Farm News

Weather Talk

autumn leaves in the fields

Few things seem to be more inextricably linked than farmers and the weather — or more accurately, farmers talking about the weather. So it might surprise you to know that between these two farmers, weather talk takes up a very minuscule amount of time. We of course, use forecasts to tentatively plan our workweek, as some tasks can’t be done in wet, muddy or overly hot conditions. But I say tentative because most forecasts can be trusted as far as you can throw the forecasters themselves.

Why we discuss the forecast changes, just as the weather does. In the summer, we are mainly focused on upcoming bouts of high heat. Knowing ahead of time gives us an opportunity to deeply water sensitive crops, set up shade cloth, move potted plants out of the baking sun, and fill wallows and water troughs for animals. In the spring and fall, the weather changes with great frequency, sometimes flip flopping all day long, and often on a dime. But nonetheless, we keep an eye on the forecast attempting to pick the best string of days for transplanting or working the soil. In the winter months, frankly, we just don’t care to waste our time reading forecasts. After ten years, I can usually tell by the clean, hard skies when we’re headed into a significant cold snap. It is then we gather the buckets and supplies to break ice and carry warm water to livestock, and we cover the storage crops resting in our un-insulated shed. Here’s the funny truth. The only time I’ve ever seen Brad read the weather report every single day is when we are on a fishing trip, because fishing is serious business!

Yes, at the risk of shattering this long held farmer stereotype, I submit this fact: we often go days, sometimes weeks, without reading or discussing the weather. Why? Because our commitments are, well, commitments. We promise to deliver vegetables every Saturday, which means we need to harvest every Friday. Rain or shine. Cold or hot. Muggy or windy or soggy or dry. The weather affects the pace, tactics and even the order of harvest, but it doesn’t change the harvest itself. So why spend any time crying over spilt milk? Why spend any time wishing for something different? If it’s hot, I think about how good it will feel to sit down to a glass of ice water on the porch, followed by a nap. (Farming has taught me that catnaps on hot summer days are the most wonderful naps of the whole year. It is so restorative to rest quietly after a satisfying morning’s work.) If it’s a deluge I’m facing, I treat myself to multiple cups of hot tea to warm up my fingertips. (In the interest of full disclosure, there is also sometimes a lot of dark chocolate involved.) In short, we dress appropriately, we prepare properly and we get on with it. The farm? It’s a “no weather whining” zone.

I learned a long time ago not to make the weather my adversary. It is amazing how much energy fighting something you truly cannot change can sap out of a person.

Truth be told, the most frequent time we find ourselves caught in weather lamentations is when we are talking with community members. Especially as summer shifts into autumn, we hear sighs, groans, and a fair number of ughs. A wise friend once told me about confronting situations we don’t like. We all have two choices she said. You can change the stimulus or you can change your response to a stimulus. In the case of weather this means creatively changing your environment, or deciding not to whine about the weather (and just eat more chocolate instead). But what you can’t do is change the weather itself.

Now, all the disparaging weather talk is a little bothersome to me, but that doesn’t mean sometimes the weather doesn’t actually bother me. Of course I cringe at the sound of high gusty winds, wondering if our lightweight poly hoop houses have sailed across the field and left a mangled mess to clean up. Temperatures of 100F have put me on edge with worry about keeping precious plants and animals alive. But these are fleeting feelings with specificity, not a perpetual generalized grousing. Growing so many crops and caring for livestock has opened my eyes to the diversity of climactic needs. What is ideal weather for cabbages would make any tomato droop its sorry leaves and commence to rot. What feels balmy to a pig has me pulling on extra layers. So, (except for extreme weather events), regardless of what the weather is doing, I take comfort in the fact that some of the plants or creatures under my care are thriving under the current conditions. For that, I give thanks.

Oh, and there’s one more hidden reason I don’t complain about fall rains, even though it slows our harvests and makes my fingertips ache. Fall rains are a harbinger for me of the restful, quiet days to come. Rain means my summer vacation is just around the corner. On wet, cold, harvest days, I’ll gladly put on a thicker pair of socks, don the heavy muck boots and head out into the elements. I know, just like the weather, this time will all too soon be a memory — one I’d like to remember fondly. It’s like the joke my South Dakotan grandmother taught me.

A traveling salesman commented to a Dakotan, “My, it is so windy here all the time!” The Dakotan replied, “Wind? No, we don’t have that here. But a lot of it blows through.”

~AJ

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