This has been a strange season.  I have heard experienced farmers (some who have been farming for decades) say they’ve never seen anything like this.  Though no Spring will blossom like another, there are of course extremes that standout from time to time to confound us, to baffle us, and to remind us just how little control (if any) we have of some things.  It is both humbling and awe-inspiring to be in a line of work that is so at the mercy of the seasons, the weather and their innumerable, unpredictable variations.   It is unbelievably freeing but at the same time, madly frustrating.

It started, at least for my part, with an unusually warm late-winter.  It seems to be tradition in Boise that in late February or early March, people, drunk off the first warm rays of sun, ruffle through their dresser drawers, trading out their winter coats for light sweatshirts and short-sleeves.  They stumble out of their air-tight homes in a squinting stupor, soaking up the still-low sun to the South and somehow convince themselves that Spring has sprung.  This little tease, this … ruse of Mother Nature’s, usually lasts a day or two before the reality of the true season comes back like a cold hand on the neck and a short-lived conviction is revealed as nothing more than a whisper of a wish, shivered out through tiny hairs on the arm.  The exception for this past winter was that the ruse lasted a couple weeks and the biting cold that so often characterizes Boise in the first few months of the new year, had no teeth.  Spring attempted to make up for this in two ways; by staying cooler for longer and copious amounts precipitation in its various forms.  As spring slowly arrived without any real transition it was unpredictable, wet, and indiscernible.  Summer, thus far has been wearing different shoes as well, stable and well-meaning, but dragging her feet.

We were in the green house for most of the early Spring but when it came time to get stuff in the boxes and in fields we quickly and quietly got about three weeks behind schedule, mostly due to poor weather.  Despite the early setbacks in the planting schedule, the cold crops or ‘the greens’ (lettuce, spinach, kale, boc-choy, broccoli, etc.) were absolutely beautiful this year, thanks to continuously cool temperatures and lots of Spring rain (even into June).  For other crops such as peppers, tomatoes, and squash that need the heat, the weather hasn’t been so welcome.  Temperatures have remained relatively cool throughout Spring and into Summer (there was snow in May, hail in June, and the high yesterday on the 14th of July was 83) and there has, thus far, been only one day in the triple digits.  At Morning Owl Farm, in the six years it has been in operation, never has it snowed after getting tomatoes in the ground – this year it did (and they were even late getting in).  Hail has been a factor, effectively throwing a layer of ice on crops that would rather be basking is hundred-degree sun.  Boise even saw a tornado on a cold windy day in early June and though the tornado didn’t touch the farm, the wind left its mark by taking out a portion of a fence in the upper garden.  The result of the late planting and this “interesting” weather has been that most crops have been slow to come on.  As of today, peppers actually seem to be doing alright; smaller than they should be, but tasty, tomatoes are small and green when they should be harvestable, squash started to pop after a short heat spell but have since slowed with cooler weather.

For this strange weather, Matt blames the Icelandic volcano, I blame climate change, and Mary says it is what it is.  For all practical purposes, I like Mary’s answer best, but, as with most things, it is probably a combination of all these things and more.  For me – being the newb that I am – I guess it truly just is what it is, but in a way I can sense that things are a little off.  It is not good or bad, just off.

In a particularly raw and personal weekly news letter sent to M.O.F. members on June 21st – the summer solstice; a day marked by the sun’s zenith, the longest day, and the passing of a season that wasn’t necessarily kind to local farmers – Mary described her frustration:

“…I thought of the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round. Indeed they do. I want to curse the season we just gave up. It seemed to never end. It seemed to never have an identity all its own, too influenced by a winter with no real backbone of its own. I wanted to separate the two, insist that spring wear its own clothes and stop trying to be something it ought not be…”

Mary’s strength and wisdom that flowed from that news letter came not only from her ability to speak honestly to herself and to others about what she thinks and feels but also from her continued passion for learning.  She goes on to talk about what she has learned this season.  She doesn’t talk of it like the lessons are silver-linings, or that bad things bring about good things, or that bad things are just something we are made to suffer.  She doesn’t go digging for the lessons either, making something out nothing.  She simply recognizes that it’s a real, beautiful part of life and learns from it.  Learning takes effort, it takes humility, it takes dedication.  It is also a never-ending process.  Here, today, it is learning to live with the land, instead of against it.  It is learning to see and appreciate the necessary connection between sun and peach, water and tomato, dirt and potato, shit and food, death and life.  It is understanding those bonds that bind us as a community of life and hold us together as community of people.  It is learning to embrace ambiguity, struggle, and even your own angry feelings – not in order to appreciate their opposites – but to realize that this is a beautiful part of what it means to be alive.

Mary put it best:

“…if I don’t learn from farming and its relationship to the seasons that life is not to be cursed, it’s to be savored and enjoyed one bite at a time, that if I don’t grasp that it’s to make and hold and cherish memories, that it’s for planning and scheming and failing and feeling and for being grateful when someone else makes lunch and makes a miracle of the mundane, that if I don’t learn that, REALLY learn that, then I will never be a good farmer. Less fighting, less competing, more appreciating more cooperating. Why do any of this at all if not for appreciating the connections we make and hold and that make and hold us?”

Entry #5 – 7/14/2010