Friday, July 31, 2009

Even I learned something about hay this year.

Last night we meandered along a country road as we returned from a friend's house. Rounding a corner, the sunset sky was barely visible in a thick cloud of dust. Looking into the expansive field to my left--which I recalled held hay--I saw many large disks of light scattered in the dirt fog. For a moment I had no idea what was going on; I'm talking 16 lights perhaps, scattered amongst the field in pairs. It was really quite stunning. Aliens? It almost seemed surreal enough!

I wish I could have stopped to take a picture, for my words do not do it justice.

Almost speechless, Scot explained that for many owners of large farms, there's no way they can do the harvesting with only their equipment and staff on hand; it would take them too long and the crops would go bad. Sometimes neighboring farmers will band together and help one another, running their multiple combines together, but there is also a business of "custom harvesting" which is where a group maintains and operates the machinery, swooping in with machines and crew, does the job, and then moves on down the road to the next farm scheduled for a visit. He recalled seeing as many as a dozen combines attacking a field, moving along in lockstep together, cutting wide swaths down at a time.

It was simply amazing. I wish I could have captured it. While this is nowhere close, this pic found at a harvester's web site illustrates how the crew works together to make quick work of a large field. Don't let this picture fool you; each combine is HUGE. In the little gray box in the top right corner is the driver! (This picture depics a drop such as wheat, and not hay.)

This, along with our own very small personal harvest of potatoes from our own bed this year, reminded me that so much of what we are used to wanting and getting right on the spot still comes at Mother Nature's own schedule, or a Herculean task of modernity. Hay is harvested but twice a year (on rare occasions and climates, you might get a third cut), and is stored and distributed as demand whittles down the stored supply.

It's only natural. Our ancestors grew all their own food, and knew what stored well, and canned or preserved what didn't. This year we grew two small hills of potatoes, just for fun. I was amazed at how after harvest, our potatoes have remained rock hard for months, while those I'd pick up in the stores were always somewhat soft. That's because the harvest could have been many months ago, and storage and travel has occurred since then.

In our age of disconnect from the reality of production, it's easy to forget that having everything we want exactly when we want it comes at a cost. That asparagus you can find in the wintertime may be shipped up from Peru! Imagine the costs involved: labor, fossil fuel resources. Kind of makes your head spin when you really connect with the reality of it.

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