Thank God, it’s July now.
The month of June brought us blessings; it brought us two new employees that have been wonderful matches with the crew.
Mostly, though, the month of July brought rain. At one point we got 5 inches in 5 days. We learned, though, that it could always be worse, when our boss talked to a friend who’d just begun a very small CSA farm; in the same five days, he’d gotten hit by 9 inches, putting his carrots underwater for a few days and destroying many of his crops.
The CSA—Community Supported Agriculture—is in part a response to the historic economic vulnerabilities of farmers. Most farms must front a large amount of money at the beginning and to some extent throughout the season—seed, fertilizer, labor, water, not to mention upfront costs of large machinery, land, and facilities. They then hope to make all that back and then some after harvest. This paves the way for a precarious growing season, constantly fighting and praying against severe weather, pests, and crop failures.
Some farms take out crop insurance to cover against this basic vulnerability—in a CSA, though, a shareholder pays a certain amount upfront in exchange for a weekly share of produce. If the farm does very well, they receive a lot more. If the farm has a leaner year, they get a little less. This financing system guarantees a market for our farm, protecting us against price collapses, fluctuating demand, and to some extent, crop failure. The risk is essentially spread financially across the community of shareholders, rather than placed entirely on the farm. Interestingly, in some ways this model relies on the assumption that our shareholders are wealthy enough to take a risk on our CSA—that they would be okay with not getting a bumper crop every week.
Yesterday, riding my bike the 4 and a half miles into work, I wondered why the roads were empty until I realized that it was the third of July. In spite of the Fourth being a Saturday, many got the Friday off. It occurred to me that though we often celebrate this holiday with consumer goods—fireworks, catering orders, beer—it cannot be a holiday in this country without a day off of work.
But I suppose that working on a farm changes the way you think of work, its purposes and the roles it plays in our lives, both personally and societally. I love the work that we do at the farm, though there are many times I don’t terribly specific jobs. A wave of pride comes over me when talking about my job, and I’ve found that my mood is increasingly tied to the state of the fields.
This past month, June, it seemed like it was doom and gloom everywhere I looked. Our fields were drenched, too much to plant anything. A promising relationship in my own life went south unexpectedly. My sister’s best friend went missing for a week or two. On a short break from work in New Orleans with friends, my wallet was stolen.
And we couldn’t plant anything. By the end of the month, my stomach was in a knot, craving an outlet for the anxious energy arising. On top of that, I hadn’t seen the sun in a bit—June turned out to be the cloudiest in Chicago since record keeping began almost 150 years ago.
Then, Tuesday, it didn’t rain. It continued not raining until Thursday, when fields were finally clear for the tractor. We did some manual work weeding and trellising tomatoes while my boss mowed, disced, and spaded several new beds. We did the same Friday morning.
Friday afternoon, we planted for the first time in over a month. Three beds of lettuce and two of swiss chard, tossing plants with Agustin planting and egging me on, calling me a bebe lento—in Spanish, a slow baby.
End of the day, Agustin and I talking, in Spanglish, walking up the road. We agree, this day was muy bueno. Rain predicted for the next week—but the sun is here, the plants are in, the Fourth is tomorrow.