It was sometime in the late 1980's when Three Springs Fruit Farm had recently expanded our operation to include sour cherries. A few years later, I'd be put in charge of snack delivery to the harvest crew on the 3-wheeled ATV but this is slightly before I what I can remember. On this particular year, a large hailstorm moved in on us one hot May evening - causing horrific and widespread hail damage on one of our first few cherry crops. It was bad. Very bad. The folks who'd agreed to big our recently large and beautiful cherry crop came out to inspect the damage. There were multiple hail marks on every small, green, firm immature cherry one could find. A few days later while the family enjoyed a large hearty lunch whipped up by Nanny Wenk (boy do I miss those), the phone rings. My grandfather Donnie gets on the horn - it was the field men who inspected the cherries. They'd spoken with their bosses about what they'd seen. The rest of the family around the dinner table, in silent anticipation, leaned over their plates of hot food to hear the voice on the other end tell my grandfather that, apologetically, they wouldn't be able to buy any cherries from us that year. My grandfather paused for a moment and told the buyer "We aren't selling any cherries today". A few more awkward, civil pleasantries were exchanged, and the phone was hung up. Lunch was finished. Three Springs went about its work for the day as if nothing had happened.
As was alluded to in this regrettable FB post (see right), Donnie's wisdom on that day remains a bit of a mantra here at 3Springs HQ. In the previous blog entry about frost damage, I laid out all the data we have, as growers, to estimate what damage is anticipated at various stages of growth under various conditions. Now, closer to the midway point of the growing season, we're able to ascertain the effects of all of those variables on the crop that we have right now (which, of course, we cannot sell... ok, a few exceptions). Anyhow! Here's what we learned about what survived, to be followed immediately but what may or may not be growing today, having survived thus far.
So, again, a lot was said previously in the other blog - let's focus on two pivotal circumstances that got us to where we are now. The first, is that bit I wrote about how multiple cold events can increase bud hardiness. In other words, the more often the fruiting buds are jolted with a blast of cool air, the better their ability to defend against the next blast. By memory, we had at least three nights of 28F or lower leading up to an overnight low temp of 19F on Monday morning April 10th. Without question, this physiological characteristic of fruit trees prevented our losses from being more catastrophic. Trees are survivors, baby! They can put up with a lot! And certainly, had we gone directly from seasonal temperatures to 19F overnight without those "hardening" events of the weeks before, the prognosis would not be so cheery. The second circumstance is the vary conditions that have made my home of Adams County a fruit haven for it's long 100 year history. The pictoresque hillsides of Adams County are dotted with fruit trees for more reasons than aesthetic qualities alone - the drainage of the coldest air down these hills, away from our fruiting buds, has yet again prevented more catastrophic crop losses to its growers. We are nothing if not the grateful stewards of this great farmland we've landed on and I'm ever more appreciative of my ancestors ability to pick out this part of PA to call home all those years ago. We continue to benefit from their instincts and intuition.
So while all crops were damaged, very little was completely eliminated in the bad weather. As Donnie Wenk would rightly point out, there's little to be gained in quantifying things now when we cannot sell any of it today, but things are uneasy but not dire at 3Springs HQ, I'm happy to report.
Now... will these little, "frostbiten" fruit grow? Well, again, the weather has done us no favors. Cloudy, rainy conditions have persisted for the better part of 3 weeks now and we've witnessed in past years, first hand, in the case of otherwise full and healthy non-frost stricken fruit (especially peaches) succumbing to premature abscission (falling off the tree) due to the lack of heat and sun. Shady Growth, my little miss, is no good. Like many species of sharks that need to swim constantly to bring oxygen-rich water to their gills, growing fruits need sunlight. When they lack such sunlight... bad things. As always, stay tuned, folks!
And in case you'd wondered, a few weeks later when Donnie Wenk did have fruit to sell, that buyer bought every cherry that Three Springs would sell them. The fruits grew around those hail marks.
And Three Springs went about their work for the day as if nothing had happened.
No two weeks are the same on our farm - not on any farm. However, the thing that will differentiate last week from the rest is particularly noteworthy. In case you didn't catch it (on this Facebook post), Mom and I were special guests at a National Endowment for the Humanites event at the White House which included a preview of the new Ken Burns documentary "The Dust Bowl", followed by a great panel discussion! My mother and I, a daughter and grandson, respectively, of a Dust Bowl survivor will remember this unique opportunity for a long time to come.
My maternal grandmother, Dorothy Hiestand Cogley, rarely talked about her youth growing up in Ayr, Nebraska - a tiny farming town South of Omaha. It was certainly an impactful beginning to the amazing life she's led, the remainder of which will have to wait for a future blog entry. However, when I sit down to visit with my grandmother, still with us and healthy at 92, she shys away from her agricultural upbringing - her father's farm in Dust Bowl era Nebraska where she lived until 15 years old. It was at that age the family pulled up their roots and moved back east with family to Lancaster County PA - fleeing the dust clouds, like so many other Dust Bowl refugees. After viewing the excerpts from the stirring Ken Burns documentary, set to air this November, I'm learning more about her apprehension - more than she was willing to share with me or her children.
Fast forward another 75 odd years to once upon a time called right now!
They say that those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.
As the demands on agriculture mount in the face of worldwide meteoric population growth and other nations with less oversight become bigger players, the timing of the new Ken Burns Documentary "The Dust Bowl" couldn't be more appropriate. Moreso, the airing date of this documentary, November 18th and 19th on PBS, should be right about the time our country's current drought situation (the worst since the 1950's) should begin to affect food prices.
By in large, the US has learned the lesson of the Dust Bowl, but it's no time to be resting on our laurels - much still needs to be done to increase soil conservation in our country. The point that rang truest in the terrific panel discussion after the screening was how important it is to acknowledge that the decision to plow all that badland ground to feed our soldiers was, at the time, made with altruistic goals and what was thought to be sound reasoning at the time. We can't become so haughty as to assume we've got mother nature figured out and we can use her for our own devices.
So you're here reading the blog of a small family fruit farm in Central Pennsylvania, so it's safe for me to assume you've already recognized how important agriculture is to this nation. Also, how important GOOD agriculture is to this nation - how important it is that we, as farmers, do right by the lands that we proudly nurture. I've struggled with the thought of me, as an American Farmer, being responsible for feeding the world. I'd prefer to feed you guys - my friends and neighbors. But to hear our excellent panel (author Timothy Egan, genius Lester Brown (he truly is), farmer/conservationalist Clay Pope; moderated by FRESHFarm's Ann Yonkers) speak about the short-sightedness exhibited by the agriculture of other nations (not to keep singling you out, China)... I've been reinvigorated by this notion. Don't expect us to double our acreage or anything like that; if anything, we'll likely get smaller as we go along. But! The world needs America to keep farming, not just our friends and neighbors. And while much of our food remains in our friendly 100 mile radius, great vision is needed to balance future food demands with proper soil health and water conservation, especially in consideration of energy and fossil fuel demands. It's a hefty task, but someone's got to do it.
It was the worst man made natural disaster in the world's history. It was the biggest real estate scam in our country's history. It killed children and displaced families all over the midwest, almost turning the entire region into an uninhabitable desert. It also served (in my opinion) as the impetus for the first great agricultural reform, the formation of what would be the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), thank you Hugh Hammond Bennett, in The New Deal. If you find this compelling (as well you should) or you desire the kind of inspiration this topic provided me, Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl" airs on PBS November 18th and 19th.