Last week a customer remarked that things must be getting easier on the farm now that summer is over. I agree, in that here I am tooling about on a computer in broad daylight, but in fact we are not quite there. It’s a heavy time of year, really. The loads of potatoes going to market are heavy, the rain is heavy, the boots are heavily caked in mud.
At times even the mood is a little heavy. The problem is that the reality of engaging in regular non-farming activities is very close now, and in conflict with the on-going, non-optional aspects of work. So many, many jobs must be done before the snow falls. It is possible, and I admit nothing, to grow resentful of the demands of fall farming.
It occurs to me that when writing one’s first official column for the venerable publication Country Life in BC, having dreamt for years of doing so, it is advisable to start off with subject matter that is gripping and thought-provoking, reflective of a sharp, sensible, and agriculturally shrewd intellect. The content ought to be craftily curated and masterfully molded into remarkable prose that is grammatically correct for low-maintenance editing.
This farm story will instead trend typical, shallow, and elementary: literary tools chosen for resentment avoidance. Brief reflections on the changing season to begin, and presently I’ll find a way to talk about my favorite farm subject: potatoes. I’ll follow the basic rule of composition and conclude with something that loosely links with the introduction. Any shrewdness will be accidental or at least faint, and the reader will not be inspired to feel emotionally involved beyond what is reasonable. I don’t want to set anyone’s teeth on edge, least of all mine.
Right now, my work is mostly concerned with washing, sizing and selling potatoes. The whole crop is in now and has been for a few weeks. Growing organically means the potatoes are in the path of destruction from the moment they hit the dirt in May. We let them get as big as we dare, plucking them from the ground just as they succumb to flea beetle, wireworm, blight, scab, several types of rot, rhizoctonia and random disfigurement.
The rain is bashing the window as I write, and I am conscious that not all Pemberton farmers have their potatoes out of the ground yet. The powders and potions used by conventional farmers to protect the potatoes mean that they may flirt with the drama of October harvest, the trade-off being enormous yields. The fields become very spongy indeed. Talk about pressure.
By the time you are reading this in November though, the struggle will be over and the root houses here will be filled with spuds and buttoned up tight for the winter, waiting for the first seed potato orders of spring. California will start it all off in January.
There are enough seed potatoes grown here to theoretically give everyone in BC around 5 pounds. Vigorous and virus-free seed such as that grown in Pemberton can produce by a multiple of 10 so if everyone really concentrated, they could grow 50lbs and feed themselves. The data is suspect: I probably over-estimated the conventional fertilizer-fueled yields (I went lavish- why bother otherwise). I assumed too that anyone with a heartbeat can grow potatoes (you also need dirt, and for certain someone will suggest straw). The conclusion is neat though, isn’t it?
The thought of everyone growing potatoes has brightened my day. Odd that, because who would I sell to then? Not going to over-think this, but suddenly everything seems easier.
Anna Helmer farms with her family and friends in the Pemberton Valley and thinks it is possible that potatoes could solve most of our differences.