Dear Shoppers: I hope you had a great Labor Day weekend and enjoyed the finest stretch of weather we have had all summer! I was on the road all day today where I saw the ravages of the drought on our farmland to the west and north of us. The corn never made it up to an elephant’s eye, and very little of the field corn was still supporting ears; most had already been cleared for feed — much earlier than normal, which of course meant much less feed in the barn too.
I was out driving the countryside with Max Tyson, Sr. on a farm visit which took us from West Virginia through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Max Sr. and Max Jr. farm many acres of land right around their home, but they also lease land from other farmers that is more than an hour away from their homestead. From one farmer they lease land for vegetables of all kinds and from another their land is part of a massive orchard where most of their apples and peaches and other tree fruit is grown. Max Jr. and his buddies who help him at the markets were in Pennsylvania pruning back apple trees so that the sun could get to the apples, and picking too for this week’s markets.
Even with help, farmers are always farming. Even on Mondays, which is normally their day off from markets, they are in the fields all day long. In season, farmers never have a day off for any R&R and certainly not for a vacation. And at this time of year they are still planting if they hope to bring some new crops to the winter markets. It really never ends for them.
The Tysons are hoping to dig a new well for irrigation this winter. They will have fencing to repair somewhere, and there are always new trees to be planted to replace the ones that have passed their prime. One of the many interesting things I learned was that an apple tree can produce for thirty years, which seems impossible when you see the stress put on them by a full crop of apples hanging from their boughs and bending the trees over to scrape the ground. The prime years for peach production are from about 6–12 years of age, so someone is always planting peach trees.
Another truly amazin’ thing was to see the orchards in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania that stretch for acres and to remember seeing the same thing on the flatlands of south Georgia where I lived for a few years as a child. I never thought I would taste peaches like we ate there; Cordele called itself the Watermelon Capital of the World, but they grew lots of peaches and pecans there too. They were really good — and very fuzzy. But somehow, these farmers discovered that you can grow peaches that are just that good here in the mid-Atlantic on gently rolling hills that catch the afternoon sun, and the fruit ripen to a perfect-peach sweetness close enough to provide us with that great first bite of the summer — and surprisingly, into the early fall. The last peaches of the season are still on the trees in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. And they’re no longer fuzzy either.
At the end of the day, I was glad I had risked my life driving around with Max Sr. — it is a wonder that his truck has lived long enough to have 250,000 miles on it with Max behind its wheel. But I made it home safe and sound and even more aware of why we celebrate Labor Day in this country. These guys work very hard all their lives to feed us the best food we are going to eat all year long — and they love it. Max Jr. went to college to become a computer geek of some kind and came back to farming, where he hardly even looks at his e-mail anymore! And you’re not gonna find me calling him a fool — he is doing what he was born to do. We should all be so lucky.
See you at the market!