Summer CSA Week #3: Wednesday, June 26th – REGs & Group A -EOs
Our farm is nestled in a valley that has been held by a handful of families for generations. Our neighbors include the Krantz, Esser, Connors, and Farrell families. The Noltnerwyss farm and family stand out in many different ways around here. We are young. We are new to the land here. And we farm differently. You don’t have to know anything about farming to be able to see that it’s different. Passersby can see many differences with the naked eye. In the winter our fields are green instead of brown. We have a hoop house and greenhouse on our property. Our rows are small, varied, and often covered with either green plastic mulch or white floating row cover. And in the summer, there are people out in our fields.
Our practices and environmental ethics are very different from others around here too – as are those of our customer base. We don’t spray our field with synthetic pesticides that persist in the environment – and instead rely on a mixture of cultivation, physical techniques and plant diversity to thwart pests. We care for and work to build our soil, instead of relying on synthetic, oil-based fertilizers. We directly market fresh produce, as opposed to growing commodity crops.
Upon moving here, we were prepared for many of our area neighbors to be a little off-put by what we do – because it’s, well, so different from what they do, and in many ways a response to some of the negative impacts of their style of farming. Although we would never say anything negative to them about the conventional brand of agriculture of which they are part, we are in some ways voicing it through our actions.
But you know what? The only neighbor who has not been nice to us is not a farmer himself. He vehemently disagrees with our way of farming, and has been openly hostile. But our farming neighbors – they have been so warm to us. Yes, many if them refer to our farm as a “garden.” And yes, they make fun of the fact that we don’t have air-conditioned tractor cabs. Many of them comment that we are crazy to be out in the fields like we are. But hard work is the common denominator in farming. As different as we may be, our neighbors respect that we are hard-working and successful.
Their respect seems to grow in-step with the number of years we are here. Case in point – our farming neighbor to the south stopped by last Thursday. He let us know he was hoping to spray a pesticide to kill thistles in his field. The wind was coming out of the south that day at about 6 miles per hour, and that put our fields downwind. He asked us what we thought?
Cassie: “Do you know if the winds are going to lessen at all in the next couple of days?”
Farmer Sean: “Nope. But I’d hate to kill anything in your fields.”
Cassie: “Well, we’d obviously prefer if you didn’t spray on a windy day, but we understand if that’s what you need to do. And we so appreciate you came over to talk with us.”
Farmer Sean: “Well, I’ve got these thistles that are out of control. I should have sprayed them back in May, but just haven’t gotten to it. But I just wouldn’t ever want to kill anything of yours. You guys work so hard out here. I wouldn’t want to kill anything.”
Cassie: “Mike’s coming over, so why don’t we see what we thinks.” (Whenever possible, this is my standard response as the farm wife – as farming is still a good old boys club around here. Always better to let conversations be amongst men in these parts – unless it has to do with the kids, and then I’m in the spotlight.)
While Mike and Sean talked, I ran in to check the forecast. The winds were only going to get stronger.
Mike and I essentially gave Sean our ‘blessing’ to spray. That’s what we he was hoping for, after all. He didn’t need our permission, but as our neighbor, he wanted us to say it was okay. And more importantly, he wanted us to know he respects us and was thinking about how his actions could impact us. That’s a good neighbor. At lunch that day I could see Sean driving his sprayer and we could smell it faintly on the wind. I didn’t like the spray, not one little bit. But I did and do sincerely appreciate that he came to us. He was certainly under zero obligation to do so.
As the organic kids on the block, we could easily decide to farm our own ways and let County Road J serve as both a physical and intellectual barrier between us and our farming neighbors. Or we can accept that life is much grayer than that. We can try to respect our neighbors as best we can, and try to find the points of commonality in our agricultural lifestyles. We choose the latter and are very happy that our farming neighbors seem to be doing so too.