Harvest Fest ’08
By David Thier
Surprisingly, there wasn’t much harvesting done at harvest fest yesterday. There was a lot of work done – we shaped a quad for planting bulbs, we moved the wood chips, we planted narcissi, we tied frisse, and, of course, we covered the greenhouse, but the little harvesting that was done was for side dishes at our dinner. “Harvest” means a lot more for a farm that grows full-season grains and cuts them down when they turn brown and dry and are ready to be stored to keep their farmers alive during the winter. For us, it mostly means pumpkins and turkeys. Those are good too.
Most of the work we did yesterday was, like the air, bracing. We’re bracing for the onset of a long, hard frost that will render the Northeast lethal for all plants that don’t have the energy to seal themselves up inside bark or below the ground. We covered frisse in remay to protect it from frost until we’re ready to harvest it. We covered the ground in wood chips so that the roots below have a bit thicker of a blanket. We wrapped the fig with leaves and burlap to protect is as best we can until the spring. We moved the citrus trees into where they won’t realize New Haven isn’t the Mediterranean.
Fall is our most famous season in New England, largely thanks to the red leaves on the sugar maples that are just about past now, but it can also be one of the hardest seasons to stomach, when we can’t help but remember that that much touted nip in the fall air, is, after all, impending death. At the Yale Farm, it’s a time when the weather forces us to run around attempting to preserve what little life we think we can and giving up on the rest.
Of course, those aren’t the only things that we did at the farm yesterday. We also planted bulbs, cleaned out brown stalks and, of course, covered the greenhouse. I’m told that spring will come again, but for now, it’s nice to look at dark, level beds protected with plastic that will still accept our work and produce food. There are still things we can do, and they are worth doing. They’re even fun.
The sun goes down a little earlier these days, but the pavilion looks gorgeous lit up in the dark. It’s nice to know that even though winter is coming and it can be cruel, there are things we can do to fight back, and there are ways we can even make it enjoyable. I’ll admit, I like wearing jeans more than shorts and I like wearing sweaters more than T-shirts. We can enjoy turkey, pumpkin soup and apple crisp not in spite of the fact that seasonal food is about to get a lot less fun, but because they are here now, and that’s all there is to it. Hell, we can freeze the turkeys and have them whenever we want. People talk constantly about how sustainable food simply can’t work in New England because of that nagging winter problem, but we can work with it, and we can turn the natural rhythms of the seasons to something useful.