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Fresh Facts Week 36: Rain in the Raisin Grapes and This Year’s Drought

Uncle Vern’s Weekly Farm-Fueled Musings, April 28–May 4 2014

Wow! We received eight tenths of an inch of rain in a couple hours. Thunder, lightning, hail in some places, but thankfully not on us; powerful. And the land just soaked it up instantly and said: “More please.” And while we’re grateful for every drop, it looks like that was the exclamation mark at the end of the rainy season that wasn’t; we have 16 percent of normal snowpack in the Sierras.

This drought is a unique experience for me. We have had dry spells before, but none that caused us this much trouble. Farmers are rather stoic when it comes to weather related challenges to our livelihood.

My first year farming—right out of high school in 1976—for instance I rented a little farm on the corner, did most of the work myself while attending college. I had a nice little crop of grapes on the ground drying for raisins when it rained an inch and a half. No one living then had experienced that much rain at raisin harvest, plus it was a tropical storm that just sat there all muggy while the half dry grapes started to decay.

Well, my dad and I went into action.We built a makeshift building out of old tin and two-by-fours in one day, bought some huge fans that ran off tractors and some propane heaters. We picked up the soggy grapes and got ’em dry. Then, the price of raisins more than doubled because there weren’t any and I was potentially very profitable. Then when we delivered them, they had too much mold and I was told they were worthless. Then out of the blue, some guys figured out how to wash the raisins so the moldy ones disintegrated and only the good ones were left and I was wealthy again, but then about as many good raisins disintegrated as moldy ones so I only ended up with two thirds of a crop plus the wash and re-dry fee. Six months later after the dust settled from this emotional rollercoaster, I ended up financially about where I would have if it hadn’t rained. That was my first year.

I tell that story as a contrast to drought. With a storm of some kind, you have an event that’s relatively brief, followed by an analysis of the damage and a reasonable response to or acknowledgment of the damage.

Drought is a different experience. It grinds on and on in a demoralizing way because there’s not so much we can do about it; just keepin’ it real folks.

Amy Beth and I drove over to Santa Barbara to meet your fishermen. There were gale force winds that day, so they were all in the harbor cleaning and wrenching their gear and boats. As a group, these are the most fiercely independent bunch of guys I ever met; doing whatever they need to do so they can keep doing what they love. I’m humbled we can participate with them in a small way. We’re working on the logistics so we can make fresh fish available to everyone. That’s a good problem.

Hey! Aren’t these apriums the bomb? I just always think: “How can anything this early taste so good?” We’re picking you some donut peaches this morning as well; zowie they’re delicious too! The rain in that blossom end crack they get might mess ’em up so don’t look at ’em, eat ’em!

Author AHO Kitchen Team

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