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Know your Farmer

Farming is iconic! The imagery and notion that “farm-made” conjures up takes us back to a time when things seemed more simple, more real, more honest. Who doesn’t smile at the image of a dairy cow on the back of a milk truck or a “Fresh Farm Eggs” sign on the side of the road once we get outside of the city. In one way or another, we have all been affected by farming.

I remember when I was growing up and my grandfather, Poppy, took me to a friend’s farm off of Country Route 585 in Southern Jersey. It was a corn farm. Poppy’s car turned off the two lane highway and we disappeared down a dirt road lined with seven to eight foot tall rows of corn that was bursting at the seams to be picked.

Vintage corn farm along a road.
Vintage Corn Farm

Stalky, was his nickname. He grew up with my grandfather in Absecon, New Jersey. His father was a farmer, and his father’s father, his grandfather was a farmer. He grew the sweetest white Jersey corn in Atlantic County. My grandfather was a doctor. He was there to see Stalky who had been having trouble breathing lately.

Sweet Corn sign
Sweet Corn for sale

“Did you quit smoking those damn unfiltered Camels yet you stubborn Ox?” my grandfather said as he got out of the car to the craggy-faced man who was shuttling baskets of corn into an old beat up farm truck. “Next week Doc. I swear I’m giving them up next week!” he said, without missing a beat or even looking over at us. My grandfather pulled his black leather doctor’s bag out from the trunk, “Well let’s have a listen to those old lungs so that I can give your Misses an update on how much longer she’s going to have to put up with you.” Stalky chortled a laugh-snort at that and walked over to Poppy’s car.

I watched my grandfather listen to the farmer’s chest and lungs through his dirty old t-shirt. Even though they were close in age, he looked much older then Pop, which is what I usually called my grandfather. I used to love going on house calls with him. I met a lot of very interesting and unusual people out on the road with Pop. Many of them didn’t have much money so they paid him with eggs, or tomatoes, or corn, as was the case with Stalky. When my grandfather was done with the call, Stalky picked up a basket of corn and set it in the deep trunk of Pop’s Delta 88.

White Delta 88 automobile on a lawn.
POP's Delta 88

I remember buttering that corn back at my grandparents. It was amazing. It was the sweetest corn I’d ever eaten. It was corn from heaven. Food was different then. Or, at least it seemed different then. It was before we had GMO corn, but what I’ve come to learn now is that back in the 60’s pesticide use was out of control, the same way that herbicide use is out of control today. Maybe Stalky was one of the farmers who didn’t use a ton of pesticide. Or, maybe that was why he was sick. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring came out in 1962 about just this issue. So, I’m not sure if we were eating pesticide-laden Silver Queen white corn that week in 1965 or not. I was eight years old.

What I am sure is, today, as a grown man I have options with the food I eat, if I want to grow it, where I buy it from, what farmers I support. I buy and grow organic. Not just any old run of the mill organic, but true organic. I make sure that I use the cleanest sources of water, seed and soil that I can. I don’t spray herbicides or pesticides, instead I use compost teas and a good strong beneficial insect program. I use three different types of nematodes in my soil and soil mixes to fight whitefly, thrips, aphids and grubs. They also take on fungus gnats and house flies. My compost tea wipes out powdery mildew on my squash and tomatoes, not to mention my roses,

I have learned something over the past fifty years that is amazing; that the soil and the biology in the soil is the best friend that I have when it comes to gardening. I grow food at home and we make compost on our farms. I am not relying on a single crop like Stalky did to feed my family. I know my farmer, because most of the time I am my farmer. Well, at least if not me, then Norma is my farmer.

Vintage Farm Corn sign.
Vintage Farm Sign

When I’m on the road or heading to a store to buy things that we don’t grow, I go in as an armed shopper. I research and look at companies, stores, farms, “organic” food suppliers and am always looking to see where they grow, what they use, what their values are as a company, what certifications they have and any tidbit that I can find online or in print about how their food was grown or how their product was made. This way when we put something out on the table for our family to eat we have at least done our due diligence. Organic fruits and vegetables can be grown in twenty different ways, some of them good, some of them bad, that’s why in my book it’s always good to know your farmer.

© Randy Ritchie 2019

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