A year ago, as we were gearing up for our son’s beach wedding in Michigan, I had this little mantra for his fiancee.
“Remember,” I’d intone ever so gently, girding to comfort her when the day arrived wet and chilly, bringing with it multiple assurances that such weather on one’s wedding day is certainly assurance of good luck. “There are a lot of things we can control — and just a couple that we can’t.”
We wound up with an utterly gorgeous day — a mid-September gift, through no doing of our own.
The region’s farmers are subject to this uncertainty year in and year out. It’s a perennial game of chance: season after season, growers must lay their prospects for boom or bust at the feet of the fickle weather gods.
This time around, the gamble has paid off.
“It’s great this year,” said Eloise Gundersen, who operates Gundersen Farm near Coloma, Mich., with her husband Harold.
The pair — who moved to the fruit belt across the lake in 1988, after living in Naperville for 17 years — bring the yield from their fields and orchards to eager customers who shop the Saturday morning farmers markets in Naperville and Plainfield. Right now, they’re keeping busy bringing in those luscious Red Haven freestone peaches that, as far as I’m concerned, make summer worth living. And I’m not really alone there.
“We have some customers who won’t buy a peach until the Red Havens are ready,” Eloise said.
While you can’t buy a bushel of the incredibly lovely fruit this year, because there was that one spring frost and “some of them must have been a little bit vulnerable,” she said there are still plenty available. And that’s not all.
“We’re having a bumper crop of blackberries this year,” Eloise said, and they’ll be picking blueberries for a few more weeks yet.
Come fall — actually, come this weekend — there should be an abundance of apples as well. The earliest variety, Zestar, is ripe for the picking now, she said.
Closer to home, farmers are seeing a similarly satisfactory season.
Kathy and Steve Theis, who work the family-owned fields of Evergreen Farm in Yorkville, are having a good year as well.
“With the cooler weather it seems to come in slower, so it hits us all at once,” Kathy said, admitting that all things considered, it’s a pretty good problem to have.
The couple, their grown daughters and other seasonal help have an abundance of vegetables to bring to the markets where they set up shop every week in Naperville, Downers Grove and Hinsdale.
What a difference a year makes!
In 2012, there was that freakish string of incredibly warm days that stretched across March, making it the warmest on record. And then, with the fruit trees having been tricked into flowering several weeks earlier than is their habit, there was that hard freeze that hit at the end of April, wiping out virtually all of the apricots and peaches (noooooo!), and most of the apples.
Now mind you, those extremes on the normal-weather scale came just a little more than a year after February came in hauling with it one of the biggest snowstorms on the books.
In between, we had one of the most parched months of July anybody had ever recorded — until almost 7 inches drenched the region on the 23rd, moving us to the top of the list for rainy-ness.
The summers of 2011 and 2012 were two of the 20 hottest ever. Mercifully, unless something really wacky happens in the upper air stream, and soon, we won’t be seeing a three-peat this year. At 73.2 degrees, July’s average temperature was almost a full degree below normal (whatever that is), and June came in four-tenths of a degree cooler than the usual 68.9-degree average. August so far is running 1.6 degrees below the 72.4-degree norm.
It’s true that we all talk about the weather, despite our shared inability to do anything about it. But this past couple of years have given more than their share of conversation starters.
Is this a pattern? I’m afraid so. Both of the growers I talked to this week said while this is actually a “normal” year, it’s really more the exception, at least in recent context.
A Naperville resident alluded to the phenomenon when he talked to city officials a few months ago, after those extraordinary mid-April downpours and subsequent biblical-proportion floods brought life in Naperville to a virtual halt for a couple of days.
“These 100-year floods are happening as often as cicadas,” said Micheal Costello, who lives on Huffman Street. “Every 17 years.”