I have warm memories of riding beside my Grandpa in his old pick up truck, stuck like a sardine in between my siblings with his 6 farm dogs riding along behind us in the pickup bed. We would listen to our favorite county western singer, Kenny Rogers and all of us would belt out, "You've got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em. Know when to walk away, Know when to run. You never count your money, when your sitting at the table, they'll be time enough for counting when the dealings done." Singing along with one of my favorite farmers after we had spent the morning picking ripe, Hood strawberries at the crack of dawn was always so magical. Originally, my grandfather used to frighten me as a toddler and he used to ask me all time when I was older, "Remember when you didn't like me?" He was referencing a time when I was really little when I only wanted to be held by my mother and I would cry uncontrollably when he would insist on holding me. I am not sure why I was so scared of him when I was a baby, but maybe it was because he was over 6 feet tall, had huge farming hands and always had intense coffee breath.
When his family moved to the States he grew up on a dairy farm in Helvetia, Oregon (Little Switzerland) and he swore after milking twice a day, 365 days out of the year that he would never become a farmer. He attended university at Pacific in Forrest grove and played on their football team. That was the only way he could afford to go to college during The Great Depression, being an old world dairy farmer's son. He graduated and followed my grandmother to Parkdale, Oregon where they both taught at Parkdale High school. He eventually became the Principal after receiving his masters degree. My grandparents made 100 dollars a month as teachers and 900 dollars a year.
In 1941 they bought a 5 acre orchard that had apples and pears on it and a very humble home. He continued to be principal and coached 3 sports at Parkdale High until 1944. Though he was fluent in Swiss German and didn't learn English until he was in 8th grade he was asked to remain as a Principal in Parkdale Oregon, during World War II. My mother shyly reminded me that she was born in 1944 and was grateful that he didn't go into espionage or she may not have been born. He had high hopes of becoming a superintendent one day which would require moving to another area for a promotion. My grandmother begged my grandfather to reconsider because she had moved around Portland about every 6 months as a child because my grand grandfather was a home builder. She loved the Hood River Valley, already had 2 children, loved all the wildflowers here and considered this place to be HOME.
After the War ended they purchased 44 more acres of apples and pear trees and he resigned as principal. He now had enough land to become a full time farmer, which was an interesting plot twist based on his childhood claims. Farming those 5 acres he had caught the fever and the only cure was buying more land. In 1950-1951, there were some epic winter freezes and many if not all of his newly planted trees, simply died. My grandfather always believed that when one tree died you planted another tree in its place the next year. No tears or fears. Unlike the Vegas crowds, farmers are all in, literally betting the farm against Mother Nature and playing for keeps. Every farmer knows you have to stay in the game before you can cash in. The next few years were more fortunate with good crops and honest pay. Finding enough people to harvest the crop has always been a challenge and the local high school used to let its kids out to help out the farmers back in the day to bring in the crop. One of his famous lines was, "somehow the crop always get's picked." But sometimes this took a month longer than expected. His faith in our good Father to assist him was always very steady. My grandmother used to pray and pray and he would simply believe.
In 1955 there was an early freeze in November before the trees had gone dormant and this was very damaging to the next years blossoms and fruit set. Coincidentally, this happened this past year on my orchard in November 2014 as well when everything was covered in ice for days. This last freeze has been most damaging to stone fruits according to the experts. Stone fruits include peaches, apricots, nectarines, plums and cherries. The pome fruits including apples and pears weathered through this cold spell with greater ease because they are heartier and fierce. I will not know until later Spring how much damage was actually done to the fruit buds and spurs. But I am hopeful, praying and gambling like my grandfather that their will be a harvest and enough to carrying me forward into next year, so I can stay in the game.
Side note, In my prior life I was not a gambler. The honest truth is that I have never played the slots or bet any money at a casino. I am not a big risk taker and don't like to lose. I manage risks conservatively and always play it safe. I like having an emergency fund and paying things with cash. I have vivid memories as a child watching my parents trying to figure out how to pay next months bills at our kitchen table and thinking like my grandfather about how I would never want to be a farmer and feel so vulnerable all the time about money. Fast forward to this month, I want to confess I have been gripped to the core a few times by fearful thoughts that I will have no crop in the spring and could lose it all, in my first hand. I know this for sure, you cannot control the kind of hand you are dealt, you simply must learn how to play the hell out of the hand you have. The only cure I have found for the anxious feelings of farming is practicing gratefulness, taking it one day at a time, asking for prayer and having wild hope against all odds.
From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank everyone who shared my last post forward, offered to send me help, the many encouragement cards and all who backed me in prayer. It all brought a record amount of people to my blog, friends. I am blown away by all the thousands of people who are rooting for me and rallying for my small family farm. I cannot express enough times how good it feels to be backed by you all. I am overflowing with thankfulness and tears of joy as I write this. All my chips are in, I am betting farm against all odds and hoping to playing for keeps. A thousand thank you's to all the friends of the farm who are standing with me in the biggest gamble of my life. xoxo your grateful farmer.