Week 17 (Chicago Week 15)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Round or long pie pumpkins
  • Eggplant
  • Two varieties of beans
  • Bell peppers
  • Red Roaster sweet peppers
  • Cayenne and jalapeno peppers
  • Green Wave mustard greens
  • Red Streaks Mizspoona greens
  • Tomato
  • Pink radishes OR turnips
  • Broccoli OR kale

A lone bird calls out, as if confused, in a dense morning fog. With that lone song, I wonder where all the other morning birds are. It’s a strange September.

Another night of rain, after another day of 84-degree weather, makes everything slow to rise. We can’t see the sun through the heavy, wet mist. The day is not inviting.

Digging potatoes by hand had been proceeding too slowly. This week, I fetched home the mechanical digger from an equipment shed we rent a mile away. Mud and dense weed root masses – especially that awful quack grass – have made digging potatoes hard, yields thin.

To uncover the potatoes, I broke up soil and deteriorated oat straw mulch with the aggressive digger and tractor. I first mowed down the weeds as close to the ground as I could. I hunted for the potatoes on my hands and knees in the jumble of turned ground and organic matter.

Suddenly the sky turned ominous with approaching rain, I hurried, fast as I could go. Losing the sun to the clouds brought mosquitoes out in force. My hands caked in mud, I couldn’t slap the bugs on my neck and face. I warded them off with my arms. It was miserable going.  

Your farm and farmers the past decade have weathered record snowfall and record drought. We’ve gotten through violent storms. We’ve survived rainfall in a single day a fourth as much as falls here in a year.

Fuel prices have swung widely for all of us, too. Fuel for tractors, harvest pickups, weekly delivery vehicles took more than 10 percent of our gross income the years that prices rose to nearly $4 per gallon.

Cheap fossil fuel, ample water and reliable climate patterns are what made industrial scale agriculture – and cheap, mass-produced food – possible the last century. An inspiring book that we started reading this week, framed importance of what we’re doing here. It’s about the next century, which will change everything again.

The book is titled “Fields of Learning.” It’s a collection of writings by some amazing individuals who’ve led establishment or operation of student farms at colleges and universities. Sometimes with thin administrative or institutional support, these individuals are bravely teaching alternative, sustainable and organic agriculture alongside science, technology, arts and letters.

One of the book’s two authors has invited Dela and me to visit the 500-acre farm and agriculture program he directs at Berea College in Kentucky. It is probably the oldest academic institution operating a student farm.

It is also where my student from Senegal, Hamidou Sakhanokho earned a B.S. degree in agriculture before going on to complete graduate studies and then conduct plant research for the USDA.

Journalist and peak oil energy educator Richard Heinberg is referenced in this book. A Post Carbon Institute fellow, Heinberg says America is going to need 40 to 50 million farmers to return to the land if we are to produce food adequately as fossil fuel runs out.

That number is astounding. There are only about 2.2 million farmers left in the United States. Only 5 percent of them are under 35 years of age. All along, Dela and I have realized how vital it is to share what we’ve learned about organic food producing with young adults. We want to tour this farm in the last half of October during a week’s vacation visiting family in North Carolina.

We can’t both do this unless we find someone willing to care for our poultry and dogs daily while we’re gone. If anyone of our subscribers can help us do that after our season ends, mid-October, please let contact us.

Southern Wisconsin has a lot to do locally this time of year, including Cheese Days in Monroe, Embrace the Race during Brodhead’s Autumn Fest and Oktober Fest in New Glarus. Visit Green County websites for details.