Community Rallies Around Drought Aid for Roscoe Village Farmer

By Patty Wetli | Monday, August 6, 2012

Harvest Moon Farms. Credit: Courtesy of Harvest Moon Farms

In their first four years as farmers, Bob and Jen Borchardt have faced floods, twice, and now drought. What’s next, a plague of locusts?

“We’re really hoping one year we’ll have a normal year,” said Bob. To get to that future date, though, the couple first needs to make it past this month.

Headquartered out of Roscoe Village at 3354 N. Paulina St., the Borchardts tend 35 acres of organically grown crops in southwest Wisconsin, roughly 250 miles from Chicago. They typically harvest greens in the early part of the growing season, which they distribute to 15 Chicago-area CSA drop-off points and retail clients like Whole Foods and Mariano’s, counting on the proceeds to pay the bills until their heirloom tomatoes ripen later in the summer. But the combination of heat and drought killed a good portion of their greens — they shipped only 20 percent of what they had projected — and now the Borchardts find themselves in possession of a bumper crop of tomatoes they can’t afford to harvest.

“There are days you think, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to make it through,’” Bob said.

They’ll get by, it seems, with a little help from their Chicago friends.

The Borchardts lived in Roscoe Village for 20 years (Bob is a third-generation RV-er) and have maintained a Chicago address while establishing a market for their Harvest Moon Farms produce. Those connections have served them well. Uncommon Ground, Harvest Moon’s first customer, is offering a special prix fixe menu at both their Clark and Devon locations, donating $5 of every purchase to the farm (100 people ordered the menu in the first two days). Farmhouse Chicago, a farm-to-tavern concept and Harvest Moon client, is running a Draughts for Drought Aid promotion: This week, 50 percent of the proceeds from every beer sold will go to the Borchardts.

It was Mike and Helen Cameron, owners of Uncommon Ground, who encouraged Bob and Jen to tape a Drought Aid video appeal that explains their plight to customers. “They said, ‘You’re in a community that cares about you guys and what you’ve risked,’” said Bob, who told RVJ: “The video that you saw was probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life”

In the appeal, Bob and Jen explain that they will use the funds raised not only to maintain daily operations but to purchase necessary irrigation equipment. Right now, they’re using a hay wagon and drums of water; more sophisticated irrigation stations cost upwards of $100,000. It’s the sort of gear that long-time farmers have gradually acquired over the years and precisely the sort of big-ticket purchase the Borchardts were saving up to make if the weather had cooperated.

“It’s a very risky proposition, there’s no question,” Bob said of farming. “The upside is contributing to the food system and ultimately changing it.” Long a passionate gardener, it was only after a trip to Argentina, on assignment in his previous life as a video producer (Jen worked in college textbooks), that led Bob to contemplate farming as a calling. While in South America, he filmed a tour of an organic food operation and his wife caught a look at the footage as he was editing it. “Jen saw it and said, ‘What is that?’” The rest is Harvest Moon history.

Bob remains optimistic that Harvest Moon’s history will continue being written for years to come. The Borchardts have planted a second round of greens, which will come back in the fall if irrigated and last through the first frost. And then there are the tomatoes, which thrive in the heat. “We’re going to be in good shape with that crop,” said Bob. Provided they can get the tomatoes off the vine.

For more information about Drought Aid, how to help or donate, visit Harvest Moon’s website.

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