Food 101 ...........comes after Farming 101

I had an interesting day on Saturday.

First of all ...... Saturday was downright cold. We had the first hard freeze of the season and the earliest snow on record. If we hit a high of 40 degrees on Saturday, it was a miracle.

So Saturday afternoon, I am working on a pair of socks and Cliff is painting a window for the chicken coop. I suddenly hear the alarm on the driveway go off. Hmmmm? We weren't expecting anyone.

I walk out to greet the visitors. Here are two local women bundled up in winter coats and shawls. "Can we see what kind of flowers you have?"

I reply ...... like the smart-ass that I am ....... "Crispy frozen flowers."

"You don't have flowers??" And then I realized that they really expected me to have flowers. So I asked if they had seen the snow that fell earlier in the day. Yes, they had. But they could not make the correlation between cold weather and the lack of flowers.

Yes ........ its time to take Food 101.

Ah-ha!! But to take Food 101, you must have take the prerequisite Farming 101.

1) First, farming (therefore, food production) is a weather dominated activity. Temperatures and rainfall determine the success of a crop. Crops have an optimum temperature where they grow and flourish. Corn likes it hot and humid. The kernels develop and the ears fill out. Unfortunately, here is eastern Iowa, we had a cool, comfortable summer. We (humans) liked it. Corn ...... did not.

2) Most food crops are annual crops. That means they live their entire life-cycle in one year. Annual. When their life-cycle starts late or ends early, we don't have the yield that we would like.

Example .... our tomato crop here at the farm. I planted 54 tomato plants at the end of May. I plant fairly late because local farms may spray a herbicide earlier in May. Tomatoes are particularly sensitive to that herbicide and will curl up and die. The herbicide can go quite a distance on the wind ... that is called drift.

You also want a nice warm soil temperature for the tomatoes. They may survive cooler soil temps but they don't thrive. So planting tomatoes in February and keeping them covered doesn't guarantee tomatoes in May!

So for all our hard work and planning, our tomatoes did not have a good year due to the cool wet summer. The tomatoes ripen slowly in cool temperatures and the wet conditions lead to more fungal disease and blossom end rot. Finally, in September, I was beginning to get tomatoes.

Saturday, the tomatoes froze. They don't come back. It doesn't matter how warm it gets ... they are done. D-O-N-E. Done.

3) Change is not instant on the farm. Yes -- you can get your clothes dry-cleaned in an hour. You can make Mac 'n Cheese to 2 minutes. But the flowers that didn't have buds yesterday ... aren't going to bloom today.

Earlier this spring, we had customers that came to the farm in mid-May. They were upset that I didn't have any flowers. I reminded them of the frost advisory that was issued on Wednesday.... 4 days earlier. And on Sunday their exact words were, "But it is nice today!".

Will Rogers said, "Every man is ignorant. Just on different subjects."

For living in a very rural state in a fairly rural area, we are extremely ignorant on agriculture and farm life. We are two and three generations from the farm. We know more about the car we drive or the phone we use than the food we eat. It is time to change that fact.

We have made GREAT strides with the Buy Fresh- Buy Local campaigns throughout the nation. But now .... we have customers that think we should have tomatoes all the time!! They want local food but don't yet understand seasonal foods. Even in groups that claim to want local foods ..... the lack of agricultural knowledge is appalling. They know what bad farming practices are......... but do they know what good farming practices are???

Unfortunately, I am not talking to those people. So ..... as I am preaching to the choir......... where do we begin? I'd like a little stronger beginning than singing "Old McDonald had a farm".


Maybe the slogan should read "Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Eat Seasonal".

I am just starting up my tiny little farming enterprise, and have been and am spending the time between now and seed-starting time next spring getting ready. Plans, number-crunching, zoning hassles, etc. I keep telling myself, "if all goes according to plan..." and then I cringe because what ever goes according to plan?

I enjoy your blog as well as your web site. And your flower enterprise is wonderful!
I totally agree!!! Most people also don't realize that most of our (farmer's & ranchers) expenses are yar round, even though the income is seasonal.

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