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Weather Trouble for Veggie Farmers

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Weather Trouble for Veggie Farmers

Lettuce on the McDonalds’ farm. (WBEZ/Adriene Hill)

The stormy weather has been tough for area vegetable farmers. Rain has slowed planting. And hail stunted the crops of Julia and Todd McDonald, newly minted farmers in Manteno, Illinois. The McDonalds are among what seems to be a growing number of new farmers trying to make a life on the land. Chicago Public Radio’s Adriene Hill is following them this year as part of our Chicago Matters series Growing Forward. She brings us this update.

When I talked to the McDonalds in the spring, they were excited about the growing season. Todd had just started planting. Julia was scheduling volunteers and working on getting into two Chicago farmers markets. This was supposed to be the big week, the week they kicked off their selling-season. But, right now they don’t have nearly enough vegetables. Todd says there was a hail storm a week and a half ago.

TODD: That wiped out a lot of our crops. Not completely, they are coming back pretty well. But it destroyed like 60 % of our broccoli. We had lettuce and chard and stuff that looked terrible.

He says they also lost most of their arugula and spinach crops. And it’s frustrating, really, really frustrating.

TODD: Like the day after, I went out to work in the field. And there’s always things to do, there’s always weeding. And um, I worked for like 3 hours or something and that’s all I could handle. It’s just so depressing to see a couple months work undone.

And the storms aren’t just depressing, they’re also scary. When Todd and Julia moved to Manteno from the city they created their new home in a trailer in the middle of open farm land. They don’t have a basement. And their farm, Peasant’s Plot, is not the place you want to be in a tornado.

So this weekend, when a tornado warning was issued for the area, Todd hightailed it to a neighbor’s basement.

TODD: The warning was over at 11:15 or something. So I headed home…but then there was a watch till 3AM so I couldn’t sleep well. Like I wasn’t ready to go to sleep and have that be my last good night or whatever.

It’s a concern that has shifted their priorities.

JULIA: Now our next dream is to have a storm cellar, combination root cellar. Maybe before we do anything with the house. Because it just feels so vulnerable.

On Monday of this week, it’s still too wet to do much work outside. Julia lets me borrow a pair of boots as we walk around to look at the field. Todd still needs to plant his peppers and tomatoes. He thinks he can salvage some of his broccoli. He’s giving farm volunteers the beat up arugula and spinach. And he’s looking forward to the markets.

TODD: We were hoping to make our booth twice as big. Three weeks ago I thought twice as big as was good…right now I don’t know if that’s possible.

They expect to be in the markets starting this Sunday. And they’ve still got most of the growing season in front of them.

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