The storm that made me a farmer

5/29/2017  By Thirty Percenters

May 29, 2017

Tim Jennings, KVH Contributor*


There are many reasons to start growing your own food. Some might try it to save money. Some might do it because they are afraid of the evil GMOs. Some might do it just because homegrown vegetables always taste better than store-bought. I started growing my own food out of an irrational fear and a way of coping with a traumatic situation that happened to me. And through doing it, I found a sense of pride and accomplishment I never knew could exist.

In September of 2014, my wife and I went to Mexico with our best friends and housemates for a well-deserved and overdue vacation. It was supposed to be all fun and relaxation, 7 days at an all-inclusive resort where the sun and the good times were to flow as freely as the complimentary food and drinks. Everything started out just as planned, and we were having the time of our lives, until midnight on our third day, when Hurricane Odile hit.

At one point rated a category 4 hurricane and downgraded to category 3 just before landfall, Odile packed winds in excess of 130 MPH, and the lowest atmospheric pressure of any storm ever recorded on the Pacific Coast. The storm was terrifying. If you have never lived through a hurricane you can have no idea what it is like. If you have, you know what I am talking about. But for us the worst was yet to come.

We survived the storm without injury (and with very little sleep), but the fragile infrastructure of the resort town of Cabo San Lucas did not fare so well. Erected in a frenzy of uncontrolled growth to accommodate the constant rising influx of sun seekers from the north, it was not built to withstand a storm of that ferocity. Nearly every single power pole in the region was knocked down. The roof of the airport terminal and the air control tower collapsed. Consequently all flights were cancelled - indefinitely. 

Where do you wait for your flight when the terminals are destroyed? In the only shade you can find - under the jetway. Los Cabos International Airport, Sept 2014. (Photo: Tim Jennings)

We were left stranded for 6 days with no power, no running water, and only the food and bottled water we could scavenge from the resort’s stores. We suffered through unsanitary conditions, threats of looters, and a complete lack of information on when we might be evacuated. Finally, on the sixth day after the storm, our tenth since arriving in Mexico, we got an emergency Evac flight from Alaska Airlines.

The thought ... gnawed at me daily and kept me up at night.

When we returned home, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much we rely on an infrastructure that we never even think about. Ours here in the United States is considerably more robust than that of Cabo, but it still has several weak points that, if destroyed, could cripple our ability to provide for even our most basic needs.

The thought that at any time something could happen that would threaten my ability to provide food and comfort for my family gnawed at me daily and kept me up at night. When I did sleep, I had horrible nightmares - not of the storm, but of watching my wife starve.

I felt I had to do something to stop that uncontrollable fear. As soon as the ground was thawed enough to work the following spring, I set out planting a garden that could sustain my family.

At first, everyone thought that I was crazy, but they let it go. I guess they figured that eventually I would come to my senses and tone it down to a normal level. They felt sure I would never be able to keep up with the seeds I had sewn, but I kept planting more. The neighbors asked if I was starting a truck farm, or maybe raising vegetables to sell at the farmers market.  My garden was growing by leaps and bounds, but no matter how big it got, to me it never seemed big enough.

So I kept planting.

Looking back, I have to admit that it was a lot of work, very overwhelming, and there were some nights I nearly cried myself to sleep with exhaustion. But the thought of giving up never even entered my mind. To me, this was a question of life or death. It was as imperative as breathing. I simply could not stand the idea that someone else could be in control of my food supply. I pushed myself ever harder, and I persevered.

Farmer Tim beams at his beans. (Photo: Tim Jennings)

That first year, we grew and canned 134 quarts of green beans (my favorite), 42 quarts of tomatoes (some as sauce and some whole), 23 quarts of garden salsa, and 28 quarts of pickles. We froze 13 quarts of bell peppers, 12 pints of carrots, 8 pints of peas and 28 quarts of sweet corn. All of that from vegetables I planted, tended and harvested with the help of my family, on our own land. For meat, we made a deal with a friend to buy a half of a beef he had raised. As winter approached, we had a full pantry and a full freezer.

I estimated that, if we had to, my family of 8 could get by on what we had set aside without going to the market for at least 3 months. Sure, we would miss some things like milk, fresh veggies, and variety in our meat, but we would not go hungry.

That year, I experienced for the first time the feeling you get when winter starts and you know you have enough food stored to last until spring. That feeling our ancestors must have felt. It is a feeling I plan to have every winter for the rest of my life.

As the first snow began to fall, I realized I had accomplished my goal. And as it turns out, it was the perfect cure for a vacation ruined by a hurricane.

*Opinions expressed by KVH Contributors are their own. Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, Thirty Percenters does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare professional.