The Hartford Courant
Thursday, April 6, 2000
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
By FRAN SILVERMAN
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
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
"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 12-.to 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."