Scarcity and abundance are the yin and yang of agriculture, coexisting in a complex dance that affects both farmers and eaters around the world.
Late summer in Northern California is a time of abundance that can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you are a farmer or gardener. But for many farmers it is compressed into just a few weeks or a month between the middle of August and the end of October. Almonds, wine grapes, canning tomatoes, walnuts, pistachios, rice and sunflowers — the vast majority of the crops grown in this region — are all harvested exclusively during this time.
At Terra Firma, “harvest season” is a mostly twelve-month affair, but late summer brings a slug of storage crops ripening that add to the overall workload: potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
For farmers, good crops are never a guarantee of success. A heavy crop costs more and takes longer to harvest: more hours worked, more boxes to buy, more truckloads to drive. And a real bumper crop is usually widespread, across a large number of farms. That often leads to lower prices. Examples this year include both walnuts and canning tomatoes. Prices for both were lower after last year’s big harvest, and both crops are heavy again this year. Another price drop is inevitable.
Scarcity usually works the same way. A regionwide heatwave or cold snap wipes out a crop. The price increases, but the farmer still sees a loss. That is the case this year for prunes, another widely planted crop that is harvested in late summer around here. There is hardly any fruit on the trees, but farmers are harvesting them anyway because the price is high.
In some crops, scarcity can quickly flip flop. A spike in the price of hay three years ago due to the drought encouraged farmers to plant lots of the crop last year — too much, apparently. So this year, hay fields all around us have been abandoned due to low prices.
Here at Terra Firma, we have had “Goldilocks” growing conditions that have kept most of our crops producing just the right amount all summer — tomatoes in particular. And yet, we continue to see a reduction in our CSA membership, most likely for reasons that have nothing to do with what is happening on the farm.
For years, we had more people wanting to join our CSA than we could feed. In 2011 for several months we were barely able to plant enough to fill all of the boxes. Now in 2016, the scarcity and abundance have switched places.
Farmers can’t predict the future any better than anyone else can. We just have to roll with it. We hope you’ll keep rolling with us.