I started harvesting early for our CSA this morning. I like being in the garden alone when the sun is rising, especially after rains like we've had. Everything is so vibrant.
Yesterday, I was on squash bug patrol in our summer and winter squash fields, admiring the growth of the plants, their stretching into the sun, their amazing flowers and their vitality.
When you've been pampering thousands of plants for months, you can't help but visualize the fruits of your labor and devotion. Names like Waltham Butternut, Boston Marrow, Blue Hubbard, Table Acorn, Gila Cliff Dweller (my favorite), Mayo Blusher and Magdalena Big Cheese evoke the peak of the harvest in the fall when a farmer proudly displays these amazing heirloom varieties at the Farmers' Market.
There's a thrill around this time of the year when everything is exploding, climbing, flowering and showering you with beauty. Since mid January, we've been seeding and transplanting thousands upon thousands of plants, in the cold, in the wind, in the dark, racing with time to get everything planted.
New Mexico has a short growing season. You ought to be very precise with your timing, especially with peppers, eggplants, melons, winter squash and tomato or they never get to mature before the first frost. As you get more years under your belt, you get more proficient with your timing and rotations. Abundance begins to manifest.
Around this time of the year, when everything is finally planted, you get to relax some and reap the fruits of months of hard labor.
And then comes a hail storm.
Like today. 40 minutes of continuous hail, shredding plants with a 125mph velocity.
I remember my first hail storm two years ago, in our second year at Gaia Gardens. I sought refuge in the tool shed and watched the hail fall. I started crying. I was devastated. All this work for months to get your entire crop shredded to pieces.
Today, I sat on the couch in our shop and watched the hail storm. I was better prepared, having survived two storms in previous years. I was with Dominique and Rachel, our intern. I could feel every hail stone as if it was hitting my own body. I was staying cool in the presence of my partner and intern but truly, my heart was getting bruised just like the plants were.
The storm lasted an eternity.
When it finally stopped, we saw someone coming down to the farm, obviously looking for us. Lily, a master gardener who's been to the farm and bought plants from us, was coming to see if she could help cover the plants. I was deeply touched by her concern and her coming to help. I told her it was too late and that covering the plants can crush them under the weight of the hail.
Lili, Rachel and I walked the garden, inspecting the damage. Chard, summer squash and winter squash leaves are very tender. They get completely shredded by hail. Sunflower leaves were pretty sad, basil will turn black because it is so sensitive to cold, tomato fruits and young squash will be bruised. Dino Kale and Collard are robust and did not show any sign of damage. Russian Kale gets pretty beat up in a hail storm.
As I walked the garden, a deep sadness came over me. It is so difficult to make a living as a small farmer. Last year, our best year, I barely made $10,000. Imagine if I had kids to feed! I make less money that a dishwasher at MacDonald.
I work from sunrise to sunset seven days a week every day of the year. After 5 years of farming, I am coming to some difficult realizations. Small scale farming like we practice, in the desert, on less than an acre, without machinery and with very little water (our well is shallow and doesn't produce enough) is unsustainable. I work all the time and am tired all the time. I don't have any life outside the farm.
I feel like we were handed a mission in attempting to establish an urban farm in Santa Fe. The previous administration nearly managed to sink us by their utter lack of understanding and sensitivity. The current administration, under the leadership of Mayor Javier Gonzalez, has invited us to help created a vision for a sustainable Santa Fe and shape a comprehensive urban agriculture ordinance.
As difficult as it's been, we've made a huge impact on the city and hopefully have opened the way for more food production to take place in Santa Fe (as it once was!).
We've just completed a beautiful documentary (Bringing Food Home, soon to be shown at the CCA) that took two years to create and have inspired many people though our tenacity, commitment to service and willingness to embrace all the challenges coming our way-a neighbor and administration bent on destroying us, the uncertainty of being on a property on the brink of foreclosure and relying on a well that should have run dry many year ago
I feel sad.
I feel the predicament of all farmers on this planet. Especially indigenous people. I understand why farmers in India are committing suicide, in shame of not being able to repay their debt and feed their family.
I worry about the future of farming. I worry about climate change.
I chuckle when I hear people say "let's grow with hydroponics or aquaponics". Yes, we will need to grow indoors as climatic conditions become more and more erratic but can we grow wheat, corn, potato or winter squash indoors? And where would I get the money to built a hi-tech year-round indoor hydroponic growing facility?
When people tell me that the prices at the Farmers Market are high, I want to scream. The question for me is on whose back is the low price we get at the grocery store and who makes the profit? The answer is simple. Undocumented, immigrant workers slave away in large commercial farm operations and endure terrible working conditions, extremely low wages, no security, health hazards and abuse, while the stock holders of large agro companies reap large profits.
Isn’t ironic and sad that the people who grow our food are the lowest paid workers on the planet when they provide some of the hardest work?
We ought to understand (and educate our friends) the meaning and implications of buying at the Farmers Market (vs. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Sprouts, etc.) as a way to keep money circulating locally and keeping agriculture land in production. If farmers cannot make a living, their children will not take up farming. Agricultural land will fall in the hands of developers, agricultural water rights will be lost and the local farming tradition will soon disappear.
Please support your local farmers. Buy at the Farmers Market and tell all your friends to do the same.
After the storm.....