Greetings CSA Members-
Featherstone Farm is named after the township west of Red Wing where my father’s ancestors homesteaded in the 1850s. My great grandfather A.P. Anderson grew up on that homestead and farmed in Featherstone Township off and on throughout his long life. In 1941 he self published a memoir- the book that inspired me to get into agriculture as an idealistic 20 year old- that details many of his experiences growing up and farming on the Minnesota frontier.
In this memoir, AP claims that in only one growing season in his long life (I believe it was 1933, interestingly, one of the dust bowl years), was the weather perfect for agriculture. This year, 2020, I will always remember as the growing season when the weather was perfect for annual vegetables.
In early July, I started writing what I thought at the time would be a series of pieces on what it feels like when things go so right on the farm, even as the outside world seems to be coming apart at the seams (another remarkable parallel with AP in 1933…and not just the dust bowl and great depression. Think of the rise of authoritarianism in Europe). I had intended to write several more installments on this theme; then we got busy with harvests. Super busy.
Yesterday I made an “emergency” trip to a ginseng operation north of Wausau WI, to buy a truckload of bins for carrots. After bumper crops of summer fruits- think of all the melons and tomatoes in August and September!- we now have record breaking yields in winter storage crops, especially cabbage and carrots. Many field plantings are yielding 20-50% above 5 year historical averages; there have been next to no outright losses all season. Every bin we own is filled, our winter storage coolers are reaching capacity, and still we have literally tons and tons of carrots yet to harvest. It is truly a record year for this small vegetable farm.
Why? Because 2020 was a far drier-than-average growing season. And when it did rain, there was a quick and strong drying period immediately following. The bane of our existence these past several years has been the prolonged wet period, in which yield-crippling foliar diseases set in. This year we had very, very little of this kind of chronic moisture (thank goodness!!). After years of reading my complaints about rain in this newsletter, you would be entirely justified in calling me a hypocrite if I complained again in a dry year(!!!). But this is not the case: 2020 is indeed the “1933 style perfect year” for the modern Featherstone Farm.
Much credit also goes to the great team of people working here too, of course; the women and men who planned and planted, tended and irrigated, and are now harvesting and packing these bumper crops. Because we so often lose 20-30% of any given planting to disease, we generally hire enough people to harvest only 80% of what we plan to plant in a given year. But if there is no disease and everything is marketable… we have a formula for overtime, lots and lots of overtime. Yes this begins with the field crews who are out 50-60 hours week after week in the baking sun, picking more melons. But it also includes the people who work in the warehouse and shop and front office, creating and processing all the added wholesale business.
Everyone here has been working extra extra long hours to make this great season possible. I for one am awed and humbled by this devoted service, and grateful beyond words. And all this during a global pandemic, in which the need for quality food has never been greater!! As frontline workers who don’t have the ability to work from home, farmworkers everywhere deserve our thanks now like never before.
The flip side of the great growing season that I started to write about in July- the social and environmental chaos that are front-of-mind for so many of us in 2020 in particular- this reality is only more self evident since mid summer (I had a long conversation last weekend with a good friend who grows vegetables in northern CA, and who escaped a Paradise type firestorm by what he described as the grace of God).
What it really means for me and for Featherstone Farm to have such a great growing season even as the outside world appears to be unravelling; this writing remains to be done. But it will have to wait until the last of the carrots and cabbage are safely in bins and in storage. There are long hours of very heavy lifting, before this once-in-a-lifetime growing season is over.
Meanwhile, all I can say is thanks to all of you, particularly those of you who stuck with us through the lean, wet years of 2016-18. I hope you have enjoyed the bounty of a bumper crop season like this one as much as I have. And I hope that we can count on your ongoing membership and support in the future, whatever that holds!