Planning farm visits into California’s Central Valley can be fun. The farmers we work with always remind me of the directions. “Chris, when you come out here, make sure that you take Road 204 but only until it intersects with Avenue 296, then hang a right until you get to Road 212. That one is also known as Route 245.” “OK,” I say, knowing that my GPS doesn’t seem to like numbered roads in California’s rural areas and that I’m going to need good old-fashioned maps. I know it’s highly likely that there will come a moment when I pull into a town and say, “Excuse me, is this Road 138?” And someone will look at me like I’m crazy because Road 138 isn’t even in this county and I’m really looking for Avenue 128 and mixing those two up is like not being able to tell a peach from an elephant.
This week I can’t help but think of all those numbered roads that frame farmland across America and how at this time of year there is a colossal game of weather power ball going on in those counties where trees have been coaxed out of their winter sleep and begun to bloom. When trees come out of hibernation, farmers are always concerned about unexpected killer frosts. I write this as weather forecasters for my home San Francisco Bay Area are predicting snow at sea level—something that hasn’t happened since 1976.
Regardless of the latitude or microclimate that stimulates a tree to bloom in February in California, or March in Georgia, or April in Pennsylvania, there is always a nagging worry in the back of farmers’ minds that whatever great start a tree gets to the growing season, that living plant is always vulnerable to a quick cold snap that could ruin a crop. And that’s not even mentioning the damage that can be caused by hail, strong winds, or even sustained rain (farmers tell us that long bouts of rain can even keep the bees from coming out to pollinate). I think sometimes we forget how weather affects our food. The weather in February and March affects what we’ll eat and how much of certain foods we might find during the summer months. Like Bruce Springsteen sings in Tenth Avenue Freeze Out: “Tear drops on the city, Bad Scooter searching for his groove.” Well, I’m really not sure what that means or why it applies to farming, but hey: let’s hope that Tenth Avenue—or even 128th Avenue—doesn’t freeze out in the next few weeks.
Enjoy & Be Fruitful!
—Chris Mittelstaedt, email@example.com