I realized after 20 years that I probably went into the wrong profession. Being a farmer probably would have been fine if I had not become a retail farmer. I grew up and learned the basics of agriculture on a wholesale farm. My family raises and sends the durable potato down the road by the tractor-trailer load. In that scenario, you have to meet the buyer’s price and quality, but you don’t need to talk to all those diners and find out what they do and don’t like about your individual potato. But as a retail farmer, I have very direct contact with the people who end up eating what I’ve grown.Being both a writer and a farmer, I know criticism is a useful tool for improvement. I am hungry for ideas and suggestions, but this openness puts me in a position to be pilloried by self-doubt.
As the once-big tomatoes grow small, the letdown at my roadside stand is tangible, even if it’s ill-conceived. “What happened to all the big ones?” And before I can explain the complicated existence of an heirloom tomato, a second question/statement is launched: “You didn’t have any this year!”
There is a Shakespearean truth to people’s perceptions. I find myself suddenly remembering (only to myself) what we had to memorize in 10th grade English. A speech from Julius Caesar, albeit in a truncated fashion and adapted for agriculture: “The good that the ‘summer’ does is interred with its bones, the evil lives after.” It is easier to see and give voice to one’s disappointments, especially gastronomic ones, than it is to take lasting delight in the brief high point of anything’s existence.
Every summer produces a list. It could be entered in a logbook, but I like to write with a Sharpie marker on a wall in the barn where I sort them, the dates and weights of remarkably big tomatoes. This list is fact, all numbers and initials. If there was a way to re-create the lists in all the barns that have been torn down in Sagg in my lifetime, you’d find the weights and prices of lots of vegetables. You’d find banner years and you’d find bad ones, but nowhere among them would be the opinion of a diner who has never gotten beaten up by farm life.