Maybe Aging Warrior is a better title for this newsletter. After 20 years of farming and two solid weeks of Spring pruning, my shoulders and elbows are feeling like the 51-year-old grandpa I am. I love pruning. I find it an art, a forgiving art mind you, because the trees always seem to accept my attempts to reshape them and give me fruit in return.
The average age of farmers is going up. I think we are hovering around 57 years old. America needs to find a way for a younger crop of farmers to join our ranks and make a living at the same time. No small task, considering the cost of school debt, car payments, insurance, let alone retirement that many of our young potential farmers are incurring as they start their careers. These are some of the factors that make it hard for a new crop of farmers to join our ranks.
Another factor is that farming is a relentless task master. Yes, it comes with huge rewards: fresh air, invigorating highs when you first plow, followed by harvest. But, it is also equally de-invigorating when a crop fails or languishes.
The weather “windows” can be tight as an eye of a needle or as wide as the Grand Canyon. (I prefer the latter.) But the weather is what it is and a farmer needs to be ready and accept what is given. Farmers have not chosen an easy path.
But every year, small and large farmers and all farmers at heart, begin to awake from their winter slumbers when the day length increases filling our veins with new hope and energy. Seed catalogs arrive and crop plantings get figured out. Fertilizers, compost and foliar spray programs get “penciled” to the paper version of the farm schedule.
Currently, this is where I find myself in the great theatre of farming. We are getting close. If Spring is early, I will be ready. If it is late, I will be anxious. Anxious, not because of the weather, but because the windows to get the work done will be compressed. Then often, something will have to give, kind of like Yahtzee. In farming you only get one chance a year to plant and harvest.
Thankfully, I can get most of my winter dreaming and planning done during the spring, summer and fall seasons. This variability is what makes farming so satisfying–working with nature to produce an incredible harvest of tasty, healthy, life giving fruits and vegetables. When the farm gives us that bounty, all the aches and pains, all the headaches and recalculations, are all but forgot. The farm and the farmer have done their work and a local community has been fed well.