Monday, November 30, 2020

Standing in the Rain

As small-scale vegetable and poultry farmers dedicated to local sales, we have become experts at numerous things.  We're very good about doing lots of laundry.  We can tell if there is an invader in the chicken yard from the other side of the farm.  We know when the broccoli heads are at peak harvest quality.  

And we have been very good at standing in the rain.

People who have outdoor jobs, such as farming, can probably relate to the "Five Stages of Being Wet" that we introduced for the first time in the early years of the blog.  Sometimes, you get wet because you don't have a choice.  The job (whatever it is) can't be brought to a halt just yet, so - there you are.  At other times, the job can't continue once things get too wet, so you keep pushing until it reaches that point.

I can recall numerous times that we were pushing to get a 'few more things' planted just prior to a rain.  We would keep an eye on the skies so we would know if we needed to be ready to pack it all in.  But, there was a huge difference between a rain that caused us to rush and gather all the equipment and go versus those light or steady rains that we would just tolerate as we continued with our task.

There were even more times that we pushed to harvest despite the rain, even when it was quite heavy.  You see, if you have two to three deliveries a week, you can't just 'not harvest' when the weather is less than ideal.  Of course we plan our harvests so we pick things that won't be adversely affected because we are working with them in the wet.  "One and done" crops like lettuce or cauliflower are often good choices, but I never did like harvesting wet root crops.  There are only so many times you want to say to yourself, "I know there must be a carrot in the middle of all that mud I just pulled up."

So, I told you those stories so I can tell you about our tolerance for standing in the rain.  

I can recall numerous farmers' markets where we dealt with downpours, strong winds, and continuous rains.  There were even multiple events where it was cold (35 degrees) and the rain was falling sideways in a stiff, northwest wind.  I remember multiple CSA distributions in rainy conditions.  One season, we had nine consecutive Thursdays (typically our Cedar Falls distribution) where it rained during the entirety of each of our two and a half hour delivery periods.

It was not uncommon for us to stand outside the shelter area so our customers could stay dry and we very rarely packed up early, simply because we knew there were some folks who had to come later.  And, if there were still people on our delivery list that had not arrived to pick up their share, we stayed until 'closing time' because that's just what you do. 

I have realized that I have become less willing to stand in the rain than I once was.  Or, more accurately, the reasons I accept as being good enough to stay out in the rain have changed.

I will stand in the rain, the cold and the wind - for hours if I must - for someone who needs me to do so.  I will work in the pouring rain if the task really must be done - I will not forsake it just because I don't want to be cold and wet.  There will still be times that I will stay in the field, work in the pasture or remain on the tractor when conditions are not optimal.  After all, that is part of what I bargained for when I decided to be a grower and raise poultry.

On the other hand, I will no longer stand in the rain for the sake of potential business.  I won't get soaked for the possibility of another $x in sales.  But, I will stand in the rain for you.

I realize this is a fine distinction.  Perhaps I can make it clear this way?  If someone specifically needs me to stand in the rain to get them food that they need - I'll do it.  If someone else's tent blows over and their product is exposed to the elements, I will be among those who will rush over and help them get things under cover - even if I get soaked doing it.  If I'm in one of our fields and I know another ten minutes will finish the task, I can handle getting cold and wet.  If someone has a flat by the side of the road, I'll help them change to a spare even if (and maybe especially if) conditions are poor.  And, if my spirit wills it, I will stand in the rain because I want to.

I just don't see the need to stand in the rain because some unwritten rules says I am supposed to.

This has been a gradual revelation to us over the past several years.  Our farm share customers have probably noticed that we have been trying to move to locations that provide us with more (rather than less) shelter, preferably with indoor options when the weather gets difficult.  (Of course, the pandemic kind of set that idea back quite a bit - oh well.) They have also probably noted that our delivery times have gotten more compact, while still maintaining some flexibility.

Perhaps it is because we now place a higher value on our own comfort than we once did?  Or more accurately, we consider our own discomfort to be enough of an 'expense' to cause us to look for alternatives. 

It is actually even more complex than that.  Over time, we have come to realize that our willingness to be soaked rarely paid off.  At farmers' market, rain usually signaled the end of customers coming to purchase, even if it cleared up well before closing time.  And, with CSA distributions, we had the same number of shares to deliver whether we were soaked or not.  Wouldn't you rather make deliveries without being soaked?  With a rare exception or two - we would prefer to stay on the drier side.  

After all, if we get damp on the farm, we just go into the farm house and change into dry clothes (and maybe, ironically, take a shower).  Get caught in the rain 45 minutes from home?  Welcome to exploring the world of being damp for at least 45 minutes.  Did we tell you about the time the farmers' market in Waterloo experienced a downpour, complete with wind knocking over tables and tents?  It rained and blew so hard that some of our produce washed away and went down the storm sewer that was hundreds of feet away.   After the clean-up, we squelched into the nearby box store, bought clothing and went into their restroom to change.  Yep, we started taking a change of clothing with us to any market or delivery that looked like it might rain from then on and we started backing away from farmers markets the next season.

So, here's to the next time we get caught in the rain and we have a choice of whether we want to get to shelter or if we want to feel the cool drops landing on our shoulders.

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