Thursday, November 17, 2011

I've Been Through Worse

                A couple of years ago, at the end of the 2009 Downtown Westminster Farmer’s Market, I remember hearing two of our farmers tell each other that if you could survive that growing season, you could survive any growing season. You see, 2009 was a year without a summer, which occasionally happens. While it is odd, it does happen. Nonetheless, when I heard that brief discussion, I was struck by it. That year was not especially horrible, at least in my experience. But then I realized how new to market farming the two talking actually were. And while I did not interject into their banter, I do remember hoping that they did not just jinx 2010. Because it could be worse… Oh, it could be MUCH worse!
                For many years now, I have learned to take a particular growing season into perspective by comparing it to previous years. After about twelve years of experience now, I have, well, over 1/10th of a century’s worth of knowledge on seasonal weather patterns at Nev-R-Dun Farm. That really is not a very long a span of time at all, but nonetheless, that is the length of experience I have at my disposal. So, if I were to analyze the 2009 growing season as I did back in 2009, my reaction would be… I’ve been through worse. Indeed, over the years of my experience I can remember another “summer-less” year… where it rained and rained and rained… I cannot remember if it ever stopped raining, but that year was definitely worse. In fact the spring and fall crops in 2009 grew outstandingly well! There were some very good things about 2009. Yes, definitely, I’ve been through worse.
                And so, during the last half of my tenure as an organic farmer whatever strange weather situation that has arisen on the farm has been analyzed with such a result… I’ve been through worse. In fact, as the years have passed, that thought has been what has propelled me forward through all of the unfortunate ordeals the weather can cause on the farm… I’ve been through worse. It is rather akin to Nietzsche’s statement, “What does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” In fact, in “Twilight of the Idols”, that line is preceded by, “Out of life’s school of war”. Where is the best school of war? Why on an organic farm of course! Bellum omnium contra omnes! (Have I written that entry yet? I’ll have to do that soon, but as for now I have digressed greatly!)Anyway, as my efforts continue to trudge forward through each growing season, I always end up analyzing any unfortunate occurrence with… I’ve been through worse.
                And then came 2011. The especially cold spring followed by a month of no rain was a bad start to the year, no doubt, but… I’ve been through worse. The 115 degree Fahrenheit heat index day was a first for me for sure, but, considering it was but one day… I’ve been through worse. Hurricane Irene only dropped 3 ½ inches of rain on the farm and blew over all the tomato trellises… Actually, I had to think about that one. I have experienced more rain, but not the tomato trellises being blown over… But no time to dwell on that now, here comes Tropical Storm Lee. 11 ½ inches of rain fell in three days. And it was right there when I definitely realized… I have NOT been through worse! Add in the 6 inches of snow in October…  I have DEFINITELY NOT been through worse!!!
                Yes, indeed, 2011 was BY FAR the worst growing season I have ever farmed through. But I did not stop there in my analysis. First off, the 6 inches of snow fall in October… out of the four other times in recorded history that snow fell in October, the most was 2.5 inches in 1925. Throw in a hurricane which happens on average about once every ten years, a deluge of 11 ½ inches, which was last beat by 14 inches in 1972, 39 years ago, a 115 degree heat index day, which I am not sure has ever happened, and that cold spring followed by a short drought… 2011 was very probably the worst growing season EVER!!! And if you follow that reasoning, now that the 2011 growing season is all but over, and the plans for 2012 are being organized, for the 2012 growing season there is now a 99.?% chance that with whatever comes our way during the course of that entire year… I’ve been through worse.
                All throughout this past 2011 growing season, my neighbor Kirk of R&R Farm has witnessed all of the abnormal weather extremes fall upon my farm, as well as his. The difference is that most of his animals survived all those extremes while most of my plants did not. Anyway, throughout the year, we discussed solutions, or ways to remedy some of the situations. Take for an example the tomato trellises. The tomato trellis system I have used for the past ten years is top heavy, and that is what brought them down from the strong winds of Hurricane Irene. We have now designed a new system that is much stronger and evens the weight throughout the system. This is too difficult to describe, but nonetheless, we are fairly certain that will, for the most part, remedy the situation.
