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.