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Race Against the Rain

Last week, I was reminded of a story that had me inspired to pursue a life in farming. About ten years ago, I heard the “California Report” on NPR talking about how the agriculture industry was worried about its aging demographic. They highlighted a mentorship program that paired young farmers with older farmers to encourage young people into the industry. The broadcaster told a story where a piece of equipment broke, and it needed to be fixed that day. The mentor knew it would take all night, and that’s what he was going to do to get it done. While the mentee realized the hardship of farming and valued his sleep more, exiting the industry. The mentality of the old farmer resonated with me – dedication, determination and focus. Hearing this story was one of the moments when I knew I wanted to be part of the farming community.

In farming, sometimes it’s broken equipment, and sometimes you’re just against the weather. That’s what happened last week.

We recently finished Harvest, and we were planning to seed the cover crop, so it could germinate with upcoming rain. It usually takes us five days to seed the entire vineyard.

Our Monday had been going as planned. Antonio was out with the tractor, seeding away. The ranch has different blocks that are difficult to drive in after a rain due to soil type and topography. We first focus on the blocks with challenging soil type, and later move on to blocks with challenging topography.

I knew some rain was coming, so I was working on a down tree that was in a canyon which would cause potential challenges once the creek started flowing. The glamorous life of a vineyard manager! Parke called and asked how the seeding was going and whether I’d seen the latest weather reports. I looked at one: rain. To be sure, I consulted four different weather websites that I use. All read the same: lots of rain! 

With just one seeder, Antonio continued through the day, and I kept on cutting away at the tree. (One bright side, we’ll have plenty of fire wood this winter!)

A look inside the seeder

When Antonio’s day finished, I took over and kept seeding until 8 pm. We had 26 acres complete.

As I filled the seeder, I noticed the stunning sunset. It’s moments like these during long days that it makes everything worthwhile.

Every night, I consult those four weather forecasts. They had not changed. Starting on Wednesday, they were predicting 4 – 6 inches of rain over the next five days. I went to sleep thinking that I better start early and get some more acres done before Antonio’s day begins at 7 am.

I naturally woke up at 3 am. That’s when I told myself, “Just get up and get the seed out. You’ll feel better if you do.” My family and I live here on the ranch in the original vineyard house dating back to 1910, so I have a very quick commute by foot to the tractor.

At 4 am on the dot, I started down my first row. When the team arrived at 7 am, I’d finished another 13 acres. Antonio and I switched, and I went back to the tree project. Antonio made good headway seeding another 32 acres. The tractor never got a break. When Antonio took lunch, I jumped in. We had to keep it going.

I took over at 4:30 pm and kept going. Dinner plans were scrapped. My wife was out, so I called our daughter, Fia (13 years old) and asked her to make an egg sandwich for herself and that I wouldn’t be home. Her response: “I’ll do you one better. I’ll see you in a little bit.” Twenty minutes later, I got a call from her, “Where are you?” “Middle avenue,” I said. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right there.” And sure enough, riding up the avenue, was Fia and a sandwich. The best egg sandwich I’ve had. 
Fia Delivery ServiceFia's delivery service!

When the rain started falling at 9 pm, the mud began to stick and cause the seed drill to malfunction, so I called it a day. All counted, we did 83 acres.

The first raindrops. Hopefully signaling an end to our drought.

I went to bed, feeling like we did everything we could do. The work of five days, we almost did in just two days. Needless to say, we can now rest and enjoy the rain. (And yes, we did get the rain. On Sunday, we received over 9” in 24 hours!)

Hafner Vineyard Oct. 20, 2021Wednesday, October 20, 2021