From the Suburban Farm: 6/20


My boss has frequently cited an inch of rain a week as a rough ideal for a vegetable farm. This past Thursday, we’d gotten six inches in the previous six days.

The small prairie stream half a mile from our farm had flooded, hard, bright orange caution tape fencing off all paddling put-ins. Riding my bike home one afternoon over an alternate route, I found a river merged with retention ponds, a veritable garden of eden for the heron flying overhead.

Though severe weather is scary, I find myself amazed by how our culture seems to view the storms and floods of Spring. Irritation and fear seem to rule the rainy days, as we do everything we can to stay high and dry.

But I think that in that process, we forget how lucky we are to live in a place that has yearly great rains and even the occasional harsh flood. Rainwater is the ultimate recycler, giving us finally back the water we’ve already drank. Floods may ruin crops, but they also bring fertile silt back to us and our gardens and our farms, ensuring prosperity in the future years while knocking us back a peg for the time being.

So maybe instead of cowering in fear from the rain, I will, next time I see the dark speckles on my deck, make some coffee, set aside my shallow plans for the day, and let the floods wash over.


Somehow, we keep finding food in the fields. As a first year farmhand, every time a harvest turns out well, a deep sense of awe and thanks still pervades over me.

The first couple months of our farm season did not go well. We’ve been consistently short staffed and overwatered, behind schedule six days for every five, constantly losing more plants and letting more weeds go than we ought to.


We’ve hired a couple more heads of help, though, and it’s starting to look more and more like a farm. Starting to feel more like one too, as our conversations in the field turn past the weeds and vegetables in front of us and out into the world beyond the farm.


My boss, Tim, talking about the pride he takes in playing the role of producer in an overwhelmingly consumerist society.

Matt, a year younger than me, just graduated in Mechanical Engineering, wondering why his friends are taking jobs they know they’ll hate, stemming from internships they hated. “soulsucking”, he calls it. So do I.


Then there’s Armando, a 60 year old Mexican immigrant who’s been farming for about 40 years. Between him and the others on our crew that are bilingual, I’ve picked up a solid bit of Spanish, mostly through jokes and commands.

Sometimes I wonder what he thinks of us gringos, turning back from the work our parents did so that may do the work he’s done his entire life. I wonder if he finds us foolish, and if he isn’t justified in thinking so.


Then one day, weeding las savoyas (onions), Tim turns to me, translating Armando’s comments, with a preface: “Wow, that’s the first compliment I’ve heard from him.”

My ears perk up:

“He said, ‘you have to be smart to work here.”

I nod, think about it… I look at the time, and get back to weeding.

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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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