Farmer John Writes: How Big?
Welcome to our Thirteenth Harvest Week
For Shareholders who Receive a Half Share on Odd Weeks
Last week, I devoted much of the newsletter to the following two concerns:
Please Temporarily Change Your Pickup Site or Put Your Box on Vacation Hold at Least Two Weeks in Advance
Please…Please!..Honor Your Host’s Request for If and How You Can Pick up Your Box After Hours
Consult the Week 12 issue of Farm News to learn more about these two very important requests.
The Farm Organism—What is its Optimum Size?
You probably have gathered by now that Angelic Organics is a busy place. This past week, we transplanted thousands of lettuce seedlings, getting them in just before Friday night’s downpours. We finished seeding 25 fields of cover crop peas for next year’s vegetable production, also just before Friday night’s rain. We cultivated (mechanically weeded) many beds of vegetables. We irrigated several fields early in the week. We repaired trucks, a rotovator, and mower. The crew harvested and packed 25 tons-or-so of produce.
Also, this week, I prepared for the annual visit by our organic inspector. Much of this organic application work was done in the winter, but this past week I had to update our records to align the projections with the actual facts of the season. This requires, for example, updating our field map so that every seed we buy can be traced to a field and bed location on the farm. It requires updating all inputs on each field, a current water test, crop rotation plans…the list or record-keeping requirements goes on and on.
Some of our shareholders have stated that we are too large of a farm, too large of a CSA. I say we have gotten large so that we can get all the work done–I suppose that’s why many businesses get large. This may seem ironic or counter-intuitive—that the larger the business, the easier it is to get the work done–but imagine the complexity of a CSA farm—the marketing; shareholder service; bookkeeping; fertility management; building maintenance and construction; machinery maintenance and operation; hiring; supervising; growing; harvesting; post-harvest activities such as bagging, cleaning, grading, and packing; distribution, greenhouse management, and communication (it takes me about a half day each weekend to write this newsletter). Also, imagine the importance of always getting the work done, no matter what—of always getting the boxes packed and out the door on time, of always having the crops ready for the CSA boxes. Sometimes, workers don’t show up—sometimes there is a sickness, a not-to-miss family event, maybe a vacation…sometimes a worker just suddenly quits. Our farm has to have a big enough crew so that if there is a day when one or two, or even three or four workers don’t show up, the show goes on, the work gets done, the boxes get filled, our shareholders get fed.
Of course, scaling up requires an ongoing dynamic relationship with all the various components of the farm. Technology, systems, and hand labor have to be continually evaluated and re-aligned to adjust to scale. For instance, Angelic Organics would not be able to flourish without Primo’s team of builders, mechanics and machinery operators. (As I’ve mentioned in prior newsletters, Primo and I have been working together for the past 25 years.) With a dozen buildings and over 100 pieces of equipment to maintain, and all the machinery operations they are in charge of in the fields, they keep everything going smoothly, day after day. Even when one of Primo’s team went on holiday for much of the past two weeks, Primo still had enough of his team to keep the work on track. That’s not being too big; that’s being big enough.
In some corners of the organic world, Angelic Organics would be considered a twerp of a farm. I once heard a farmer present about his 1000+ acre Midwest organic vegetable farm. I looked around at the 30 or so farmers in the audience, did a calculation, raised my hand, and said, “If you put all the farmland together that this audience represents, it wouldn’t even take up one of your large fields.”
Is small beautiful? It depends on how much work needs to get done. It depends on how many people need to get fed.
The Upcoming Crops
Our bunching kale needs a breather, so it can regrow its glorious leaves. We mowed the bunching chard down to about 3 inch high stubble, as its leaves were looking quite tattered. It should produce fresh, pristine bunches by late September/early October.
We have pea shoots and baby chard coming on soon, and spinach and baby choi in a couple of weeks. About the baby greens—there is sometimes a smattering of brown or yellow leaves in the harvest, or perhaps a weed. We don’t strive to remove all of these, as it would require a huge amount of grading time. We ask that our shareholders participate in the baby greens management by closely inspecting your baby greens and removing the occasional weed or discolored leaf.
Fall carrots, celeriac, radishes, turnips, potatoes, winter squash, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, beets and head lettuce all look good. We also have a lovely bed of cilantro and dill coming on. You should be receiving full, heavy boxes for the rest of the season.
We are going to attempt a final basil harvest this week, but some of the basil leaves have suddenly yellowed with the rain and the cool weather. You might receive basil this week, and the basil might be less than pristine. It will still make great pesto, though, if we decide we can give it.
A Note on Box Fullness
I was visiting a large, successful CSA farm a few years back, and the box they were giving out that week was about 2/3 full. I asked the farmers about that box volume, and the response was, “we decided this week it was better for us and for our shareholders to take care of the future crops, and we didn’t have the resources to fill the boxes, too. Our shareholders understand the importance of balancing out the harvest amounts with the care needed for upcoming crops.”
I know that this reasoning is fairly standard for CSA’s, and certainly understandable; however, I’m fanatical about filling your boxes. Maybe I shouldn’t be.
Some weeks, it’s a lot of strain to fill your boxes and do all the other things needed to keep the farm going. But, my goal is to always fill your box. Of course, there is some settling of the box contents in transport, so your box might not always appear full when you receive it. But here on the pack line at the farm, there is a person in the “swing position” who has the responsibility to make sure that your box is always full. When your box gets almost to the end of the line, the swing person does an inspection of box volume and if your box is not full, she tops it off with extra produce to make sure you receive a full measure.
The Weather Last Week
Cool with a heavy rain on Friday night.
Pick Your Pumpkin at our Upcoming Field Day, Saturday, September 19
Kids love picking pumpkins and gourds on our Fall Field Day, Saturday, September 19. Mark your calendar.
Learn more at www.angelicorganics.com/field-days-for-shareholders/.
Sign up for the Free Recipe Service
Make sure you sign up for the Local Thyme recipe service we offer with this year’s share. It received many great reviews from our shareholders last season. Go to www.localthyme.net/register. Enter the farm code AOLTFREE under “I am a member of a CSA farm.” Click the sign-up button.
Let us Know
Please Fold Your Boxes Properly and Return Them
The farm re-uses the vegetable boxes. Flaps are easily torn when the boxes are dismantled improperly, and then the box bottom might later burst open with fresh, organic local produce heading towards the floor. Please return your empty, flattened vegetable box to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place it in the location where your box is delivered.
More from Shareholders
Visit us often at www.facebook.com/angelicorganics , where we post exciting farm developments regularly, and shareholders post recipes, tips, and photos.
Saturday’s Box Contents
Please Note: this summary is written before you receive your box—be aware that some guesswork is involved. As always, be sure to thoroughly wash all of your vegetables.
Salad Greens – lettuce
Cooking Greens – kale
Fruiting Crops – sweet peppers, winter squash, tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes
Brassicas – cabbage, maybe broccoli
Alliums – onions
Root Crops – potatoes
Herbs – dill
Something Special this Fall at the Angelic Organics Learning Center
Bring a friend to your farm for a down-to-earth date. We’ll harvest produce from the fields, then prepare and enjoy a fresh meal as we watch the sun set. Pick one: Saturday, September 12, 3:30-7:30pm OR Saturday, October 3, 2:30-6:30pm. Register at www.learngrowconnect.org/events.
Your Farmer, John