Fall falls fast and hard in Colorado

Fall falls fast in Colorado. We look up - often from a pile of deliciously red tomatoes - to see the orange and yellow of fall leaves. And then, with a striking finality, our first frost falls - a cold blanket on the full fields of summer that marks a dramatic change in the season. Crops in Colorado are distinguished by those that can survive (or even thrive) in the first frosts and those that do not. 

Tomatoes, chiles, eggplants and other warm-climate vegetables wither and crumple almost immediately. Root vegetables (carrots, beets), brassicas (cabbages, kales) and other fall greens thrive, the cold triggering an infusion of sweetness that improves flavor and nutritional value. 

For MM Local, the fall means our brief, furious chile season is upon us. Pears and apples become our fruit focus and live-fermentation of napa and green cabbage becomes a part of our daily routine. Done are tomatoes, peaches, green beans and other summer favorites.

This year fall came not with a whimper but a bang. In many years the first frost appears on the distant horizon of a ten-day weather forecast. Farmer's enter a frantic week of harvest, pulling crops from the field that need shelter, covering rows of plants that might survive.

The disadvantage of a fast freeze, of course, is that we have almost no time to prepare. Last year, with 9 or 10 days of warning, farmers harvested like mad for more than a week. The bounty they brought supported months of sales. In a short-warning year such as 2013, we find ourselves scrambling with a few days, and farmers must make hard choices about what they will leave out to freeze. 

The impact of 2013's fast fall was compounded by our historic rains earlier in September. Cold weather and wet fields slowed crop development where it did not wash away or inundate crops. Slow crop development lead to delays in the season. By the time our freeze came in last week, plants were finally heavy again with tomatoes, chile peppers, eggplants and more. 

At Full Circle Farms in Longmont, the losses were staggering - fields stretched far into the distance full of blackened, shriveled plants. Bright, ripe, chile peppers, delayed in ripening by weeks, hung limply among wilted leaves. Pumpkins and winter squash still in the field sagged into the ground on softened flesh rendering them inedible.

It's a hard loss in a year with its fair share of setbacks. Of course, for most of us, this does not come as a surprise.

What is farming if not the pinball journey from challenge to challenge? I'm not a farmer, but if I were to guess, I'd say it's the knowing wink and hopeful smile that accompanies falls' refrain: "things will be MUCH better next year." 

Well, we've heard quite a few of those and the funny thing is we believe it too.  

High Waters, and the Art of Perseverance

It has been amazing to witness our Front Range community come together to support each other over the extraordinary events of the last few days. While MM Local and our employees have emerged in good shape, a number of our Farming Partners suffered significant losses from the floodwaters in Boulder county. Bonavida Growers and Oxford Gardens in Niwot both lost significant crops - and years of carefully cultivated topsoil as a result of the floods. 

Ollin Farms, particularly hard hit by the flood (see photos above), will be hosting a number of volunteer days to help rebuild their farm, so stay tuned for more ways in which you can help on their Facebook page.

For many more farmers, as for us, the floods and heavy rainfall we've experienced since last Thursday have turned our traditional heavy September harvest on its head. Heavy rain and soaked fields can cause crops to turn or leave fields impassable. Crop delays, unexpected surpluses and losses will have as-yet unknown impacts on how the season ends for all of us who depend on local agriculture for our livelihoods. 

As a result of the flooding so far, we have taken in tons of peaches (around 10 tons, in fact), for which farmers had lost markets as a result of flooding. Many of our tomato and cabbage crops are delayed and may see losses due to flooding. And yet, in the face of so much uncertainty we find ourselves reassured by two things: the incredible optimism and perseverance of those hit harder than us, and the support of the community during such a challenging time.

This galvanizes us - it is reassurance that a local model for food is a great model for food because it can bring our community closer. If you are looking to support local farmers during these trying times, get out to farmer's markets this week. Drive out to farm stands. Volunteer to help those that need it. Eat local, and you will help our community recover. 

One of our farmers, a dear friend and longtime student of Zen Buddhism, lost a huge amount of crops in the flood. Reflecting, he summed it up with an old Zen saying: "When we are wet, we are wet Buddhas. When we are dry, we are dry Buddhas."

Wet or dry, we are in this together. Thank you for your ongoing support of our local agricultural community. We are all very grateful.