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!

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