On a recent morning, as I sat at my desk working some High Finance (also known as Paying Bills), an email came through from Mary. She was out repairing the beaten and battered farm fence along with Vicky, Charles and Farmer John, and with her phone she’d snapped a picture for me to see. This is what she sent:

She entitled it “Safety First.” Notice John in the photo.

Not only is he using the bucket of the tractor as his ladder (the actual ladder is on the opposite side of the fence), but he’s leaning on a loose fence post – held up by Charles, with a hoe – and in his hand is a pick ax.

Fortunately, we don’t get surprise visits from OSHA.

That very morning I’d received another email, this one from our health insurance company coincidentally letting me know our policy now includes 24-hour accidental death coverage worth $5,000, a fact I made sure to bring up with John shortly after this picture was taken. (There’s no doubt he would have been a little more impressed had the policy’s value been higher than five grand, yet I’m pretty sure my point came across.)

Personally, I’m no daredevil, and this kind of behavior really is beyond me. Heck, my palms break out into cold sweat at the thought of stepping onto a down – or up, for that matter — escalator. You’ll almost always find me favoring the safe side of any situation, including the decision-making involved in what needs to be done to protect our crops. The problem with that stance is that while I’m quick to insist the utmost troublesome, time-consuming safe steps are warranted, the actual work itself falls on Farmer John.

Specifically, I’m talking about row cover. Since 99% of the time row-covering can commence only at dusk or later (when a cold front blows in, the winds rarely calm down enough to do the job until then) John is relegated to the chore. I assuage my guilt while he’s out in the frigid night by preparing a nice dinner. In the nice warm house. While sipping a nice glass of wine.

A decision needed to be made again two Saturdays ago when the forecast was for 34 degrees in downtown Austin. There was no question that John would be putting row covers on the hoop house tomatoes and peppers, but I secretly felt like the best course would have been to also run water through the irrigation lines overnight. Water creates an almost sauna-like effect that’s helpful during the coldest of temperatures.

Being that it was a Saturday night, though, following our last Saturday afternoon of “freedom” before we were scheduled to reopen the farm stands, it would have been nice to enjoy watching the lazy day fade into nighttime with as little effort expended as possible. Getting the drip lines cleared and ready to run during sub-freezing weather would have been a major hassle at that point, so when John said he felt like row covers would be sufficient, I zipped my lips and kept my opinion to myself (for once).

The temperature nose-dived to 22 degrees in our valley that night. Sunday morning was not the happiest one we’ve ever spent. There was no opening the hoop houses until it was above the freezing point, and we could already see that the uncovered onions and leeks, both of them cold-hardy crops, were slumped over from shock. We feared the worst for our tomatoes.

And indeed, the first couple plants at each end of the hoop houses were burned from the freeze. Yet all the rest, while perhaps a bit stunned by the ordeal, perked up beautifully as the sun warmed them.

In fact, as I ventured through the plastic structures, astonished at the health and well-being of the first plantings of this most-important crop, I was reminded of why it would have been all the more heartbreaking had we lost them.

Granted, this picture would have made way more of an impact had I focused the camera not on the background foliage, but rather on the perfect baby tomato – yet hopefully you get the gist. The plants in this hoop house are all setting fruit.

Although it turned out fine, the risk we took that Saturday night was a tad close for comfort. Because of it, in addition to draping row covers on the hoop house plants again Sunday evening, John took the time to get the irrigation lines ready, just in case.

That night, the temperature quickly dipped to 36…and then began to rise. By dawn, it was a toasty 45 degrees. Drip lines had been unnecessary; even the row covers didn’t really need to be put on. Nonetheless, there was no grousing about the extra time it took the prior evening, nor about having to remove the row covers the next day. After such a close call, we agreed that when it comes to the farm, it pays to be cautious.

Perhaps one day I’ll convince John that, a cool five thousand bucks notwithstanding, the same rings true when it comes to the farmer himself.

* * *
Many thanks to everybody who came by the farm stand last week! Despite our rather wimpy selection, it was a great crowd and we sure appreciate you sticking with us during this rather lean time. Things are growing quickly, so more and more will be coming soon. For Wednesday’s farm stand, even though the selection is a little slim, we have good quantities of:

Lettuce mix; Euro salad mix (lettuces, chicories, arugula, cress, and more); baby Asian greens mix (great for salads or cooking); bunches of leeks (use the fabulous roots too!**); green onions; bags of chard; and bags of arugula.

**Need some leek recipes? Try these:

Leek and Chard Frittata
Leek Soup
Leek Tart

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)