Remembering Potatoes in the Gilded Lobby.
This morning I received a newsletter from a farm located on the other side of the country.
It's the kind of farmish newsletter much like the one I myself send out every week, decorated with anecdotes of bees and the joy of a strawberry picked straight from the fields. We fall into the same kinds of rhythms of appreciating life, enduring sun and planning for rain, working very hard.
This operation is the full-time child of another pair of young farmers, very similar to ours in ideals and growing practices. But in other arenas, this far-flung farm and our own hardscrabble joint couldn't be more different.
Obvious elements like weather and climate are entirely opposite, and I can tell you from every photo I've seen of the fluffy cake they call soil that the ground beneath our feet is quite dissimilar as well.
Part of the distinction is also thanks to a difference in experience—they've been farming their own land for a full 5 years longer, and overall bear more sun-baked notches in their belts.
There's also the attitude of farmers in different parts of the world and their approach to what is possible, what is expected. I'm reminded of seed catalogs that advertise summer broccolis and cabbage and the eruptive guffaws they elicit from McFarmer and me, scoffing at folks above the Mason Dixon line and their idea of 'summer.' In Southeast Texas, we don't do July cabbage.
I like learning of others doing work with the earth all over the globe. I gobble up their news and literature, eager to follow and learn from these young stalwarts and each of their individual soil-laden stories.
It feels good to get pointers from those succeeding at what we're trying our darndest to do. We're big fans of surrounding ourselves with people waaay better at doing things than we are so we can absorb through osmosis their knowledge and skill.
In exchange, we earnestly hope they like hugs, cold beer and lots and lots of salad and flowers.
And as was the case with this newsletter, I often find that by taking in the thoughts of other growers I'm constantly relearning this life I've fallen in love with. They remind me.
There was a line in this morning's newsletter that struck me. The talk was of farming as a craft constituted of intuition, determination and science.
The seasons bring new opportunities every time they come around, and as a farmer you're hopeful to make the most of it-- seizing those opportunities depends on equal parts gumption and careful planning.
I believe this must be true for anyone who ever stuck a seed in soil, year after year, no matter their climate zone. Yet, the newsletter then went on to discuss how this particular farm gets about 2-4 chances a season to grow potatoes, and how that adds up to about 30-40 chances to grow the best potatoes over their lifetime. 30-40 chances. And to be sure, these calculations make sense. If you're aiming to carry out the stooping, sweating work of a farmer for a certain number of years, then your growing days--those precious seasons in which to obtain the best yield, the best flavor, the best color--well, those days are numbered.
But I'd like to add an asterisk to that truism. For me, for our farm, it's a fool's game to think of every season as another chance gone for growing our best potatoes. There's too much that can interfere, and inevitably it sometimes will.
Fate can arrive in heavy cloud, toss your plans to the wind and say, “ No Potatoes.”
We only get this wonder of growing food and tending plants and trees by the grace of nature. So, there's got to be some balance struck between seeing each growing season as a "Seize This!" moment and a "What Will Be, Will Be" state.
Deadlines and countdowns are a part of farming, bottom line.
Farmers constantly think in terms of 2-5 months (and 2-3 years) ahead, understanding that a plan not made is a plant not grown. But this is exactly why viewing those potato-growing seasons as a cycle is far more appealing to me. The chance for the best potatoes comes again and again, allowing you to appreciate what you've got right now AND look forward to what's next, to where optimism reigns supreme.
In my mind, the growing seasons are a gilded revolving door in some sumptuous hotel lobby from the 20's, with opportunities opening and closing again and again in delicious, mirrored Art Nouveau glory. And they always circle back. Always.
To think of those same seasons like calendar on a wall or a sifting hourglass puts the pressure on big time, and in a situation where you're not even remotely in control. A red “x” for every year gone and grains falling swiftly mark not what's to come but all that's already gone. And I find that neither helpful nor the whole truth. Cycles continue, and eventually you won't grow potatoes, but somebody else will.
I am certain that our newsletter-writing farmer friends across the way understand these ideas to their very overall-donning core. Reading their wise thoughts gets me thinking, and allows me to reacquaint myself every week on why is it that we love this work, this completely unpredictable way of life? Today, I like how it reminds me that all things are in a state of coming and going. We grab chances and we watch them go. The seasons will come again and again, farmers will plan carefully every year, and sometimes they will reap success and other times they will fail.
But in the meantime, we're gonna enjoy our time looking around that gorgeous lobby. Maybe we'll even eat some potatoes while we stroll.