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Fresh Facts 35: On Plant Stress, Learning, & The Farming Why

Well, today is Saturday, the 29th of April, and we started some apriums today. Odds are excellent that you have them in your box along with some strawberries accompanying this letter.

They’ll be winding up by next week, but nectarines should be going; and so it starts. The first varieties of stone fruit start smaller than what you remember from last fall. Pits and flesh are weaker; there just haven’t been many days from bloom ‘til now; 75 maybe.

The good news is these first two varieties have pretty good flavor for such a short growing time. We say “heat makes sweet” and mid 90’s are forecast for next week, so that should seal the deal.

Funny how it takes “the kiss of frost” to make winter produce sweet while heat does the same thing for summer produce. And what my dear harvesters do these two phenomena—heat and frost—have in common? Thank you, you’re correct; they both represent stress to the plant, and when plants are stressed, they’re designed to redirect energy to protect their children; who we call fruit. Pretty cool, no? When the weather is mild, they are focused on more branches and leaves.

And we farmers are learning more and more about tending to the plant’s different needs at different times in its growth cycle; much as a lactating mom needs more calcium as an example.

A great part about farming is how you can spend your whole life on just one aspect and never run out of new discoveries, systems, technology, and common sense applications of old knowledge in new ways. You can focus on biology to give you bigger healthier crops, or mechanical technology to give you crops at lower cost, or marketing to get you a higher return on those crops, and only the most excellent live to farm tomorrow.

But here’s what’s happened to us in all candor. In order to be excellent, and hyper efficient and productive, we farmers (and I suspect all of society) know more and more about less and less.

I had a friend from Congo in my chicken house a couple weeks ago. (Cassie and I did our farm video last week from the chickens showing our fertility source. I think we’ll do this week on the baby chicks, and those of you coming on the farm tours will see them first hand.) Anyway, he was overwhelmed by the health, happiness, and productivity he witnessed and wanted me to come teach he and his countrymen how to create the same in his country. I’ve had similar requests from friends from South America and Asia.

Alas, while I’m quite sure with enough time I could figure it out, I really don’t know much about the process outside my own farm. I haven’t run a breeder ranch to produce fertile eggs, haven’t run a hatchery, haven’t run a feed mill, haven’t run a processing plant, haven’t done marketing… But I can tell you exactly the perfect temperature and air flow for a chicken on day 16.

Why did I tell you all that? Because I think I’m probably not that much different in my profession than you are in yours; we know more and more about less and less and it gets easy to lose sight of the big picture, a forest for the trees situation.
To the extent that’s me, while I might be efficient, I become pretty boring, I lose a sense of childlike wonder, and while concentrating on how, I can forget WHY. I never want to lose sight of why I’m a farmer. I never want to lose sight of you and your family.

Eat better!

Author Uncle Vern

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