Week 20 (Chicago Week 18)

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List of this week's vegetables

  • Diakon radish
  • Celery
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Blue hubbard OR butternut winter squash
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Mustard mix
  • Beets
  • Beans
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi

Much more than words bring community together

Days of our lives as farmers are as complicated and challenging, as worthy and rewarding as any city dweller, any business owner, any household. Our letters to you weekly attempt to lift the veil that hides the world of a farm from consumers and subscribers who support it.

It’s last week of the regular season. We prized a chance last weekend to potluck with subscribers at Scotch Hill. Thanks to those who took time from near and far to join us. Any Saturday through October field work, canning and soap-making, into November fall shares, that you’d like to come out, help out, converse, you’re still welcome, there’s still time this fall.

You’d think we’d have something poignant to report in this last 20-week newsletter. A busy schedule, equipment failures, problems to solve make reflection difficult. I’ve heard for years, for instance, stories of what happens to vehicle suspensions not cared for. Wheels separating from axles at high speeds. Sparks. Terrifying sounds. Fright. Regret. Far bigger repair bills than a routine lubrication.

Sealed bearings and better designs have helped deal with modern drivers’ ignorance and in-attention to vehicle maintenance. For old tractors still helping serve fertile soil, however, past admonitions still hold true.

John Deere built our primary field utility tractor in the 1960s. It’s at least a half century old. Many of its working parts are original. It comforts me to see each of three sons at ease in using and maintaining this old machine.

No one is perfect. Between second jobs and so much to care for here, there are lapses. There are many moments when we hope one or the other is doing what we should.

I’d spread more than a ton of pulled-down hay, droppings and straw, which my youngest had loaded into the New Holland spreader. I’d mowed the sweet corn stalks before that to welcome this fertility. I’d made passes, too, over withering melon vines and weeds sprung up around mulch, to make black plastic removal easier.

And I was three-quarters the way across a stretch of mowed ground with the disk, preparing the soil for planting winter wheat –all this work with that old, reliable John Deere 3020 tractor on a warm, fall afternoon. Then, it failed.

I was at the field’s edge, preparing to arc the tractor back across the field. I felt a front tire turning away from the direction of the steering wheel. I saw its tie rod dangling from the undercarriage. I stopped. I stifled  an intense desire to keep working, to finish.

I took stock. I thought ahead. I had a meeting to attend at 7 p.m. Autumn warmth and sunshine were already starting to succumb to the shortened days. I recalled the forecasted rain. An unloaded hay wagon stood outside the shed.

I lowered the disk, unhooked its hoses from the hydraulic ports on the tractor, backed the machine just enough to draw that wobbly wheel back into position. I took the baling twine off the hoses, which kept them from being damaged in turns around the field. I bound the tie rod back up to the suspension system and started very slowly in first gear across the field.

A quarter mile straight across the blocks of hay and around the fall squash, up the hill through the paddocks, and down to the shed we went. I inched the tractor along, manipulating that tire as best I could with the gerri-rig.

Negotiating every clump of grass, dip in the field, rut in the dirt lane, I finally began a pass in front of the hay rack, stopping just within reach of the tongue. I hooked up the wagon to the tractor and pulled it slowly into the shed.

It had all taken more than an hour. I felt an impulse to cut apart the twine, to hide what I’d done from my sons. I thought they’d surely scowl at my manner of getting the disabled tractor back to the shed. Yet I was on time for the meeting. Next day when it began to rain, I was relieved the baled hay on the wagon was inside the shed, too.

The breakdown has held up field work for a week. I bought the replacement part for $52 the very next day, but it’s a heck of a task, removing remnants 50 years old. Thank God my sons came to the rescue again. You helped, too, in a season of support that kept the tractor, the farmers and farm running. You brought us together, broke separation from food source and the hungry. Thank you for this CSA season.  We hope to keep serving you in fall shares and thereafter.