Where’s all the produce?!

Guest post by Chris Bodnar and Paige Dampier of Close to Home Organics

The past week of sun and heat has been glorious! It feels like summer. Memories of the long, wet spring – not to mention the cold winter that preceded it – are all but erased. And then, you arrive at the Farmers’ Market and ask: where is all the produce?! This time last year you would have found pints of strawberries on our table. That May crop of berries was the result of a hot April with temperatures hitting 30 degrees. Not this year.

As each new growing season reveals itself, farmers adapt as best we can. Sometimes the conditions coincide with our plans in a way that results in bumper crops. Sometimes our planning is foiled.

This past winter, many farmers had crops in the ground to harvest throughout the dark months and into spring, based on previous years’ trends. Instead, many farmers ended up shovelling snow off of their tunnels, the winter crops perishing in the cold.

How the changes from season-to-season impact farmers varies, and some seasons take a toll more than others. When the weather causes things to go sideways, it can lead one to think that the challenges are the result of personal mistakes or general incompetence.

Already this season I’ve spoken with many farmers who are finding the season to be stressful. In some cases everything has been manageable until a storm did damage, a market went poorly or a piece of machinery broke down. And suddenly it all became too much.

I tried reassuring a colleague last week noting that everyone is in the same boat. But being in the same boat, the colleague responded, doesn’t help when you can’t pay your bills. Being in the same boat isn’t great when the boat is sinking.

We can identify with all of these sentiments on our own farm. The season has been wet and cold. Plants haven’t grown – some lettuces, broccolis and cauliflowers that have been in the field for over a month simply haven’t grown. Other seedlings didn’t germinate, or got washed away during a particularly heavy rainfall.

Although it is the end of May, the fields look like they normally do in March … despite a week of sun. For months, the fields were too wet to do any tractor work. When the field dried, the soil was left in rock-hard conditions in many spots, requiring some intense work to get the areas into shape for planting. And then, there are the moments when machinery breaks down and we are faced with periods of waiting for repairs to be completed and unexpected repair bills.

It’s really easy to get stressed out over all of this. Will we be able to grow enough to fill orders and sell at the markets? What if something else goes wrong? Yet that stress won’t change the weather, nor will it fix the tractor. There has to be something else to think about here.

Indeed, we have been able to plant all of our potatoes (they are growing well), seed two plantings of beets and one planting of carrots plus transplant all of our kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. We have snap, snow and shelling peas growing up a new trellis system. The garlic, planted last fall, is growing, although we did lose some plants due to the colder winter. The strawberries are setting fruit and we should have those juicy red jewels for sale by mid-June. Our new plantings of raspberries are growing strong and should be fine to give us fruit in July.

Within all of this there is a lesson in resilience. Earlier this month while digging in the field (taking hours to do a job that should have been completed by a tractor in mere moments), I took a shovelful of soil and saw at least 10 earthworms. And with those earthworms I saw the tunnels they had dug through the soil. These tunnels provide the drainage and aeration to the soil that allows our fields to drain quickly. Indeed, the ability of soil to absorb, retain and filter moisture is a sign of its health — and the health of the multitude of organisms that give the soil life. Throughout the downpours these past few months, we have not had standing water in our fields. Those tiny holes in the soil are a sign of the resilience present in healthy soil.

Every season is different — that much we can say. The challenge is that we never know exactly how it’ll shape up until we’re at the end of the season. But each season teaches us and helps us understand how to adapt and adjust to the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing conditions. Resilience is a learned trait, something that takes time to develop and understand. Yet resilience is all around us, if only we stop to observe and recognize it.

In the weeks ahead we will experience some changes in the weather and we will continue to plant and prepare for the season as best we can. We look forward to sharing the results with you in the months ahead.

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