The message was clear from the boys: this place belongs to Uncle Lon and we're here to check out his vegetables and ride his tractor. The rest is secondary to them. Uncle Lon is Ron's uncle, married to Ruthi, kid sister to Ron's dad Mike. The farm is their home, a modest acreage south of Minneapolis that they have turned into an idyllic haven on a patch of land so close to a golf course you would think they were growing golf ball plants. (Carl and Gus harvested a baker's dozen, at least.) Sure, you can catch a glimpse of the fairway here and there, but Ruthi and Lon's farm is definitely a piece of farmland. Mostly surrounded by their neighbor's corn and a bit of the golf course, Uncle Lon's farm is planted with corn, carrots, beets (just for me, he says), onions, tomatoes, cukes, squash, and green beans of many varieties. Ruthi and Lon are always eager to have us out to their place in the late summer to enjoy their harvest, as well as a chance to see farmer Carl in action on the farm. Carl adores Lon. The feeling is mutual.
We arrived mid-morning in time to join Lon on the tractor, coffee cup in hand, on his way down to the garden. Of course, the tractor is just another part of the charm for us: it was built in 1949, the same year as Lon. It putters along, spitting and huffing, dutifully pulling a wooden flatbed trailer along behind it, dogs running along side, doing the same thing is has done for the last 59 years. We rode along on the wagon, cloth bags in tow, ready to walk the rows in search of vegetables grown with love and without any pesticides. Lon believes in rotating crops and keeping things natural. His love for the land and plants shows as he describes the planting process in the spring and his choice of seeds. This year some of the beans are purple because of an issue with the package label. Not what he had expected, but the outcome is fabulous. Crisp, wide purple beans that turn green when submerged in hot water. A veritable magic trick in the pot.
We settled in a row of corn, learning from Lon about the subtle nuances of selecting just the right ear of corn. "The large ones, dried and brown hair at the end... grab the top and feel the corn. You'll know it when you feel it," he suggested. We took him up on the offer and happily filled four canvas bags with corn, enough to share with friends at a potluck a few days later and more for the freezer. Next were the beans, yellow, green and purple with sweet white flowers blooming where more beans would soon be growing. Gus galloped up and down the rows, chomping wildly on raw beans as fast as he could pick them and shove them into his mouth. Carl kept checking in with us, back and forth between listening to Farmer Lon's tales and showing us his latest find. The carrots were his favorite; a rusty orange, earthy, dirt still clinging to their chubby sides, long whiskery tops still intact. The perfect find for a kid. Louise was mostly happy on my back, though mostly preferred to be carried over near the tractor by Ron to sit in the shade by the dogs, peeking her head out at the rest of us as we worked. Lon harvested a few ruby colored beauties from the beet row. I couldn't resist the opportunity to pick a few more when I remembered how they look peeking out of the soil. Round, bulbous tubers, a luscious color hovering above the soil awaiting their fate in my bag. After we had filled our bags and satiated our need for vegetables, we all hopped back on the trailer and made the journey back up to the house for a cool beverage and conversation in the shade. My dad had never been to the farm so he happily sat listening to Ruthi and Lon's tales of the renovation of their house over the years. We sat with Ron's cousins and all the kids, catching up and sharing stories. Ruthi made a great lunch which we ate heartily after a morning of sunshine in the field. A perfect ending for a perfect day at the farm.