                About a third of the way through the growing season, Kirk and his wife, Jen, decided to partner their farming operation with mine starting in 2012. This is a complicated situation and there are many, many reasons involved. An example here, as I revealed in an earlier “Tales of Idyllia” entry this year, R&R Farm’s pigs LOVE the weeds from my vegetable fields. They also love marred vegetables! What to my farm would be at best eventual compost turns into immediate pig feed. And the pigs have a way of turning that feed into compost… eventually!
                That is but one example, one small example of how partnering our operations should aid us greatly in the future. Another is that we have rented another property that is almost ideal for our immediate future plans, that is, elevated, slightly sloped tillable land with a well right next to it. It also has pasture land and more. So, we are expanding despite all of the 2011 hardships. We have been extremely excited about our possibilities ever since.  At the time the decision to lease the land was made, we did not realize it, but once 2012 arrives… we’ve been through worse.
                And then, on October 29 six inches of snow fell. Ugh.
                I received a cell phone call from Kirk. “Tom, we’ve got to be the dumbest” [people]” on the planet to go through all this crazy weather and still look forward to 2012 enthusiastically!” First off, Kirk did not say “people”. He used two other words that added special emphasis that I will not repeat here.
               Euphemistically moving on, what Kirk expressed was of particular poignance. As six inches of heavy snow lie on our farms and still having three more weeks left in the growing season, theoretically, we still looked upon that future year of 2012 with great enthusiasm. And still do! For sure Mother Nature and Mr. Murphy teamed up this year, indeed, they were the same power… and to the extreme! What can go wrong definitely did. And what cannot go wrong did as well! What, for example, cannot go wrong? It cannot snow six inches in October! And it did!!!
                But that was in 2011. We are long past that! 2012 wears the crown of importance now. And as for that upcoming year, no matter what hardships are thrown our way, by Mother Nature or Mr. Murphy, we are well aware that there is a 99.?% chance that… we’ve been through worse!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Theatrical Performance

                For many years now, I have stated that a farming season is very similar to a theatrical performance. First there is the script, or the farm plan; then the stage preparation, or tilling, planting, cultivating, etc.; then, the play begins! Now, to pause here, not all farms operate the same and they by no means use the same script. My script is very complex. As an example, let’s say… the play is based on The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. What an extremely complex novel that is! So, perhaps my farm plan is not that complex…yet. Anyway, in order to act out such a complex script, many acts are needed. My farm plan requires six acts, one each for the months of June, July, August, September, October, and November. Many scene changes occur throughout the play’s activity, and many diverse characters come and go along the way. Then, once December hits, the play is over. Very few cheers are heard from the audience at that point, but there are a few. Then, it’s off to plan the next script.
                After thinking about this a bit, I kind of like that comparison. In fact the more I think about it, the more it seems to truly reflect a farming season, that is, a theatrical performance, inside a theater, with the actors, those behind the scenes, as well as the audience and random stragglers popping in from seemingly out of nowhere. So, in order to analyze this comparison a little better, let’s see how 2011’s script worked out!
                From the very beginning things did not start off well. The doors leading into the theater are set up to a timed unlock mechanism. In late February/early March, the doors are automatically unlocked and all the workers for the theater come and get busy working on backdrops, scenery, etc.  For the farm, the first step is to till the fields. Unfortunately, MN came by and re-locked all the doors and did not allow them to be unlocked until April! From the very start of the season, we were behind in our preparations by approximately one month!
                Before I continue, it seems apparent that a little should be said about MN. You will have to determine who that is, but suffice it to say, that she gets her way whenever and wherever she wants in the theater/farm. Oh, and she can get quite unruly!
                But back to the growing season! So, we got a very late start setting up for this year’s performance, but that was okay. Through our many years of experience, we were able to work “around the clock” as the cliché goes and catch up. However, MN, for some reason turned on the air conditioning in April, and left it on all month long! This mostly affected the rehearsals, where all the actors and actresses had to wear heavy coats due to the cold air. Then, on April 16, a tornado descended a couple of blocks away from the theater. While this did not affect the theater, still, a tornado! Man, but MN was in some type of mood! Nonetheless, as professionals, we fought through the diversions, rehearsed, built the back drops, etc., it was time for the performance!
                By June, the air conditioner had been turned off, right when it would be most enjoyable! But the theater is what it is, and that means “hot”, at least during the first few acts of the play. Now the first act went fairly well, but MN turned off the water right at the start of the performance. She tends to do that at least once every year, but it is still a hassle, nonetheless, for if you think of the reasons a theater requires running water, well, I will stop there.
