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When Farming Blows

We recently suffered a tough loss on the farm. Last Thursday evening the wind picked up, eventually howling over the house. Wind and I have a troubled past. It was this time last year a storm damaged a growing tunnel and tore the roof off the Farm Stand. I lay in bed, less worried, knowing we had improved the structure substantially since last year.

Driving to the farm the next day I noticed a large cottonwood tree had blown down near the farm. My heart started to sink. Rounding into the driveway I saw our tunnel. It did not look good. Upon closer inspection half of the arches had been snapped in two places, rendering the structure beyond repair.

As they say, shit happens. We took pictures of the damage and set about harvesting the remaining greens from the tunnel. These growing structures, although unheated, allow us the opportunity to grow plants year round. The season extension is crucial when you are working with limited land access and time.

What upsets me the most is the crops we are no longer able to grow next season. I had high hopes for the successions this tunnel would yield. In the end, we have gotten 3 great seasons of tomatoes, kale, chard, arugula, and more from this structure. Honestly, I didn’t really like where we had placed it anyway.

Agriculture, mostly, places humans directly in nature, the exceptions being enclosed shipping containers producing food without soil or natural light. We are both in conflict and benefit from seasonal shifts. Sometimes we win, and sometimes we suffer losses. While tough in the moment, I know we will carry on. In a way, I am glad this happened.

Growing food professionally requires a deep commitment. The farmers I know, myself included, have dedicated most of their time and lives to the art. Especially here in Colorado where the seasons are so short. Only a certain kind of person will try something, possibly fail, and wait over a year to try again. Most farmers growing specialty crops like mine do not have crop insurance. When something devastating happens we simply have to gut the losses.

Ironically, we are constructing another high tunnel. It is a very different model with almost double the pipe thickness. We have poured concrete in the four corners and will be further reinforcing this structure to stand up to the wind tunnel we call a farm. Covered growing space is too valuable not to invest in. Offering crops in the shoulder seasons provides our customers with great convenience and they are often our most profitable products.

Stepping over crunchy snow to enter a sunny, spring-like, greenhouse is magical. Since covered growing space is in high demand we invest heavily into fertility and soil management. I generally do no till in our greenhouses and add plenty of compost to the beds.

Our growing practices change in these tunnels. We often plant denser and stack multiple crops in the beds. For example, last season we planted several beds of spinach that were then interplanted with tomatoes. As the spinach neared its final harvests the tomato plants were ready to take over the space for the next few months. Called “relay cropping” this technique allowed us to get up to 3 crops from a single bed, in a single growing season. Not yet possible on the entire farm, but something to work towards.

This time of year is slower. I am able to spend time germinating the plan for next season. Folks Farm is rounding out our 4th growing year and I am curious how it has left me, my family, and friends. In the darkness of this time, we find the inner light. Through hardship, we emerge stronger and better prepared for the unknown.

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