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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Summer at the Farm Stand

Air Date: Week of

Author and farmer Jane Brox senses fall is around the corner as she vends this summer's bounty from her family's farm stand in Dracut, Massachusetts. Sandy Tolan produces the Brox Farm segments.


CURWOOD: It's the end of the season for Living on Earth commentator Jane Brox, who writes about the year's ebb and flow on her family farm in Dracut, Massachusetts. With summer now winding down, Ms. Brox says she's spending less time out in the fields and more time at the farm stand.

BROX: It's September now, and our farm stand bears the weight of the whole summer.

(A door closes)

BROX: Twenty-pound boxes of canning tomatoes hold open the door. There are baskets of pickling cukes stashed under the shelves. Jars of honey catch the afternoon light.

(A motor runs; corn is husked)

BROX: We're deep into the corn season. It's piled high on the table. The bins of eggplant, beans, cukes, and peppers are over-full. A few blueberries are left and the last of the peaches. There's also the first of the butternut squash and apples: Macouns, Macintosh, Cortlands soon. For these brief September weeks summer and fall crops share this space, and there isn't room for more.


BROX: Even the voices crowd in. Neighbor catching up with neighbor, talking of their trips to the mountains or the coast and where their children are heading for school. Younger people still nerved with summer rush in for a quick dozen corn on their way to one last evening at the beach. Just one more barbecue.

(Conversation continues)

BROX: Older folks shop more deliberately. They've waited all week for a neighbor to bring them out from the city. Coming here may be their only outing for the day, so they take a long time to choose their few tomatoes. One frail, white-haired woman asks if she can buy just 3 ears of corn. When she's told yes, of course, she's more grateful than you'd want, thanking you again and again, saying, "You don't need much when you live alone."

(A cash register runs. Woman: "Is that going to be it, ma'am?")

BROX: Now that the crops are running over, there are those who come to buy tomatoes, peppers and cukes by the box and bushel. Maybe they no longer own the strength of the space to grow things themselves, but they remember their old gardens and want to put up some tomatoes or make some picallily.

(Woman: "This is the correct size. You want something that's going to make a nice presentation. You don't want something that's curved too much because then it's hard to take the core out.")

BROX: Voices go on long into the afternoon, while beyond the farm stand the leaves on the weaker trees, the ones near the road, already sound a little raspy in the afternoon wind.

(Wind in the leaves)

BROX: Apples are dropping in the laden orchard. In the coming weeks they'll be twisted off the branches one by one until the last bushel of Northern Spies goes into the apple cellar. Butternuts, pumpkins, and blue hubbards, some weigh upwards of 30 pounds, still have to be cut from their vines and stored away. Whoever works here is tired now.

(Woman: "This is not a good bunch. I don't like this bunch.")

BROX: What felt like pure devotion in the first warm spring days became a job of work, and then a hall of work, with the pests and too little rain or too much and the plantings running together.

(Woman: "Okay." Woman: "You okay?" Woman: "I'm going down to get the other pail now." Woman: "Okay.")

BROX: The frost may be only weeks away, and times I've dreamt of it. Because afterwards, when the vines have died back and the corn stalks dried up, what remains of our day is more orderly, steeped in the sharper fragrance of stored things. And then I think again and I can't believe what I've been wishing for. It's September, and you realize a hundred days is all you have to make the most of the year. Dusk is no longer that lingering time.

(Geese honk)

BROX: Canada geese land to feed in a field of harrowed-down corn. I am afraid of wasted minutes. Deep in our night as we sleep, the bright stars of winter are rising.

(Geese honk)

CURWOOD: Jane Brox is a writer and farmer in Dracut, Massachusetts. Her latest book Here and Nowhere Else won this year's L.L. Winship Pen New England Award. Her essays are produced by Living on Earth's Sandy Tolan.



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