Anna Helmer’s Creative Non-Fiction Column for December

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The shortlist of self nominated, self-awarded, self-indulgent and perhaps of interest only to self Awards for the 2016 season at Helmer’s Organic Farm are as follows:   

Crop Flop: Celeriac

Doomed from the start. The first set of terribly delicate, freshly sprouted, faintly visible and hand-seeded starts got mistakenly baked by an unseasonably powerful February sun amplified by greenhouse plastic. The second set, rush-ordered from the seed supplier and planted carefully and lovingly with thoughts of extensive profits still dancing through the farmer’s head, also died suddenly from perhaps too much water (?). The third set, planted with a now slightly clenched jaw, managed to make it to the field about a month late.

From that ignominious beginning, things got worse and the weeds, sensing an opportunity to take over the world, established a solid beachhead in the celeriac field while the farmer was otherwise occupied, which happened to be most of the time.

The result: stunted, small and late, though still tasty, solid and saleable. Profits margin ranging deeply into negative territory. Better luck next year, celeriac. See Beets, below.

Remarkable Rebound: Beets

Beets were the defending 2015 Crop Flop Champions and this year came through with a very decent showing. Let this be a lesson, young person getting into farming: don’t ever stop dreaming that things will go better next year. It’s a reason to keep going.

Best in Show, Top Crop: Sieglinde

Easy and Obvious. For taste. I have never gone wrong recommending this potato. They therefore sell themselves.

Repeated Procrastination, Irritating Consequences, Satisfactory Outcome, Long Story Short, Perhaps You Had to be There: rainwater management at market

Year after year, I have tolerated a substandard arrangement to prevent rainwater dripping down through the gap between the 3 tents that comprise our market stall. My usual practice is to perform a fussy, overly optimistic and time-consuming trick with alligator clips, bungee cords and bits of string which attempts to redirect only the most reasonable flow; success restricted to the less serious storms. Many a rainy market of yesteryear have I admired my neighbor’s superior gutter system which appears practical and effective. To bring myself up to standard all I would have to do is cut 3-inch plastic water pipe in half lengthwise and string it up between the tents. The rain events of this current year have been both rigorous and frequent and not to put too fine a point on it, (and to wind this up) all of us have been feeling rather hard-done-by, especially by the fact that I put off the task until 2 weeks ago. This is an unconscionable amount of time to delay doing the obvious but having done it at last, I feel rather pleased.  Impossible to convey the depth of feeling associated with this situation in fewer than 200 words.

Employee of the year: The whole lot of them.

How did we get so lucky? Much more to the point: how to cope if something happens in their lives between now and when we need them again next spring which would preclude them from working with us again? It happens. I am grateful for the time we had.

Distraction Event: The Pemberton Festival.

We (as in quite a few people who are not me) should get over the fact that there is very nearly nothing about this event that in any way benefits agriculture. Square peg in a round hole and all that. Be that as it may, when I was there losing my mind over Pearl Jam, it never occurred to me that I should probably be doing anything work related (looking after celeriac, perhaps?). Not once. Farm? What farm. Exactly. Nothing to do with farming. 3 precious hours of utter distraction.  

There was no runner up in this category. It would be a mistake not to change that next year.  

All photos courtesy Dave Steers, from his 2014 Slow Food Cycle album.

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