From the Suburban Farm: 5/24


I’m about a month and a half into my first season working on an organic farm in one of Chicago’s well-heeled western suburbs.

For a while, it seemed as if the sky was falling. For a week it seemed like it rained straight through, keeping us out of the fields. The tomatoes and leeks both needed to get out. We’d dismissed a crew member a couple weeks prior, for lack of a work ethic. We were a man down, a week behind, and feeling the spite of the weather. We lost four beds of carrots to runaway weeds, and half of our peas were being gobbled by geese. Another bed of cucumbers hit a 5% survival rate within three days of planting.

Sometimes it seems that when bad news is all you’re hearing, that’s the only possible fate; in a sea of noise, music is easily lost.

We did scrape together enough green garlic, bok choy, beet greens, pea shoots, turnips, and Tokyo Bekana (a mild cabbage) to easily give out our 102 shares the first week.

The past week started out mostly cooler than average–about 15-20 degrees. Then, after a quickly passing hailstorm Wednesday, Thursday nearly hit 70 and Friday came in at 75. The fields had dried out well enough with the sun to prepare the tomato fields, discing and laying a layer of plastic and drip tape, to keep the soil wet and hot.

The first two beds took two hours to lay the plastic down–in the next six hours, we’d finish another 14, balancing on a 3-inch wide steel beam on the tractor implement to unfurl the plastic the whole way.

Walking to the barn at the end of the work day, my boss, passing through a shaded spot:

“75 can be nice!”

The day after planting plastic the entire day, I rode my bike to work knowing we’d be working hard. Rain was coming–Sunday, if not Saturday. Something needed to be put in the ground.

At 7, we start loading the transplanter onto the tractor. By 730, we were walking down rows, following the tractor and carefully but not too carefully tossing plants into the holes–18 inches apart for 500 feet.

We came out firing, planting the first eight beds by 10 o’clock. The sun rising, fast, the predicted high climbed to 70 and then to 80.

After lunch, we slowed our pace and finished the tomatoes and put in eggplant.

By the end of the day, we’d planted 15 500ft beds, four of them in two rows. At 18 inches apart, that translates to well over 3000 plants.

End of the day, boss:

“You guys ought to be proud of yourself

That’s the closest I’ll come to a compliment.

Come into water tomorrow at 730”

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Jason Halm

Jason currently works on a farm in the west suburbs, and has worked in restoration, restaurants, and the tourism industry. Right now, his interests include holistic health (on both a personal and ecosystem level), getting a little better in the kitchen (sauerkraut will come), and enjoying the vast wild, human and otherwise, of Chicago.

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