Farmer John Writes: From Here to Where?

 In Farm News

Week 4, July 30th – August 3rd

There’s Farming and then There’s Trucking
My dad occasionally said that if our family was delayed a few minutes in our departure, that maybe that delay caused us to avoid a terrible accident.

Rudolf Steiner said pretty much the same thing; Steiner attributed this delay often to the grace of Christian Rosenkreuz. (Maybe my dad also inwardly attributed such delays to Christian Rosenkreuz, but he never mentioned Rosenkreuz when he talked about the possible miracle facilitated by an unexpected delay.)

I bought a new delivery truck in 2004. I anticipated that I would be traveling with the feature documentary film about my farm and my life The Real Dirt on Farmer John for a few years starting in 2005  (stream the film about your farm for free here). In my absence I wanted to relieve the farm of the burden of an unreliable and undersized delivery truck. Delivering vegetables is integral to our farm, and I have always insisted that the delivery process be reliable. Once that delivery is off the farm and headed for your site or your home, it’s mostly out of our hands back here at the farm. 

My shiny new delivery truck gradually acquired scratches and other more systemic abrasions and degradations. The last few years, my confidence in it to complete a successful delivery run to Chicago has seriously diminished. It has been stranded on the highway too many times. 

A new delivery truck with a reefer unit costs over $100,000. It’s interesting when you look around at the farm a bit and add up how much equipment costs. Of course, there are those who will make the case that it’s honorable and prudent to only acquire used equipment (which we have a lot of already.)  And there will be those who think that if we have money to spend on new equipment, the CSA model must be really raking in the money. And there will be those who wonder how we can keep going, with all those tremendous expenses for equipment and infrastructure.

The Community Supported Agriculture model is being increasingly threatened from many directions–meal kit delivery services, restaurant meals delivered on demand in minutes, Whole Foods free home delivery of heavily discounted organic vegetables, etc.–so a new delivery truck will not be gracing our farmstead in the near future. (And thank you to all of you who choose our farm over the many other options out there–that’s a huge vote of confidence.)

The problem with equipment that is not in top notch working order is that it might slow down the farming (or the deliveries.)  Timeliness is an utmost priority on this farm. If you have ever driven to a delivery site and your share has not yet arrived, though it was scheduled to arrive already, you can appreciate the value of timeliness in our operation.

The mission statement for our machinery department is “the shop and the equipment are always ready for use.” The older our equipment is, the more our two farm mechanics have to do to maintain it to make it always ready for use.

And, like I have already said, we’re not capable of going off the farm in the hopes of getting a stalled truck in Chicago going again. We’re way too busy farming.

Can this Truck be Saved?
In late winter, I endeavored to make our delivery truck as road-worthy as possible. After spending $3,000 on it, mostly for a revamped cooling system, and waiting for two full months for the garage to achieve this, the truck overheated on the way home from the garage. Besides the work order to fix the engine cooling system on the truck, I had also requested that the air-conditioning be repaired–it wasn’t; that the refrigeration (reefer) unit for the box be repaired–it wasn’t. It took another month to get these things fixed, so the truck was out of commission for 3 months. These were not 3 months during which deliveries were being made, but they were three months that preceded the delivery season. My confidence in our truck withered by the week.

Then I had to spend another $800 for new tires to get the truck to pass inspection.

Consequently, this season I have rented a refrigerated Ryder truck.

After the first Thursday delivery was made last week, dash lights flashed and the truck speed dropped down to 5 mph. Jake, our driver, nursed the truck on the emergency shoulder of the Interstate to a gas station, where he topped off the diesel exhaust fluid. 

This put the truck up to normal speeds; Jake  was on his way for several minutes, when the speed dropped down to 5 mph again. 

Our conscientious Community Coordinator Denise Glasenapp sent an email out to Thursday shareholders to hold off on picking up shares until further notice.

As is often the case in and around Chicago, a Ryder depot was nearby. A Ryder mechanic was eventually on the scene. He did some adjustments, proclaimed the truck road-worthy, and away our driver Jake and his brother Caden, Jake’s assistant, went to finish deliveries, most of them about 3 hours late.

Next day, I was entering the farm office around 5:40 in the morning, when I received a call from Jake, who was stranded in Rockford at his third stop. (He and Caden start their route at 4 a.m. on Friday mornings.) I called Ryder, as their service department is open all night. They quickly brought a replacement truck to Jake; the boxes were off-loaded and Jake and Caden were on their way.

