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Fostering Sustainable Agriculture through Research, Education and Policy since 1984

Happy Fall!

Fall is suddenly upon us. Some years September seems like an extension of summer, other years it firmly feels of Fall. According to the calendar, September 22nd is the first day of Fall regardless of the temperature and this is one of those years, when after a cool start, we seem to have some warm days ahead of us. Hooray! After a busy summer of field work, this September feels like the satisfactory feeling of finishing an exhale. There is still plenty to do, but thoughts of harvest and turning inward are near.

For those of us that look forward to Fall, it is a welcome time filled with apples from the orchard and pumpkins from the field. Many of our Fall traditions are nature or agriculture based. Leaf peeping, which has some flocking to rural roads and small towns is a way that we celebrate leaf senescence. The normal green leaves of many deciduous trees and shrubs change to lovely red, orange, yellow, pink and brown hues; are the product of chlorophyll degradation during leaf senescence. Leaf senescence is the natural aging process of the leaf and plant senescence is that aging process of the entire plant. That corn maze you visit isn’t just the chance to tromp around a farm field in the brisk air while listening to the rustle of dry brown leaves – it’s a celebration of plant senescence; those plants have aged and its seeds are mature.

All those apples and pumpkins which get made into pies, traditional foods in the Fall, are another example of senescence. The apple tree is dropping its mature seed to ground and if that pumpkin was not harvested, it too would leave its seed on the ground just as most plants would. The annual plant, in this case the pumpkin, direct its energy to producing viable seed as a survival strategy versus the perennial plant, in this case the apple tree, direct a portion of their energy to both their roots and to seed production as part of their survival strategy.

In a way, many of our Fall traditions are a celebration of aging plants. Perhaps it’s just our way of holding on to the memory of light and warmth filled days just a little bit longer. But of course, it’s more than just aging plants we are celebrating – we are celebrating the harvest.

Harvest is the time that we collect the fruits of what we planted before it is too late. There is something hard wired into those of us who live in cold climates, to prepare for a time of scarcity. This may be harvesting your vegetable garden, combining your grain, maybe it is coming home with that pumpkin or those apples; regardless, harvest and Fall go together like pumpkin spice and latte. When we’re lucky, harvest season fills us with abundance and it is natural to want to share that abundance with those we love.

Here’s to celebrating nature, abundance, and the season ahead. Happy Fall!