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.

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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