Monday, June 30, 2008

The Farm Will Go On

Pepper Plant in the GardenIn his final week, dad worked long days to get the remaining tomato, pepper, eggplant, and okra plants into the ground, but he had quite a backlog due to the heavy spring rains. He was so particular about how each plant was to be planted and cared for, that he preferred to do everything himself.

He was always happy to let people into the gardens to show them around. He might even let family members or close friends pick vegetables once in a while. But he did all of the planting and watering himself, systematically and methodically, at his own pace, in his own way...

Tami in the Tomato PatchFor me, it took about 20 minutes of picking produce to re-confirm that I'm not cut out for farming. I got back to the house with my small bucket of produce, sweating and flushed from the heat, covered in Incredible Hulk green from the tomato plants.

Fortunately, my brother (Kevin) has stepped in to take over farming operations to ensure we get at least one more season of Hale Farms produce. He has been working long days in the gardens, stopping only long enough to cut and bale hay with our uncle Rick. He has even managed to recruit a number of family and friends to help, giving some of them their first exposure to farming.

Kami and Kevin - The two who know the most about dad's gardenThe Saturday after the funeral, my sister (Kim), sister-in-law (Emily) and I took the last truckload of unplanted tomato and pepper plants to the Farmer's Market to find good homes for them. Throughout the day, people stopped by to express their condolences and to adopt plants.

We had at least 20 varieties of tomato plants and 10 varieties of peppers to give away, including pink, gold, and striped tomatoes and blue bell peppers. Only a few of the plants were marked, so there will definitely be some surprises in backyard gardens this summer.

About 20 minutes before the market closed, we still had almost 200 plants and were trying to figure out how to keep them alive until they could be planted. Just in time, a friend of dad's who was teaching a gardening program for 5th graders stopped by and took all of the remaining plants to be planted at the school.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ron's Legacy

Ron with one of his high tunnelsThe following eulogy was given by his second daughter, Tami Hale, at Ron's funeral:

You probably knew our dad was in the military for 21 years. You may even know the reason he went into the military was so he could retire and dedicate his life to farming the land he loved. But you may not know the rest of the story...

Our dad's father worked hard on the farm and outside the farm to support his family. Even still, they didn't have much money and couldn't always afford the basics. In the harsh Missouri winters of his youth, there were nights when our dad laid in bed, wrapped in his winter coat, shivering from the cold with his stomach growling, dreaming of what could be.

He dreamt of a day when he had a family of his own and could provide everything they needed. In this dream, he was a farmer, working the land he loved to provide for his family and for his community. It seemed impossible to have it all, but he was determined to find a way.

He knew part of the answer was education, so he worked 3 jobs to put himself through college and graduated with honors. It was there he met and fell in love with our mom. In order to provide for his family, he put his dream of farming on hold, and pursued a career in the military.

He didn't know which branch to sign up for until he learned that being a Meteorologist in the Navy had shorter deployments that would allow him to spend more time with his family. That's all it took to convince him to join--even though at the time he couldn't swim and was afraid of the water.

His drive to provide for his family was so much stronger than any fear, which is what gave him the courage to jump off the high dive into the water to complete his officers training.

Graveside ServiceThroughout his 21 years in the Navy, he never stopped dreaming about returning to the land he loved. He took advantage of every educational opportunity offered while he was in the Navy, so he could take farming to the next level, whenever he finally got his chance.

He never stayed inside the lines of conventional farming. He had dreams of getting into new markets and inventing new methods and technologies to make farming more efficient and to make the bounty more plentiful.

I remember a time when he was taking MBA night classes, working full time, and planning his future farm in his spare time. He would tell us about the research he had done to identify the untapped market for bullfrogs, used for frog legs and scientific research. Millions of pounds were imported into the US every year and he was determined to become one of the first domestic suppliers.

We would look over his shoulder as he graphed out the placement and size of each bullfrog pond, designed systems to ward off predators, and created an environment where the frogs could really thrive.

One year, we spent our summer vacation on the farm, planting 1000 Christmas tree seedlings so they would be mature enough to sell by the time he retired and returned to the land.

For 19 years after he retired from the Navy, he lived his dream. He worked the land and experimented every year with dozens of varieties of tomatoes and other produce, setup crop-specific composting to achieve the right balance of soil nutrition for each type of plant, built high tunnels to extend the growing season and deliver vine ripened tomatoes in June, and invented countless planting techniques and irrigation systems.

Granddaughter KamiDuring his 19 years on the farm, his family stayed close. He experienced the success of his children and the birth of his first grandchild. As a family, we continued to grow and learn about each other and depend on each other and lift each other up through good and bad times. Ron was not just a great father and grandfather; he was a great friend.

Words cannot express how much we loved him and how much we will miss him.

