He’s been farming for more than 40 years, but Pete Ambrose has never dealt with conditions like he’s facing now.
This is a man who is not afraid of work. The cracked skin on his hands and the dirt under his fingernails reveal a man who loves the earth. At the moment, the earth is not loving him back.
For the first time in the past seven years, Ambrose has suspended parts of his considerable farming operation. He normally sells fruit and vegetables to almost 60 local restaurants. He can’t do that now. Nor can he set up the Ambrose booth in the farmers market.
The reason? Mother Nature has just been coming at him with more wet and cold conditions that are killing his crops and making it tough for the rich, black earth on Wadmalaw Island to produce its normal harvest.
Ambrose, 67, understands the life of a farmer is full of the unknown. At times, though, he feels that a black cloud is following him around, and that cloud is full of rain.
Many of his produce problems at the moment stem from the amount of rain the first seven weeks of this year on top of all the precipitation that he endured during the last half of 2014.
You want numbers? Ambrose just happens to remember a few. During a 60-day period in late July into September, his farm dealt with 52 inches of rain. On one particular day last summer, a total of 10 inches fell on his 130 acres.
He has never seen anything close to those totals.
Does he get depressed or demoralized? Does he spend a lot of time humming the old Kristofferson song, “Why me, Lord” as he inspects the butter beans and beets? Not really, there’s no time to feel sorry when a piece of equipment is up to its axle in a muddy field.
Ambrose goes to the farm seven days a week, 365 days a year. Many days, he’s there for 12 hours. Some nights, he babysits his strawberries. Other days, he might battle the wind that blows the protective covering off the cabbage.
His biggest challenge at the moment is providing the food that’s already been paid for by his co-op members.
About 300 families belong to the Ambrose Farm CSA. That stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Ambrose, so far, has been able to deliver enough fruits and vegetables to keep these folks supplied with their weekly ration of fresh food.
Some customers are more understanding than others. Though Ambrose has lost 80 percent of his crop in the last few months, it bothers him if his customers are unhappy. The majority seem to understand, but he admits there are a few who “... wanna know why there’s no broccoli.”
He and Mother Nature aren’t seeing eye-to-eye right now and he takes the setback personally because his name is on the sign.
A farmer understands he’s at the mercy of the weather, but it’s akin to running a factory without a roof.
So far, he hasn’t had to lay off any of his pickers or tractor drivers.
Like any farmer who’s tackled turnips and tomatoes, Ambrose knows nothing is forever in this business. He just needs a lot less rain and a lot more warm sunshine.
Farmers or not, I think we’re all about ready for that.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.