Farmer's Diary, Summer 2014
While it is always difficult to think about summer in May, it is even more challenging to realize that spring has already passed us by—all two weeks of it this year. Spring was quite late and did not stick around for anybody’s edification. Despite that, it is not yet summer but it is inter-seasonal rush. Not the laid-back slide into autumn but the head-long, time-ticking, hope nothing breaks kind of rush that heralds the summer harvest expectations. Yes, we go through it every year; yes, we would like it to be otherwise; and, yes, we did plan differently (per usual) so it wouldn’t happen again. Yet somehow every year about this time there is a fly in the ointment; events that were supposed to be sequential become contemporaneous, something breaks, somebody gets a better offer and leaves….. It is always ‘something’. And every year we say, ‘next year we will be more plan-full’ or “next year it won’t happen again because now we are prepared”or “next year we’ll know better” or some such tom-foolery.
But every year it is the same—the rains come two hours to soon to finish one field or another so that corn field will be a week late, for instance. We try not to feel frustrated by that uncontrollable turn of events but then we have a flat tire on the cultivating tractor. Truly, were it not for all the fresh air, we farmers would be nothing but glorified fire-fighters dealing with metaphorical brush fires here, there, and everywhere at this time of year.
When it is finally summer and almost all of the pre-season angst is forgotten (or replaced!), the pace of life seems a little less fraught. It is now time for the sales arm of the organization to fret about what to do with the bounty erupting from our fields. We can sometimes move the harvest to an additional vendor. But can we move enough customers through the farm stand or parking lot? When is ‘enough’ enough? When is success a business-killer? When will we have tried our customer’s patience to the point where ‘local’ could be Wegman’s, Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s, all of which are better capitalized to better deal with the vicissitudes of retail and don’t have to worry about production? They are not farmers, after all.
The fact is, believe it or not, that there will always be some portion of the customer base that is invested in the work it takes to bring the freshest produce, the most unique local products to the market because that is what we do. Farmers and their markets not only keep open space safe for the sublimated viewing demands of passers-by, habitat for wildlife, and opportunities for fresh-market aficionados; farmers provide jobs across broad sectors of our economy (repairs, diesel, paper goods, jobs, supplies, etc) but they provide an arguably spiritual respite for beleaguered shoppers who hate the neon-lit aisles of nondescript chain markets habituated by the generic “I-could-get-this-for-less-somewhere-else” folks.
In spite of the seemingly endless seasonal angst, the crops come in mostly on time, and sell through surprisingly quickly to a small bevy of loyal customers who believe, as we do, that quality produce coupled with a uniquely personal shopping experience is well worth the extra effort. Every year we look back and the past seasons are never as difficult as they might have seemed at the moment.
John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.