022.



Andre Houssney in front of his tractor on a sunny August afternoon at Jacob Springs Farm in Boulder. Aug. 8, 2022.


Farming has brought Houssney a sense of purpose. It brings him joy to share what he produces and help his community. When the catastrophic Marshall fire blazed through nearby neighborhoods, he raced to help save his neighbors’ horses, some he had space for, he took home. For others, Houssney opened farm gates to set them free from the encroaching fire.

He feels grateful knowing that his children’s classmates eat the bread baked from his wheat. He strives to provide.

“I just love feeding people,” he said.

Over the past weekend, he slaughtered a lamb and prepared it for a community dinner with his neighbors. His kids helped prepare the food — chopping carrots and rolling dumplings made from wheat grown on the farm.

For that night “(we) can kind of forget about the whole wide world and the war in Ukraine and the Democrats and Republicans, and just kind of do our thing,” he said.

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