The farm season always comes in cycles, and one of our marks for the passing of time is when we borrow the onion-cleaning machine from Wally Czajkowski (that’s prounounced SAI-cow-ski). We sell our early onions with the scallion-like tops still attached, as a beautiful fresh onion. Over time, the tops get less lovely and we snip them off, and then in August we pull all of the onions and lay them out flat on benches and pallets in the barn to dry down. The necks have to seal over in order for them to keep properly, because rot comes in through that vulnerable neck. Then for awhile, we snip the dry tops off by hand as we need onions for sale or CSA distribution. A good onion snipper can do about 150 pounds an hour. Then some time in October, when the tomato harvest dies down and we can put some crew members on the job for a period of time, we go and get the onion-topper from Wally. It’s an ancient, noisy machine that rattles away and two people can clean something like 700 or 1000 pounds an hour. This is one of the great things about living in an active farming community; Wally owns the machine and uses it in the fall for one crop, and then lends it out to his neighbors. Some years we have gone and picked it up at Atlas Farm, or had to wait until another farm was done with it. I always offer to pay him for it’s use, but he insists that I just bring him a 6-pack of beer (I usually bring 12, cause that thing saves us a lot of time). This year I finally have the opportunity to give a little more back; the motor on the thing was getting hot and the rollers weren’t turning as fast as they usually do. The first sign of trouble was that it wasn’t as painfully loud as it usually is; we could talk to each other while it was running, and we didn’t feel the need to run for the hearing protection immediately. So I’ve taken the motor up to an electrical motor repair place, and have offered to get it fixed for Wally. I hope it works, because we have a beautiful crop of onions this year, and I’d hate to have to clean them all by hand!

Onions before cleaning:

Onions after cleaning:

By the way, Wally and his brother Joe used to grow winter squash on this property when it was still the Dziekanowski farm. The sweet corn that we have been eating and selling all summer and the big organic Jack O’Lantern pumpkins are all grown by Joe. This spring, Wally hosted a big gathering of area farmers to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies and the effect those policies have had on area farmworkers and farmers. Casey Steinberg from Old Friends Farm made a nice statement there about how even those of us who don’t employ immigrant labor are dependent on a farm community that does. It’s true that when I go to the bigger farms to pick up a bag of potting soil, an order of potatoes, or an onion-cleaning machine, I hear a lot of Spanish, and a lot of Jamaican accents. I’m grateful to all of those farmworkers for being a part of our strong and diverse farming community, and my annual pilgrimage to pick up the onion-cleaning machine reminds me of that.