When I sit down to my annual turkey dinner this Nov. 24, I’ll be thankful for the great cook I married and the crowd of friends and family who share our Thanksgiving meal each year. But I’ll also be drinking a heartfelt toast to the fellow farmers who helped me make it through a memorably tough growing season.
I’ll especially think back to all the hot, dry Fridays in July and August, clouds promising rain but never delivering, as I bounced my rusty farm truck down the back roads of Boone County to my friend El’s place.
El has a knack for raising magazine-cover-perfect vegetables and herbs no matter what the weather conditions. Her neat little rows and squares are bordered by vine-covered fencing, and fertilized with lots of compost and poultry poop. The garden plots are surrounded by all kinds of apple and pear trees and some very productive beehives, not to mention a fine old grape arbor.
She often grows more than she can sell, a skill I haven’t yet mastered, so she would let me come pick for a very cheap price.
That was a life-saver, because this year, I often needed to supplement what I could grow myself, or the clients in my vegetable subscription service would have had lots of air in their weekly produce boxes. As I picked, El’s large collection of free-range turkeys and chickens clucked and chortled their way through the grass, picking at bugs, fallen fruit, weed seeds — they’re clearly not finicky feeders.
I tried to guess which one of the turkeys would be the centerpiece of my Thanksgiving table this year. Their musical non-stop conversation was soothing to my ears as I moved among the fruit trees testing apples for ripeness. El tells me the birds converse to keep track of each other’s whereabouts. I think they’re just gossiping about us humans, and I can’t blame them.
Then I’ll be toasting Dan, a nice older farmer from two counties over who doesn’t believe in e-mail, and so would call every week to let me know what he was bringing to the farmer’s market. “And what do you need for your CSA clients, kid?” he’d always ask. Then he would drop off crates of nice plump peppers, perfect eggplant, all kinds of cooking greens and occasional surprises like broccoli and then ‘forget’ to bill me until I nagged him about it. It was nice to know that a farmer much older and wiser than myself worried about me.
Later in the year, I relied on Heather, who let me pick late-season tomatoes she hadn’t had time to deal with since starting back to school. Her farm isn’t far from mine, an added bonus. The September air was chilly, but it was toasty warm under her plastic-sheet greenhouses, and picking the little cherry tomatoes off the tangly vines was a meditative process, even had a rhythm to it. Grab, snap, place in bucket. Grab, snap, plop. Repeat. The nice thing about tomatoes is it doesn’t take long to get a whole lot of them picked, so it’s my favorite harvesting chore.
Here’s my thanks to you, El, Dan and Heather, and all the others who helped me out this season. She who farms needs friends, because without friends, small farmers don’t stay in business long. I’m glad I cultivated a bunch of them.