reflections from the southeast PA rural underground

Saturday, April 24, 2010

When you're all in

Even people that have no real experience or knowledge of farming would probably, if given a few minutes to ponder the subject, come round to the notion that its generally a risky business. I've had the adage quoted to me on more than one occasion, "So. . . uh. . .that means. . .you're job is dependent on the weather?" This is usually said with a wavering
lack of confidence that could be interpreted as slightly sympathetic. It doesn't matter if it's a friend of 12 years or my father-in-law. The same sentiment prevails. In my mind they're

thinking, "Man, sure glad that's not my job." To be sure, I do believe that the romantic notion of a yeoman farmer, out there every day, communing with Mother Nature (yes, that is there too) is also in most people's minds when I tell them what I do. But most of what they know about organic agriculture comes from some vague pop-culture notions of some hippy, back-to-the-land movement. There's a chasm between the reality "on the ground" (cliche I know) of a farm business and the latest New York Times example of a trendy sustainable ag. education/ non-profit farm. Of course there are those exceptional people who have spent time on a farm or who grew up on one. For those people the oft quoted phrase, "nothing so unpredictable as the weather," really hits home.

In southeast Pa the safe date to plant anything not hardy enough to weather a frost, be it light frost or hard frost, is after May 17. So of course the farmer I work for has chartered his own traditional ritual of planting the first batch of that most famous of all night shades sometime around April 25. To my memory, its been as early as April 18 and as late as early May during one of those soggy Springs that leave us scrambling to get out in the field. Oh to be tied down to the planting schedule of all those OTHER people!!!!!!!!! Bah,

And so here we are again on April 24 planting the first of 4 rounds of tomatoes. Nacho, Prudencio, Tim and I headed out after first battling with an unwilling PTO attachment into the newest of fields already packed with lush green clover that had been heavily composted and seeded the year before. Big wide swaths of green bush just charging upwards toward the sky, the perfectly round heads at the top shaded a slightly softer mint green color in their middles. The forecast was for plenty of sun today which we were assured would change in the afternoon when it was supposed to cloud up bringing rain in late evening. "Ah maybe they'll all just freeze tonight and I'll finally get out of all this," the farmer grumbled.

It was a mainstay of the early Spring attitude. A kind of hard worn cynical defense mechanism against the daunting season's tasks that lie ahead. It was all so big and overwhelming now, this farming thing. So stressful. Why were we doing this again? But the push in Spring was what got you back, at least in part. The awakening of all natural things again. The rain and sun. The energy of warmer
nights and almost hot afternoons.

Things had expanded at the farm, little by little, as was the case for every other year. This season had already seen the construction of a second greenhouse, the welcoming of two baby goats and a mother (doe) goat, a walk-in refrigeration unit, and an 8 ft. high deer fence that enclosed almost 2 acres.

The problem was that we still didn't have everything located at this epicenter. There was still way too much shuttling back and forth over the 14 miles between two other locations. There's that stress again. Who knew farming meant trucking?

"This place is starting to look like a real farm," the farmer said as we surveyed the nearly 60 acres spread out in front of the tractor that we rode on to reach the tomato field.

I had to agree. When you plant peas March 5 and over 5,000 tomato plants before May 1, the looming risk is both reviving and unsettling. Yet as always, after such a long winter's slow down, a kind of weight is lifted and it feels like time to move again.

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