News From the Farm | September 20, 2021

The last line of peaches, Autumn Flames — small but tasty  —  

It seemed to me that all of a sudden the gentler light, a cool breeze and a bluest of blue sky were announcing a change in the season. After another remarkably hot week, the nights are cooling down. As you walk through the walnut orchard, you have to make an effort to avoid stepping on the walnuts that have fallen from the branches and if you listen for a moment you will hear more of them falling to the ground.  Fig leaves are piling up in my garden and soon the peaches will be showing some fall color.  Persimmons and pomegranates are starting to look pretty ripe.  The heat of the sun doesn’t seem quite as intense.  

I become accustomed to summer’s patterns of early mornings and massive harvests. Multiple trucks to load every afternoon and triple digit temperatures as common as the dry dust on the farm roads. But then one day Andrew has planted Fall greens and we are harvesting the last melon field of the year. This weekend, we had a couple of days that were so absolutely beautiful and the temperature so perfect and pleasant that no one around here could resist staying outside as long as possible, just to enjoy the blessed weather.  The beauty of it all was something. It made me think of my friend Doug Tompkins who once wrote in his book Laguna Blanca, published posthumously, “You have to start with the idea that a good farm is a beautiful farm.  That everything you do and you think about doing should add beauty to the farm. That does not mean for a moment that you neglect all the practical and functional qualities.”  Doug was part of a line of thinkers, following Theodore Roosevelt who once said, “There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty.”

It’s always kind of wonderful to let Fall sneak up and surprise me this way, but of course it happens every year and isn’t all that surprising considering that Wednesday 9/22 is the Autumn equinox, the first day of Fall.  What this signals is that the darkness of night lasts longer and the light of the day is shorter going forward.  The plants, the trees — they all respond with slower growth.  On the farm we are preparing for the big annual harvests of winter squash and walnuts.  Almonds are already in the cooler or on the way to make more almond butter.  These are crops that we can store and draw from all year long.

The full moon that occurs closest to the Fall Equinox is called the Harvest Moon.  This full moon rises near sunset for several nights in a row and got its name because it provides farmers with just enough extra light after sunset for them to finish their harvests before the killing frosts of fall. It isn’t hard to imagine, on a dark cold winter night, the gratitude of people for the Harvest Moon, before electrical lights took over the night sky, who lived or starved depending on the amount of food stored over the winter.

Yet again, maybe it IS hard for those of us living in north America to imagine that. Wealth and resources aren’t distributed equally in our world and many people are already going hungry.  A chorus of researchers are reporting that food supplies could struggle to keep pace with the world’s growing population as climate change sends temperatures soaring and droughts intensify.  The United Nations sees the need to steer agricultural investments towards environmental and social goals: limit pollution, eliminate hunger, improve nutrition. Presently, global support to farmers is 15% of total agricultural production value and that money props up a system that has many negative effects.  In the United States, the USDA has launched a so-called “coalition for productivity growth” that in fact simply has the stated goal of promoting the use of high-tech tools and other gimmicks.  This effort stands in contrast to the European Union’s Farm to Fork Strategy that will try to reduce the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Lack of electricity or not, we all depend on the ability of ecosystems to continue producing food and the skills of farmers to figure out how to do that as conditions change. This year, the Harvest Moon starts two days before the Equinox, on 9/20.  Let it remind us of our gratitude for the farmer, for the crops and for the beautiful diversity that sustains us.  Let us also think on the words of another eco-activist, Julia Butterly Hill who said, “It is impossible not to make a difference.  Every choice we make leads either toward health or toward disease; there’s no other direction. The question is not, ‘How can I, one person, make a difference?’ The question is, ‘What kind of difference do I want to make?’

— Judith Redmond

Our 6 adolescent pigs, neighbors to the piglets born a couple of weeks ago.