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East Hartford, CT 06118

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The Hartford Courant

From Seed to Shelf Logo

Thursday, October 21, 1999

Freeze Ends A Family's Frustrating Season

Jim and Hanora Kissing in the Field

SURROUNDED BY EMPTY FIELDS on Sunday, the last day the farm stand was open to the public, Honora Futtner shares a kiss with her husband, Jim. She had gone to the East Hartford field that the family rents to see whether he needed help with the harrowing.

A Merciful Frost

By FRAN SILVERMAN
Courant Consumer Affairs Writer

This is the sixth in a series of stories examining the experiences of one Connecticut farm family, the Futtners, as they take their crops through the growing season and the farm through the year.

The killing frost came a tad early this year. But that was just fine with Jim and Honora Futtner.

Just after sunrise on Oct. 7, the temperature dipped to 28 degrees, wilting the pepper plants and painting faint white coats on the few remaining corn stalks in the fields the couple rent in South Windsor and East Hartford.

The Futtners usually pick peppers and corn into November.

But this year, the frost was a mercy killing. It ended a season plagued by drought, labor shortages, low prices and destructive late summer rains - impediments that sapped their strength and strained their psyches.

"The frost came at a good time. Usually, there is more left to pick. But this year, everything finished up early because of the rotten weather," said Honora, 50. "It's been a long, tiring season."

The day of the frost, Jim and his small crew picked the fields clean of everything that survived - 20 baskets of peppers and a couple dozen sacks of corn.

Jim, 51, has been picking corn since July 1, when the sun was scorching the dry earth and he had to irrigate every few days to keep the stalks alive.

Now, as he picks ears off the South Windsor stalks that were blown over by Tropical Storm Floyd last month, the sun is just beginning to take the chill out of the air. The maple, oak and poplar trees that surround the land are ablaze in brilliant red and orange leaves.

"I enjoy the cool weather. It wakes you up," he said.

The promise of the season's end has Jim and Honora in good spirits. The deep brown tan on Jim's face has faded, and the wrinkles on his forehead from grimacing in the summer heat have softened. "It will be kind of a normal life now," he says. The 12- to 14-hour days have shrunk to eight, so there's time - and an appetite - for breakfast.

A few days after the frost, Jim harrows the fields, plowing under the once six-foot-high corn stalks, low-lying pepper plants and remaining tomato stems. Row by row, the field is returned to deep, dark soil that will be protected by a cover crop of rye and filled with fertilizer to rejuvenate it for next season.

As Jim readied the field for winter, Honora eagerly cleared the remaining produce from the shelves at the farm stand opposite the field on Silver Lane in East Hartford.

Hanora Futtner and Daughter Emptying Shelves

THE SEASON ENDS EARLY, and Honora Futtner and her daughter, Carrie, empty the shelves at the farm stand the family operates during the summer.

"This is the best closing I've ever had," she said. "There are no regrets."

The stand closed to the public Sunday - about two weeks earlier than usual. On Monday, Honora, bundled on a heavy blue sweater and work boots, stood in the semi-darkened stand and packed away peppers, corn, pumpkins and mums to sell to another farm stand operator.

She talked of the meals she will how be able to cook at home, the farm stand paperwork she will tackle, and a long anticipated respite for her and Jim - a trip to Quebec late this week to meet a cousin she discovered in a genealogy search this summer.

"I really need the time away from the stand," said Honora, who worked there seven days a week this summer.

And although Jim and Honora joke about hibernating now, it's difficult, they say, to come to a full stop. The short, frigid winter days looming ahead are hard for Jim, who is used to being active, outside and busy.

"Some of these restful days can be dark days," he says.

But in the next few weeks, plenty of work remains to be done around the stand. Christmas poinsettias are growing in the greenhouse and Blaster lilies need planting. There are plant clippings to take from any remaining baskets and bills to go through.

The Futtners are dreading the arrival of their water bill - inflated by the days of irrigating - and they haven't figured out yet how they fared financially this summer.

"Jim put his heart and soul into that field," Honora says as she looks out at the now fallow plot across the street before shutting the door at the stand.
"He should feel good about seeing the soil again. If you make it through a year like this, you can do just about anything."

Before she can leave, though, the phone rings. It's their daughter, Carrie, a University of Connecticut student who helps out at the stand.

Carrie is sick. Jim and Honora spend the evening in a hospital emergency room, where Carrie is treated for a stomach illness. The much anticipated trip to Quebec is canceled.

It's been that kind of season.

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