So, as one of his favorite commentators Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Tribute to Ron Hale

The following comes from an email sent to members of Fair Shares, by Sara Hale:

We are so sad to report this and we send our deepest sympathy to Ron's family as well as to all who knew him, because he touched us all in such a positive way. His loss will be felt by many for a very long time, and we feel lucky to have known him for even a short time.

I met Ron at a Slow Food tour on his farm in April 2007, and was so impressed with his intuitiveness, inventiveness and curiosity in sustainable growing techniques. I thought "This is what this world needs: more farmers like Ron who work with nature to coax the most beautiful bounty of good food from the ground, rather than the industrial train that tries to bully as much as possible out of the earth, whether healthful or harmful, while giving nothing in return."

I took Ron's business card, as well as a lettuce plant in a pot that I purchased and enjoyed for the next several weeks. For months I told people about Ron's farm and his compost experiments and the success he found with the different composts on different crops based on the acidity and chemical makeup. I told about the the incredibly high sugar content he was able to achieve in his sungold tomatoes, the worth-their-weight-in-gold treasure of the summer. I was jealous of the shoppers at Farmington's Farmers' Market and pouted about St. Louis being out of his market, longing to get a taste of them myself.

As my sister Jamie and I developed our ideas of Fair Shares, I knew from the beginning that Ron would be on our list of farmers. He encompassed everything I wanted to help educate our members about. From the first contact, Ron was supportive and dependable. He attended every meeting, offered great advice, and completely understood our mission, which made it a pleasure to work with him. He was passionate about his techniques and his beliefs, without judging or expecting other growers to live up to his high farming standards.

Ron told Jamie and me about a MO-Ag conference on CSAs we may want to attend, and it proved to be a wonderful resource. There at the conference when we ran into him at a coffee break, Ron introduced us to a farmer friend who asked if he and I were related. The truth is no, but I would have been proud to say yes, so from that point on I decided I'd adopt Ron as a surrogate uncle, and it really does feel as if I've lost a dear uncle.

Over the past 9 weeks, Ron has been as helpful, dependable and inspiring as ever. He and his wife Joy attended our Fair Shares open house, and I hope some of you all got the chance to meet him. We enjoyed his incredible robust and delicious spinach, buttercrunch lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower, and a couple of us got to try a few of the most delicious ever strawberries. Most of all, we enjoyed Ron's deliveries to Fair Shares because we loved listening to his stories and his reports on his latest trials and experiments. We excitedly discussed our future collaborations with Hale-Farms and Fair Shares. I reminded him of the purple martin story he told our Slow Food group the year before, and after hearing it again, I was inspired to share it on the Fair Shares newsletter a couple of weeks ago (see below).

Ron's sungold tomatoes should be about ready for harvesting, and it will be a bitter blow never to have tried that which intrigued and inspired me most about Ron. We hope that all of Ron's hard work and frustrations with the slow start this spring won't go to waste, and that his crops might be taken on by someone as devoted as he was to sustainable agriculture and the challenge of getting the most flavor possible into his vegetables–as it says on Ron's website, "it's a matter of taste." I for one would welcome the opportunity to remember Ron Hale for the delicious contributions he made to our lives and our menus, both in life and after.

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The Purple Martin Story:
On a Slow Food tour last year in April, we visited Cave Vineyard and two farms in St. Genevieve County. After witnessing the devastating results of the spring freeze at the Vineyard and the blueberry farm, we were surprised to see a hearty crop growing at Hale Farms.

Farmer Ron Hale told a story that demonstrates the amazing ways in which nature shares its secrets--if we would but pay attention. Ron put bluebird houses at the corners of his field to attract the bluebirds, which are known for their voracious insect appetites in order to keep his organically grown vegetables bug free.

What he didn’t know was that bluebirds are very territorial and would never build their nests in houses so close together. This mistake afforded him an opportunity to learn about another farmer-friendly bird. Before long, purple martins took over the extra houses and Ron observed over time that the purple martin scouts showed up precisely two weeks before the start of spring each year, as the martins are unable to withstand the cold.

Last March, when the warm weather heralded the beginning of spring, and other farmers had taken advantage of the early start, Farmer Ron held out planting his seedlings in the fields because the scouts had yet to arrive. His decision to wait proved wise when the temperature plummeted below freezing on April 5th. It appears Mother Nature can’t even fool the purple martin. Talk about following your instincts.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tragic End to Hale Farms

As some of you may have heard, Ron died in a farming accident on Tuesday, June 17.

Ron was alone in his field trying to jump-start an old tractor with a dead battery, when it suddenly lurched forward, knocking him down and rolling over his chest. He died instantly.

For information about the funeral, which will be held Friday, June 20, visit Taylor Funeral Home.

He will be dearly missed.

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