This is all leading up to the decision to uphold our motto the equipment is always ready for use. It costs almost $1,000 per week to rent this Ryder truck, yet getting the shares to you in a timely way is of the utmost importance. 

Did we succeed in our goal? No. We are spending nearly $1,000 per week for truck rental and this year’s delivery record is already tarnished.

One Wonders
Life unfolds in mysteries. We do something to solve a problem; we solve it, or we don’t; we might even compound the problem with our supposed solution.  We can base our decisions on all sorts of data, reviews and hearsay. A decision can seem so logical, so sound, yet it might be a terrible decision, or it might be a great decision that looks terrible at first.

There is the story of the monk who one night sinks the fishing boat of an impoverished family. The monk’s student is horrified. “How can you take away their livelihood like that? What will they do now?”

“Tomorrow there will be a severe storm at sea. Since the father is so faithful to his duty of fishing, he would never skip a day at sea. If he were to go to sea tomorrow, not only would the family lose the boat, they would also lose their provider.”

What about these late deliveries? Might a blessing be tucked in amongst them somewhere? 

My dad occasionally said that if our family was delayed a few minutes in our departure, that maybe that delay caused us to avoid a terrible accident. 

There is a lot that we don’t know.

An Unusual Configuration of Crops Is Available Now
Zucchini and cucumbers have been extremely slow to come on. They went into the ground at least a month late, but still, I expected a surge by now. They are teasing us, though, with lots of flowers on the vines.

Sequential seedings of head lettuce in the greenhouse were very much delayed this season, due to how full the greenhouse was of crops that we could not get into the fields, due to mud. Normally, we have a lot of lettuce at this time of the year. We probably won’t have lettuce available for a couple more weeks.

Baby greens such as mizuna, arugula and mixed lettuce, for the most part, have been engulfed in weeds like I have not seen here since the early 90’s. 

These factors have created a bit of a current shortfall in variety in your share (not in quantity). Still, this week we are offering many different items for you to choose from, including some of our nicest early carrots ever, so we are blessed by the bounty that is co-existing with the shortfall in variety.

Your Share
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No Summer Field Day
We have been battered by the season. The workload spills nonstop into Haidy’s and my weekends. Therefore, we think it’s best not to schedule a Summer Field Day, as there is a lot of preparation that goes into a Field Day, a lot of cleanup afterwards, and then there is the day itself given over to hosting. The many other things that we need to do on the weekend won’t get done on a Field Day weekend, and since we also work nonstop during the week, it’s just about impossible to catch up on what we wouldn’t be able to do on that Field Day weekend. Sorry to cancel.

No U-Pick Garden this Year
A highlight of our Summer Field Day has been for people to pick flowers and beans from our U-Pick garden. That field was all mud all spring and impossible to plant into. We just need to count our blessings in a season like this that we have crops to put into your boxes.

Fall Field Day is For Sure Happening
We have nice looking pumpkin and gourd vines coming on. There should be a great crop of pumpkins and gourds for you to choose from on our Fall Field Day, September 21 (the 3rd Saturday in September, two days before the Fall Equinox).

Angelic Organics Farmstead in the Fall

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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 carefully flatten your box and return it to your delivery site. If you receive home delivery, place your flattened, empty box it in the location where your box is delivered.

Fruit Newsletter
If you get a fruit share, find the fruit newsletter on the Fruit News blog.

Thank You
Thank you for being with us for a dramatic farming adventure this season. 

Let Us Know
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Farmer John



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Showing 4 comments
  • Lance Anderson

    My wife and I would like to thank you for everything you do on the farm on our behalf. We enjoy the fruits of your labor and honor the work it takes to get to our plate.

    Your essays and farm updates are always well written and show us a new dimension of the work you do and honor we receive when we open our share. (I hope that makes sense).

    Lance Anderson

    • Farmer John

      Beautiful message from you, Lance. Thank you!

  • Kristin

    Thank you for the update! I am sorry to hear about the truck drama. An unreliable vehicle is never fun, let alone when your livelihood depends upon it. We are happy to be part of the farm.

  • Farmer John

    Kristin, Thanks for paying attention to Farm News. Maybe some day the farm shares will be delivered by drone, but then, drones probably break down, too.

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