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Hell or High Water
Friday morning when I sent the weekly farm report out
to my CSA members, weíd already received nearly 11 inches of rain for the
month of May. By the next morning, an inch more had fallen. And today,
Sunday morning, we are at 13.38Ē Ė and the rain is still steadily falling.
Erosion has washed away soil and mulch. Iím concerned about crops, old
barn foundations and roofs. Extremely soggy and soft conditions, keep me from
pulling the tractor out of the barn to do anything much other than a quick
mowing when I can manage to get a dry enough spell to cross the creek at
the pondís mouth. The weight of my small frame, sinks up to ankles, higher
in some places, just going to feed chickens, horses and dogs. Spring 2015
will certainly go down in the history books.
Yesterday, I had a rare opportunity to go downtown
to the Dallas Farmerís Market. Generally on Saturdays Iím pretty tied up
with my own market or CSA distributions. But our distribution was
cancelled due to flooded crops, even if it wasnít a holiday weekend.
Farmer Marie at the DFM by Jennifer Kate Stuart - Grow North Texas
It was also the annual international
Monsanto event, with a local march held downtown in Dallas that Iíd been
asked to speak later in the afternoon. So, I decided to make a day of it.
I took the DART rail downtown. Riding the train gives
you a peek at parts of the city you wonít see from a car as you drive. I
saw yards and fields flooded, the river, which granted, is also visible
from a car if youíre driving down 175 as it nearly meets you on the
freeway right now, totally overflowing its banks and the thousands of
places for mosquitoes to be busily laying eggs.
Why are they not talking about dropping BTi bits of
mosquito larvaecide, all over the city to prevent the potential outbreak
of mosquito borne illnesses Ė NOW?
Anyway, Iím almost tired of ranting about mosquito
prevention, but would feel lacking in my responsibilities had I not at
least mentioned it. Please, dump, dunk and drain all standing water!
I arrived at the farmerís market, which is still
undergoing itís slow, tedious and somewhat painful process (for many) of
reformatting itself. On this day, you could still find watermelon and
pineapples Ė totally out of season and certainly not local on the latter,
Driscollís strawberries and just about anything else imported youíd like
Get it while you can, because June 1st is
bringing some major changes.
But I primarily visited with folks I consider my
colleagues; the local farmers. You know the ones who actually GROW
what they sell. To my amazement, there was one new young farmer with
squash already! They were small, but they were. He said that he had
several plantings of squash that he normally puts along a bank of his
creek washed away by the recent record flooding, rains. He also said he
had an entire acre of green beans planted, and nearly a third may be lost
to the flooding.
Mr. Lemley, a long-time veteran farmer and DFM
vendor, was shaking his head as well when I asked how the rain had been
affecting him. He said they just re-plant, until something finally grows.
Both of these farmers grow on a much, much larger
scale than the 2 acres or so that I have under production. I canít imagine
putting an entire acre under green beans alone. I would need to hire a
small army to come pick them all!
And of course, Mr. Lemley has been farming for more
years than Iíve been alive, and has a staff and crew, as well as many hoop
houses, acres and acres of land under production and the wealth of
experience and wisdom to endure much of what Nature throws his way.
Even Paul, of Good Earth Organic, one of our Stateís
first organic farmers, who also attended the rally, isnít sure what to expect, when the waters finally
recede. A portion of his strawberry field was under water several weeks
ago when I visited his place Ė and the rains havenít really let up since
then. His sheep, needing to be moved more because of the flooding rains,
escaped some fencing, and ate several rows of his crops along their way.
My colleague and dear friend Rita, of Farmer Jones,
reported this morning that their corn was lost. And they, too, like
everyone else, are faced with a sense of uncertainty as to what to expect,
whenever the rains finally do end, and summer arrives.
In a way, I felt somewhat comforted to know Iím not
alone in my worries and losses. I dare not take on more land to farm than
I already have so that when 1/3 is lost I still have enough to sell. I
tried to farm over 5 acres on my own a year ago, splitting my time between
two farms, and both locations suffered as a result.
I donít farm in the same conventional way as the
other land had been farmed for many decades, under constant tillage. So
the weed seeds that had been churned up constantly by doing so, were only going to be
manageable by some major attention that would require more time or
equipment than I had access to Ė or money to hire. The trailer I bought
to transport my own tractor back and forth came too late to save much of anything extra I had planted last year.
So, a small farm like this one, with only myself here
full time and occasional volunteer and work-share help, has to be
diversified to survive.
The CSA is the backbone of support, both financially
as well as socially. They call, email and come by to check on me and the
farm, especially when they see there is a critical weather situation like
the one weíve been having. And there are a few who are able to bring in
their next installments early and send a little extra now and then, too.
A lifeline when thereís not been any external sales of produce to speak
We should be two weeks into our warm season harvest
CSA distributions by now. But without any potatoes to dig, onions sitting in water, and now
squash, cucumbers, chard and kale all looking pretty sickly; we have had
to suspend our shares for at least two weeks. Much less have anything
supplemental to sell at market or to restaurants. Iím still not sure what
is going to go out on the tables next Saturday for our
Challenge. Iím praying some tomatoes will ripen by then.
Thankfully, I got as many tomato plants in as early
as I did, because I have about 500 row feet of them growing with about
half of them full of fruit. If only we can get enough dry, warm and sunny
weather to ripen them. Saturday I saw a fellow selling green tomatoes Ė in
May. Something usually reserved for that week in fall before the first
predicted freeze will kill them off and you donít want them to go to
waste. I think he was just looking for something, anything, to have for
Farmers are pretty resilient people.
Aside from the CSA memberships that I limit to the 30
or so families, a number I feel confident working enough land for, I offer farm
tours, rent out the yurt for yoga, (and it will soon be available for
private dinners, classes and other various events), but was cancelled this
week due to flooding of the creek that surrounds it, hold a boutique,
organic only farmerís market here, have some sales from the original
organic garden center that still operates, on a limited basis anyway, and
was very fortunate to
raise funds last fall to purchase a much needed
piece of equipment for the farm, that has been making many jobs much less
cumbersome, and is working to improve the soil at a much better rate than
I was able to do with a wheelbarrow and shovel. The idea being, it would
help increase yields and give me more food to sell. I want the farm to be
sustainable, not in constant need of extra financial help.
I also occasionally sell ad space to chefs I
encounter for the local food magazine,
Edible Dallas and Fort Worth,
(hoping farm to fork restaurant accounts can see the value in supporting
not only the only media dedicated to local food, but also the farmer who
would get the commission from their ad). Iím excited to see the first ad I
helped put together from FT33 in print in the summer issue breaking next
But, with our quarterly installments not due until
July, and an entire monthís worth of expenses to pay, without much of a
harvest to have been sold and banked, really for the last 2 months, Iíve
been seriously considering, for the first time in a very long time,
pursuing a part time job. Iím not at all sure what it would be. So Iím
hoping to make what I have stretch just a little further. The utilities
and farm payment canít be made in eggs. About the only thing around here
thatís not been affected by the rain. LOL
"Do not go
where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a
Well, I hear the dogs out there howling and barking
at something. Thereís a bit of a break in the deluge of this morning,
gratefully. I am going to pull on my big girl goulashes, trudge through
the ankle deep mud and puddles, feed my sweet farm animals and gaze at the
water spilling over the banks of the creek down by the bees and be
grateful for that first ripe tomato that will surely, reenergize Life on
This too, shall pass.
Eat your food, Naturally