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East Hartford, CT 06118

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From Seed to Shelf Logo

Friday, January 28, 2000


Jim Futtner Closing Barn Doors

Jim Futtner closes barn doors after Wednesday's snowstorm to keep topsoil inside from freezing. Tractors are also stored there.

Jim Futtner Handling Cuttings for Propagation

Jim Futtner handles cuttings for propagation in the main greenhouse. "I love the challenge of making things take root," he says.

When Winter Comes, Farm Family's Tasks Slow, Move Inside

by Fran Silverman
Courant Consumer Affairs Writer

This is the eighth 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 their farm through the year.

The temperature is but a scant lO degrees above zero. The fields lie barren, covered with snow. The farm stand on Silver Lane in East Hartford is closed up tight, icicles hanging from the roof.

But inside the greenhouse, it is summer.

The air is humid, the temperature at 70 degrees. Pop rock blares from the radio. Impatiens, fuchsias and geraniums in various stages of growth line the tables, their brightly colored petals contrasting with the gray sky outside. In these dark, arctic days of winter, Jim and Honora Futtner are busy getting ready for spring.

The pace is stow, relaxed and steady. Honora is in the back of the greenhouse, checking inventory for plant labels. Jim and his staff, Patrick Miller and Amy Kowalask, are spending the day taking cuttings from potted plants and transplanting them to flats.

At one end of the greenhouse, the bright red leaves of the poinsettia left over from Christmas are starting to fade. At me other end, tomato plants are beginning to sprout.

"I love the challenge of making things take root," said Jim, 51, who grew up farming with his father, Raymond. "It's about as close as you get to creating life; you know how God must feel."

Inside the greenhouse, muted rays of sun stream though the plastic covering, and the air smells like earth. Here, Jim can turn his back on winter - and the winter blues.

"The greenhouse is the next best thing to being outside," he said.

When the harvest ends, when the leaves crumble and drop off the trees and the soil is plowed under, Jim starts a free fall into depression.

Maybe it's because each autumn his furious pace slows to a crawl. Maybe it's because his body, which is exposed to sunlight for 15 hours a day in the summer can't adjust to the lack of light. Maybe it's because it was on a winter day in 1995 that Jim's father died.

Winter depression is not uncommon among farmers. Many say they also find it a struggle to slow down, work indoors - adrift from the soil that challenges and sustains them.

This year, Jim is trying to keep the blues at bay with exercise. He has joined Honora in her predawn runs, although the snow has limited that activity in recent weeks.

At night, he lifts weights with his 16-year-old son, Joseph, who one day hopes to take over the farm from his father, much as Jim took it over from his dad two decades ago.

Although the exercise is helping, anxiety grabbed hold of him this year during Thanksgiving.

Each year, Jim resists taking medication to battle the blues, putting off pills until he's sure he can't climb out of the black hole on his own. This winter, he has been able to reduce the dosage.

"This is the best year I've had," he said.

Honora, who has held Jim in her arms during the worst of it, agrees.

"He's doing better," she said gently. "I really thought we'd make it through with exercise, but then you realize you need help."

Since the blues struck with full force five years ago, the Futtners have tried different approaches to shake Jim out of it. This year, after the family's annual Christmas vacation, Honora planned some small day trips and visits with friends.

Jim is also keeping a steady - but not stressed - pace at work.

"In the past, if I didn't get something done that day, it was a disaster. Now, if it gets done a week or two later, thats OK," Jim said.

Still, winter's slow pace is an adjustment.

"Other farmers say people tell them to slow down. But they also say they don't know anything else," he said.

For Honora, who runs the family's farm stand in East Hartford, the toughest time of year is September. The harvest is at it's peak, but the younger helpers have returned to schooL.

"The big factor for me was we didn't take time to plan ahead, plan a vacation, just a little crumb to look forward to," she said.

This year, the family went to Bermuda in December with profits the couple squirreled away after a decent harvest in 1998.

When they got home to Connecticut, Jim didn't rush back to work. He took a few extra days off. Then he headed to the greenhouse to start preparing soil.

These days, he is dividing his time among the garage, where he makes repairs to the tractors and farm equipment, the greenhouse, and home, where he and Honora fill out tax forms, pesticide summaries and employment schedules.

Because of the drought last summer that wilted the pepper crop and stunted the melons and tomatoes, the Futtners will be applying for federal disaster relief grants. It is the first time they've requested government aid. In me coming weeks, the pace will pick up as more seeds arrive and Jim gets ready to plow the fields. Until then, Jim is learning to stow down and rejuvenate - much like the soil is doing.

"It may look dead outside," he said, "but its just resting."

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