By Carol Ann Sayle
You might think farming is just a simple matter of putting seeds into fertile soil, going on vacation and then returning to a splendid harvest—but come on; that would be boringly predictable. To keep things lively, or to test our nerves, the Muse of the Unexpected, Otherworldly and Unrelated frequently dishes up not only calamitous weather episodes, but also human peculiarities and peccadilloes that don’t have much to do with the otherwise-purposeful growing of food.
For example, many years ago, a rift developed between two of our workers—let’s call them “Jane” and “Martha.” Jane accused Martha of putting some sort of evil eye on her; Martha, of course, denied doing any such thing. Heated exchanges between the two took place in the field, as if it were a turf war.
Upping the ante, Martha summoned a friend from Nuevo Laredo who proclaimed to me that it was actually Jane who was thinking malicious thoughts, and probably had an effigy of Martha at home studded with toothpicks, needles and anything else sharp. This friend, apparently accomplished in determining black-magic behaviors on farms, didn’t convince me, but the tension carried on from one harvest to the next.
The final blow came when Jane was convinced that Martha had filled a bag of her personal belongings with trash. But when similar “trash” turned up all over Martha’s belongings, as well as in my own sun hat in the salad shed, it was obvious that the twig-and-leaf curse was simply an overzealous home-building bird. We all got a good laugh out of it, and after that, Jane and Martha surprisingly hatched a friendship—to my great relief.
Ambiguous evil eyes and not-so-mysterious nests aside, we do harbor what we’ve learned to be more prudent superstitions on the farm. Almost weekly, we dance around a customer’s casual but tricky question: “What produce will you have next month?” Thinking of everything that could go wrong with the crops, we usually borrow the deadpan answer of our farmer friend Gary Rowland: “Probably nothing.” But seeing the quizzical look on the customer’s face, we hesitantly—and with a little nervous laughter—guess at what we might have.
We know that it’s futile, if not arrogant, to predict future produce because Mother Nature is listening. Such boasting might bring about a stern correction, like plagues of stinkbugs or harlequin harlots, or a weather event such as February’s big freeze. It’s much wiser to ignore any progress or potential until the harvest is over, or, at the very least, knock on wood until our knuckles are as calloused as our palms.
We’ve also learned a non-crop-related lesson over the years: create a T-shirt featuring a beloved pet chicken (Aunt Penny) or farm cat (Tubby J. Tupelo), and, rather promptly, each will come down with an abnormal “disease” and die. Although Tubby survived for another printing (with a halo added above his head), we now feature only dead chickens on our shirts. Might as well cut to the chase, no?
Furthermore, because we are truly in the organic vegetable business (as opposed to the chicken or cat business), the lesson has taught us to take great care when it comes to using images of vegetables around here. Except for last year when we foolishly had the nerve to have a tomato embroidered on our farm-stand staff’s shirts! Now we live in fear that the tomatoes will all wither and rot! But because that was a year ago (how long does a curse last?), and the tomatoes were featured on only a small number of shirts that, hopefully, will wear out soon, perhaps the main crops will survive.
Gosh, I’m almost afraid to finish writing this article! Pet hen Tootie J. Tootums wrote an article for Edible Austin last year and died in time to get an R.I.P. added to her bio. Fame is fleeting, they say—as is life. So keep an eye out for one of our tomatoes—at the very end of the growing season—writing an article dripping in red juice. We’ll just eat the Cherokee Purple author before the issue comes out and get it over with!