Season change signals shift for farmers

Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:59 AM

 Friday was first official day of winter – the winter solstice!  The winter solstice is the shortest day and longest night of the year.  It is when the sun is at the lowest point on the horizon at noon and appears at the southern most point during our journey around the sun.  Here in Durham, the day length on the solstice was nine hours and 42 minutes.

Ancient cultures lived in darkness as the days shortened.  The winter solstice was marked with celebrations, gatherings and rituals.  The arrival of the winter solstice signaled a reversal of the trend of shortening days; from that day forward, days lengthened and light started to return.

Cultures throughout the ages have interpreted the lengthening of days and return of light in many ways with celebrations and festivals of light, rebirth and hope.  Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Pancha Ganapati and Yule are some of the celebrations that happen around the time of the solstice.

The change of the seasons always signals a shift within the farming community.  Farming, as a profession, is highly regulated by day length and therefore the seasons.  Most farm work has to happen during the daylight. 

So, during the darkest time of the year, there are fewer than 10 hours of daylight as opposed to the longest time of the year when daylight lasts for over 14 hours.  Farmer’s often use these short days of winter to work on planning the next season’s crops, ordering seeds and building or refurbishing farm infrastructure.  Because we have somewhat mild weather in the winter, many of our farmers are able to do their winter planning at the same time as tending winter crops and caring for animals.

During the wintertime and as the days begin to lengthen we start looking towards the New Year and upcoming seasons.  Just last week, I heard a report from a farmer that she spotted her first strawberry bloom.  While that was likely an anomaly of the warm weather we have experienced, it is a reminder that soon the light will return.

The Durham Farmers’ Market will be OPEN on Saturday, from 10 a.m.-noon. 

Erin Kauffman is market manager of the Durham Farmers Market. Her column appears weekly in The Durham Herald.