                So June, the first act went very well, and the audience seemed quite pleased. By July, the second act, it was hot, but that happens every year. MN turned the water back on early in the second act which was quite a surprise. Why? Who knows? MN is, in general, extremely moody. And as a perfect example of extreme mood swings, on July 22, she turned on the heat… as high as it could go! She also closed the doors and windows so that the theater turned instantly into a sauna! The effect of that high heat dazed the actors and stunned the crowd. The performance literally stopped! And also as a result of that extreme heat, some of the actors never recovered and eventually had to be removed from the stage. Oh what a tragedy that was, no pun intended! Something had to be done to the script now that those performers had been removed, but what? The answer to that question was a call to the backup performers, and this was done in August. But before I move completely into the third act, it seems necessary to stress, that none of the performers that endured that extreme heat performed as they should from that point on.
                The third act, August, started out dreadfully. As mentioned above, ALL of the actors were greatly affected by that extreme heat, some forgot lines, some just stood in the same place without moving, and some actually died, yes, DIED! Holes developed in the script where the departed could not be replaced, but we trudged along. The first three weeks of August were typical for a normal year, but alas, the initial cast of actors was still dazed and some departed, while the replacements were too new to their roles to make an impact at that point. But we trudged along…
                On August 23, MN pulled a prank on us that NONE of us expected, and I mean NONE! I am convinced that she had been drinking at that point, and by that time of the performance she was getting downright nasty, because… an EARTHQUAKE shook the theater. This theater is on the east coast where there are no earthquakes. What the…? Nonetheless, the only damage from the storm was a beam fell in the attic of the theater, an unimportant beam, so, all in all that was taken merely as a prank.
                What we were not aware of at the time was that that was just a precursor for what MN was to do in the very near future. By this time, I am convinced beyond any doubt that MN was downright drunk… and we were not even midway through the performance! First up… Hurricane Irene. Tremendous winds and a heavy downpour knocked out the power in the theater for six days! What a fiasco! At one point, MN opened the doors and a fierce gust of wind tore into the theater twisting some of the props and knocking others completely down. How could we go on after that? But we did! There is no other choice!
                Act 4. The power was restored on September 2, and on September 5, the first drops of Tropical Storm Lee were felt. MN had turned on the overhead sprinkler system! We finally got power, and now this! The unfortunate part of the situation is that she refused to turn the sprinkler system off… for five days! What an awful mess! Almost everything was ruined, and beyond merely drenched actors and sopping wet scenery, but the very theater itself suffered significant damage from that unfortunate situation. It took weeks to get some of the stuff to dry. The actors were incensed. Some refused to perform after that for weeks, and others actually quit entirely, and that is not to mention those that drowned! Ugh! And it was only the beginning of Act 4!
                But then… MN disappeared. Perhaps she passed out from drunkenness. Who knows? The remainder of September went smoothly, albeit without the intended prop and sceneries and a significantly distorted acting core. And, as mentioned above, we trudged along…
                MN did not remain passed out for long. As soon as the fifth act, October, began she cranked up the air conditioning. Once again, the actors were stunned by that extreme temperature… this time cold. Luckily that only lasted a couple of days, but still, it had quite an effect on the actors. As October went along, it seemed to get back to “normal”… but where was MN? We had not seen or heard of her for virtually the entire month!  In the meantime, some of the surviving replacement actors had begun to deliver their performances and things were looking somewhat optimistic for a powerful end of the entire performance.
                But then… MN reappeared. How she managed what happened next is truly beyond me. On what little remained standing in the theater, on October 29, she dumped six inches of snow! October!!! Six inches!!! This was historically unprecedented!!! For two days we dug through that awful mess, only to find all of the props and scenery destroyed, and all of the actors dead or dying except for only a few. Oh how horribly MN had treated us up to that point. That said, WHAT NEXT?!!!
                As for the sixth act, November, MN finally settled down, perhaps she finally passed out from her drunken spree, but it was too late to really salvage anything through all the destruction. But the audience had paid for their admission, so we trudged along. Nothing out of the ordinary happened for the rest of the performance. And as the silence settles on another theatrical performance, it is time to start writing the next script…