on the road

on the road

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

My Friend

My friend and fellow farmer JR Smith passed away last Saturday.  JR and his wife Claudia own Blossom Hill Farm here in Auburn - before JR's illness, they grew the most amazing melons, along with organic eggs, vegetable starts, ginger, and a variety of other crops.  In many ways, it's fitting that JR passed on a Saturday - he was an institution at the Saturday farmers' market in Auburn.  I'm humbled that Claudia has asked me to speak at his memorial service this Friday.

I think JR's smile and sense of humor are what I'll remember most.  JR smiled like he truly meant it - and like he might know something that you didn't (which I found was always true!).  Mostly, I'll remember that JR was a good farmer and a good friend.

I'd known JR for several years before we took our first crop to the Auburn Farmers' Market, where JR and Claudia were the site managers.  I showed up with popcorn and pumpkins - and the most amazing display, which included dry cornstalks, straw bales, and a pumpkin-headed scarecrow driving a pedal John Deere tractor.  JR came over as I was setting up and complimented me on our display - and made sure I knew I'd need to clean up every scrap of straw and cornstalk left in the parking lot.  "Geez," I thought, "this guy's quite a stickler."

As my first farmers' market day wrapped up, JR came back to my stall and proceeded to spend at least 45 minutes helping me clean up.  For me, that sums up JR - he always made sure that everyone played by the rules - and he always helped us do just that.  JR helped us all understand what it meant to be part of a farming community - fair play and pitching in.

Claudia and I played a harmless (and ultimately, fun) joke on JR several years ago.  We raise grass-fed lamb, and JR (like many folks I know) knew that he didn't care for lamb.  Claudia and I traded a melon for some lamb stew meat - and she made stew for dinner.  JR told her that it was the best beef stew he'd ever tasted!  We finally told him that it was lamb - and several weeks ago, Claudia texted me to say that JR had asked for lamb stew.  That evening, she sent me a photo of JR enjoying his dinner.  What an honor for a sheepherder!

One of the benefits - and obligations - of being a rancher is the fact that I only have to wear a tie at weddings and memorial services.  I will proudly wear a tie next Friday - and I know that JR will be chuckling as he watches me struggle to remember how to tie it!  Adrienne Young sings a wonderful song entitled, "Plow to the End of the Row" - it's about perserverence and the hard work involved in bringing in a crop.  I picture JR at the end of a bed of melons, twisted around in the tractor seat, looking back at us.  He's smiling that knowing smile of his....

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