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910 Silver Lane
East Hartford, CT 06118

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The Hartford Courant

From Seed to Shelf Logo

Thursday, April 6, 2000

 Jim Futtner Power Washing Tractors

WITH THE ARRIVAL of spring, Jim Futtner has the job of steam-cleaning each of his tractors after spending the winter pulling some of the engines apart and fixing what needs fixed. He powers up an oil-fired pressure hose outside his South Windsor barn at the end of March.

Rite Of Spring

At Controls Of Tractor, Farmer Renews Cycle That Defines Family's Life

Courant Consumer Affairs Writer

This is the last 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.

A man, his plow and the soil.

It's where it all starts each year for farmers, and where it all ends.

Each March, for the past 9 years, Jim Futtner, 52, has climbed on to his tractor for a farmer's rite of spring - plowing under the cover crop of rye and grass in his South Windsor and East Hartford fields. Each fall, he gets back onto the tractor and plows under the dying harvest.

Life is a circle of seasons for Jim and his wife, Honora - each year bringing new challenges, heartaches and triumphs.

On this sun-filled March day, Jim is eager to get back to the soil and make the switch from the inside winter work of nurturing new buds in the greenhouse to the outside work of planting them in the ground.

It's a solo mission in the field this day, no family members pitching in, no cash flow yet to pay workers to help out. Just Jim, his newly steam-cleaned 3-year-old John Deere tractor and the 15-acre plot he rents in South Windsor, a few blocks from his home. He hasn't been in the field since the winter, when he cleared out brush in shin-deep snow.

But the snow has melted, and the frozen ground has given way to pliable earth. And the thaw has lifted a depression that grips Jim each dark winter.

"This is good," he says, smiling, the sun streaming into the small cabin of the tractor. "I enjoy this. It's relaxing."

The soil unearthed by the tractor is a deep, rich black, streaked with some red clay. Squawking seagulls line up along the freshly turned rows.

It's wet, for now, but for how long? Last year's drought was the worst in decades - for the first time ever, the Futtners applied for federal assistance because of the crop loss - and Jim isn't taking anything for granted.

But he's not going to obsess about it either, he says.

"If the drought comes, it comes. If I start to worry about it now, I'd really go crazy."

There have already been challenges this year. The sharp rise in heating oil prices nearly doubled the cost of heating his East Hartford greenhouses - from $3,000 to almost $6,000. Hell have to raise prices for hanging and bedding plants by at least 5O cents.

But so far, he has been able to purchase seed, chemicals and fertilizers without having to borrow from his four children's accounts - money the children received when Futtner relatives sold off most of the family farmland in East Hartford.

There is also the worry that the rented land he tills on Silver Lane in East Hartford will be sold soon. The fear became more pronounced in November, when the state announced that a $90 million University of Connecticut football stadium will be built at Rentschler Field, making his field, within miles of the stadium, more attractive to developers.

The cost of the stadium is more than twelve times the amount set aside by the legislature for farmland preservation - $7.34 million. For the proposed 2001 budget, there is no additional funding for preservation. Connecticut has lost more farmland to development than any other state in New England.

The thought that the land would be sold for strip malls or track housing angers Jim.

"They should put clamps on development, keep the land for future generations," he says. "A lot of people like to see the metamorphosis of the land, from plowing to the baby plants to the pick-your-own crops. Even if no one wants to farm the land, it should be used for open space."

If it is sold, Jim will till the land behind his home in South Windsor. Near the Connecticut River, it is one of the most fertile lands in the world, but it is also in a flood zone, and not easy to farm.

But the Futtners don't want to fret about the possible sale of the land, either. Honora is busy getting the farm stand across from the Silver Lane field ready to open by mid-April. She is hopeful about the season ahead, and the good crew of teenagers that will work with them this year. But she's a little anxious about the long days that loom at the stand.

"I look forward to seeing a lot of the customers. We have fun with them," she says. "But I want to be home with the kids, prepare the meals, be in touch with their school-work. The stand is open seven days a week, and you can't be in two places at once."

This summer, the couple's younger children will be getting more involved in the farm. Maggie, 13, the youngest, likes to help transplant flowers and crops in the greenhouse, though her first love is really animals.

"Maybe someday we will be an animal farm, with chickens and lambs," Jim jokes.

Joseph, 16, the couple's only son, is interested in taking over the farm. Although Jim and Honora stress to Joe that they want him to farm only if it really makes him happy, they look for signs of which way his heart is leaning.

"He got off the bus from school the other day, and came up to me. He noticed I had been plowing, and he was ready to go," Jim says. "That's encouraging."

The Futtners are already getting calls from customers eager to start their spring planting. They want to open the stand the week of April 10. Then, the pace will pick up.

"You start up gradually, but before you know it, it will be October," Jim says.

So before the craziness starts, before the 14-hour days begin, before the predawn scramble to pick corn and the after-dark picking of peppers, Jim says he will enjoy the relaxing, hypnotic rhythm of plowing.

"I'm just going to keep going," he says, "round and round."


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