It’s been a late garden year for us. Most of our market crops were “second plantings,” i.e. first plantings for us but intended to finish a few weeks after everyone else’s first plantings. A number of small growers, particularly the Mennonites, seem not to like doing second plantings. Perhaps it’s that they’re tired of the crops after the intensive first plantings they do. Or perhaps it’s that they don’t want cash crop harvests extending into the early fall, when they have other things they need to be doing. For whatever reason, there is often a shortage of crops like tomatoes in September, even though demand hasn’t flagged a bit.
So some of the lateness was intentional. But some of it was due to inexperience. We thought that to harvest three weeks later, you planted three weeks later, but this fails to take into account the ever-shortening days of summer and early fall, meaning the time to maturity gets ever longer; to harvest three weeks later, we probably need to plant two weeks later. And then there was this year’s unusually dry weather, which made everyone’s crops behave strangely.
Around the second half of August things began to ripen, and from then until now Mondays and Thursdays have been mostly devoted to picking, processing, and packaging produce for sale—tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, and numerous varieties of squash. What struck me, though, was that while we were occupied with reaping the fruit of this year’s harvest, it wasn’t where our thoughts were. Instead, as the crops come out of the garden we spend most of our time discussing how we plan on doing things next year.
I’ve noticed the same thing when I see Jerome on the days when I’m taking the produce delivery to Lexington. Although there’s some talk about how well this year’s crops did, even that is mostly focused on what went wrong, what could have been done better, what needs to be done next year. In a very real sense, there’s not much to be said about the harvest beyond expressing our gratitude for God’s faithfulness; our creative role in the harvest was finished long ago, and even our nurture (watering, weeding) has diminished in importance over the summer. The diversity and nature and quality of what is coming out of the field hinges on decisions and actions taken—well, last year. And even now, in the heat of late summer, we are taking the first steps towards next year’s harvest.
There’s something comforting about farming’s significant temporal disconnect between actions and results, especially in these uncertain times. Although there can be small emergencies that need a rapid and intense response (such as Almanzo Wilder and family working through the night to save the corn crop from a freak June frost by pouring water on every plant), mostly the maintenance work is predictable and must be done steadily, e.g. if you leave off the weeding, soon enough the weeds will be out of control. Mostly there is no temptation to respond to trouble with “Do something!” because any something that might favorably affect the outcome would need to have been done long ago.
Although farmers live by this disconnect, it is not because only farming has this quality. All life has this quality, but I think only farmers understand that. Most of my corporate life was lived in crisis mode, every day spending long hours trying to somehow ameliorate the effects of mistakes or bad decisions made long ago. Similarly, today’s financial crisis is the result of mistakes and decisions and trends that have accumulated over the years, but rather than adopt a farmer’s resignation to paying for past mistakes and enduring a crop failure, we think that surely there is some technical fix, some radical step yet untaken, which will reverse our circumstances and transform failure into success.
Better to embrace the farmer’s outlook, I think. It teaches faithfulness, as well as contentment. Each year we are diligent in our learning and prudent in our planning, knowing that the results are yet far off. And each year we are satisfied with the harvest, knowing that it is the result of the best that we knew to do last year, that most of the factors that led to success or failure were in God’s hands rather than ours, and that each year presents another opportunity to do a better job preparing the next harvest.