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.


Week 19 (Chicago Week 17)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Maxibell Green beans
  • New England Pie Pumpkin
  • Oriole Chard AND Eggplant
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots AND Gold Potatoes
  • Romaine lettuce AND Parsley
  • Peppers ( green, colored and hot)
  • Redventure celery
  • Tomatoes AND Red Russian Kale
  • Garden Extra- Artichokes, Okra, Broccoli OR Purple Peacock

Is it grandma or the wolf, opportunity or disaster? 

My daddy shined our shoes.  Sunday mornings. Home from swing shifts and overtime in a soybean processing plantthat paid for those shoes.

I watched, intrigued from behind a bowl of corn flakes. He gave the simple process a Hoosier’s flair. Darkening, spitting, polishing.

It was not unlike Tom Sawyer, making it all seem so easy, even fun, like whitewashing a fence, until I couldn’t wait to take over the chore.

Yet an early-morning radio show was doing all the talking. I could tell my father was listening, thinking hard, taking mental notes.

You could call it a “dollars out of sense” sort of program.  The host had a neighborly voice, conversational delivery, friendly tone. Tips on saving money, cutting costs, budgeting and planning.

And the program always ended segments with some sort of fatherly admonition to keep ever in mind that opportunity knocks, yet we must open the door.

That’s been the hardest thing for me to figure out in life, especially the past 30 years since my father died, so young. When is the knock at the door opportunity? When is it a pretender, courting disaster?

From national forums, to community meeting rooms, common people are struggling to discern who is presenting, who is pretending, opportunity.

Generations of farmers, working extra hours, extra jobs, like my dad, to buy things their families needed, have tried to answer that question. Town and city folk at first found opportunity in serving surrounding farms. Somewhere along the line, servers became consumer masters.

Yet now increasingly everyone struggles to answer the riddle. What is opportunity? What is exploitation? Who among us, in countryside or city, is not powerless to answer opportunity, or fend off exploitation?

Global forces, national and international powers and policies, beyond control of any one farmer or consumer here at home, increasingly seem to hold all opportunity.  With laws passed swiftly in Madison and Washington, they don’t even seem to knock at the citizen’s door.

Will only histories of ruin resulting from our generation’s bad decisions be our children’s and grandchildren’s teachers about what was really opportunity?

Maybe the answer is beside the kitchen table, in an example of caring for things, instead of buying cheap and throwing away. Maybe it’s in listening to voices of reason and good will. Maybe it’s in our own self-control, not dollars being placed above good sense.

Who’s that knocking? Are you listening? They’re trying to get us to buy something, believe in something, make decisions that affect our health as well as our pocketbooks. It’s actually affecting our entire Natural world, too.

Maybe we should go to the door, answer the door – together.

Last call for visiting the 2015 growing season

We’d like to celebrate the season’s end with you. We’d like to hear your advice in person. Come to Scotch Hill’s end-of-season potluck, this weekend, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 10. Bring a dish to pass. Let us know to expect you. Share in the work of the day, or at least give us some good advice for the future. We want to hear from you, especially in-person. 

Week 18 (Chicago Week 16)

List of this week's vegetables

  • Tomatoes
  • Lacinato kale
  • Chioggia beets
  • Dragon Tongue beans
  • Little potatoes
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Spicy greens mix
  • Butterhead lettuce
  • Lettuce mix
  • Sorrel
  • Bell peppers
  • Hot pepper
  • Cilantro
  • Garlic

Of frost, plants & change in Earth’s garden and life

A garden’s lifespan mirrors its human protectors. Seed, birth, growth, fruition, maturity, aging, death.

It all happens so beautifully, miraculously, quickly. It’s all done too soon.

A fire warmed our farmhouse for the first time this fall. Sweaters warmed tanned arms accustomed to sunshine in garden and field. Roxanne, Dewey, Bertha scrambled to the squeaks of mice abandoning harvested grain fields. Old Boots warmed himself on a couch by that fire.

We gathered about a wonderful garden salad and homemade veggie pizzas. Warmth of kitchen and food, helped feed fond, and not-so-fond, memories.

So many years, Dela, the children, volunteers, interns, subscribers and I scurried about the gardens in early- or mid-September, striving often in vain to cover plants against threat of first frost. To a casual observer, we may have seemed strange organic versions of Keystone Kops.

Climate change has surely affected our gardens and fields here in southern Wisconsin. Temperatures have become extremely variable and even more unpredictable than any of us can recall. A forecast of 39 this Friday night is worrisome, but it’s the first time this fall we’ve felt this fear grip our souls.

What was normal for most of 21 years at Scotch Hill, was a series of frostings, increasingly more pervasive across our plantings, increasingly more killing. Too many times by the 17th week in 20 weeks of deliveries, we’d already experienced a killing frost.

A warm spell often followed that. It made us harvest and meet promised shares in view of blocks of blackened, withering plants turned in a single night to goo by a blanket of freezing, glistening moisture.

Dela and I always grieved hard when those frosts took our plants, our garden babies and children, turned too soon old, turned under. A season of our lives as farmers, repeated over and over heightened our sensitivities to lives of friends and family. It’s a hard way to become aware of life’s brevity, to learn what really matters.

Around the kitchen table Wednesday night, talk turned from frosty memories to harvest parties, Monty Python, inane philosophical questions that jollied up early evening and got us laughing good-naturedly.

So much we’ve enjoyed with Jim leading production this season and Jenna sharing in a full season on break from UW Madison, is drawing to a close. Join us for one last celebration of good food and community on October 10th from 11:00 to 3:00, and bring a dish to share in a potluck lunch on the farm.

Our last two weeks of this season, and the month before fall share deliveries in November, Dela and I especially would welcome your company, conversation and laughter. You might even help us cover a few plants before frost.

This week, I started a new job, as editor of the local weekly newspaper, the Independent Register. Anyone should be able to read some of what I report and write for them each week at the paper’s website. Please send us an email at least a day or two in advance of your visit to Scotch Hill, so we can ensure we’re both here to share your farm experience. I can try to work around off-farm work if you give us a little notice.

Please share our fall share invitation with neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers. We’re still way behind what we need to sustain our farm into winter. Your endorsement is virtually our only way of recruiting new subscribers.

And never forget the brevity of life. Learn from our plants to cherish every moment with those you love. It’s all done too soon.