TONEY, Ala. - Hot and dry; that pretty much sums up the summer so far here in the Tennessee Valley. While that combination is rough on people in general, it's taking an even greater toll on farmers. “It’s frustrating, it’s very difficult," said J.D. Booker, who owns a farm in Toney.
Booker grew up a sharecropper, but says he was anxious to leave as soon as he was old enough. “When I was on the farm, I wanted off the farm," he said.
He found himself back on one, however, about six years ago when he got homesick. “It’s real relaxing, just to do vegetables and meet the needs of the community," says Booker.
He says in all his years of farming, this summer has proven to be the most challenging. Drought conditions have radically reduced his summer harvest of tomatoes, beans, peas, and other produce. “We lost about 20 plants for that," says Booker, referring to a large portion of his bitter gourds he grew this year.
Booker says the dry conditions have also dramatically slowed down the growing process, meaning later harvests and less produce overall. “The purple hull peas, they didn’t produce as much because they didn’t bloom because they didn’t have enough water," he said.
To combat mother nature, Booker decided to use an older practice, one he used during his sharecropping days. He says digging trenches between rows of plants will capture rainwater and irrigation. “The top of the ground will be dry, but if you cultivate and put a little trench between the rows and around your plants, then you’re guaranteed a better harvest," he said.
He also recommends watering frequently. “And make darn sure you have your weeds away from around your plants," Booker added.
This summer has certainly brought its challenges, but make no mistake, there's nothing Mr. Booker would rather do. “I think Fall, we should pick up and recover a lot better," he said.
Booker Farms gives a majority of its produce to disabled veterans and senior citizens, but to help make ends meet for the program, he sells a portion of his produce at the Madison County Farmers Market every weekend. It's located at 1022 Cook Avenue, just off North Memorial Parkway behind Krispy Kreme Donuts.