Farmer John Writes: Can the Future Be Predicted?
Week 6, August 13th – 17th, 2019
Predicting The Future of Your Vegetables and Herbs
A few days before the delivery of your farm share, I evaluate the crops and decide what will be available and in what quantity. This is a bit like predicting the weather or the stock market.
Here are some possible scenarios:
A crop such as Chinese cabbage might look great, but worms might have burrowed into some of the heads, which will not be obvious until the crop is actually harvested, which requires close scrutiny of each head. The heads with worm damage will be composted.
An arugula crop might look splendid when I examine it so I schedule it as one of your choices, but the temperatures might soar the next day, causing flea beetles to frenetically feast on the leaves, making the arugula unsalvageable.
The crew might harvest 1000 sweet onions for a pack, but some small onions are included in the count, which need to be doubled up to qualify as a single large onion, so the count is not actually 1000 onions—it is less—and we run out of onions on the pack when there are still boxes coming down the line.
The crew might take 700 rubber bands to the field to make 700 bunches of kale, but one person unknowingly drops 30 rubber bands out of his pocket and the count is actually 670 bunches of kale. We run out of kale during the pack. I spot the rubber bands lying on the ground days later.
A bed of pea shoots might look like it will yield 45 gray two-bushel crates but it yields 39.
There seem to be about 300 watermelons in the field, but crows descend on them and peck large holes into 85 of them.
I think I have 400 bunches of carrots to offer the Saturday shareholders, which we plan to harvest on Friday, but an unexpected rain falls on Thursday night, turning the carrot bed into mud, and we cannot harvest the carrots.
You might suggest that we get everything harvested and then make the harvest estimate, but that would compromise some of the freshness of your vegetables and herbs. We like to harvest much of your farm share right up until the time that we pack your box, which we do well after we email you the harvest estimate, then give you a window to make adjustments to your box contents, and then finalize the estimate before we pack your box.
What if I’m Wrong?
If I estimate a certain amount of a crop, such as the number of heads of pac choi, and I realize I am wrong before I finalize your delivery, then, if you ordered pac choi, you will get a little asterisk next to pac choi on your box label. You will then receive an email that you might not get pac choi and in that case we will provide a substitute crop.
Once we have finalized the delivery, which generates an email to you confirming what will be in your box, if we find out later that we were wrong about our crop projection, then there is nothing at all in the system that lets us simply remedy the shortfall. If you were promised chard in your delivery reminder email, and, upon harvest, we find out that our chard became invaded by leaf miners and could not be given, your box label will indicate chard, but no chard will be available. We don’t anticipate this happening often, and in this scenario, we would put a substitute vegetable in your box and send you an email informing you of the change.
Vegetables growing in a field are not inert items sitting on a shelf. They are in flux; they are what are indecorously referred to as moving targets. We have the challenge of accurately predicting from this flux of vegetables and herbs what will be available for your box.
We also have the challenge of our pack volunteers accurately reading the tiny fonts on the labels as your box glides down the conveyor belt, to determine exactly what should go into your box. Our pack volunteers do their absolute best to abide by your label, but errors happen, primarily due to the tiny words on the labels. Remedying the label legibility is a priority, but requires strategic involvement from a programmer with the Harvie team.
The Customization Window
In addition to your baseline vegetable and herb preferences that you can set in your Harvie account, Harvie also lets you tweak your box contents a few days before each delivery. This customization email that you receive from Harvie has the subject “Time to Customize Your Farm Share”.
If you have set your vegetable and herb preferences in your Harvie account, the Harvie algorithm will design a box for you based on the preferences you have entered and what is available from the farm at that time. In addition, you have the option during the customization window to make changes to the box that Harvie designs for you, but remember, your box is already customized based on your preferences in your Harvie account.
We are not able to send you the customization email for making final changes to your box contents on the exact same day and same time every week. There is too much variability with weather and other factors. The closer to the pack that we let you make final tweaks to your box during the customization window, the more accurate we can be in projecting the crops that will be available for you.
How Do We Know if We Have Made a Mistake?
Many shareholders design their upcoming week’s meals around what is confirmed to be in their share. This makes for high stakes for us regarding the estimate of what will be available for the boxes. If a person does not get what they are expecting, he or she might be fine with it, or fine enough, or not fine at all, in which case we might find out about the person’s discontent in a social media post.
Yes, social media is where we sometimes find out that a certain item did not show up as expected in a shareholder’s box. We would prefer if the farm were simply approached with news of such an oversight or shortcoming, as we will gladly remedy the problem with a credit for your missing vegetable.
We have noticed that, as accommodating as Harvie is of our shareholders’ needs, our office gets many more requests than we used to with the former system in which everyone received basically the same box contents. The stream of shareholder correspondence this season is mostly due to the exactitude which Harvie provides regarding box contents, and our unintended inaccuracy in projecting availability, or in filling the boxes accurately.
We are unable to always reply immediately to requests from shareholders. With so many companies offering round-the-clock, on-demand customer service, it might seem that so should Angelic Organics provide this level of service, but this is not achievable.
Farm Office Shareholder Response Policy
Our wonderful Community Coordinator Denise Glasenapp is very conscientious and very committed to serving you; however, more shareholder requests have been coming to her than she has been able to keep up with. We suspect (and hope) that this flood of correspondence will abate soon, so she can get current.
Our office policy is to reply to your email within 48 hours of receiving it. Sometimes, depending on the volume of shareholder correspondence and Denise’s assessment of the priority of your message, the turnaround time will be very short; other times, it might take even longer than 48 hours to get back to you. Also, it’s not likely that any correspondence will be sent from the farm office on Sundays.
Contact the Farm
Despite some errors in packing your boxes accurately, we feel that our new customized shares are a great success, and we will keep honing the new system to minimize the number of mistakes that happen.
From a Shareholder
This was my first CSA experience, and I just wanted to say thank you, everything was perfect. I had my own organic farming company like Angelic Organics in Spain, and I was crazy trying to find some good vegetables in Chicago. I would like to know if you all have some days in the year to visit the farm, I miss the country life.Thank you again,Carlos
More About the Future
This coming week, we will start preparing our fallow fields for next year’s crops. I might write about this in more detail in next week’s Farm News, but in the meantime, I thought you would find it interesting that for us the 2020 season is about to get underway.
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.
If you get a fruit share, find the fruit newsletter on the Fruit News blog.
Thank you for being with us for a dramatic farming adventure this season.
Let Us Know
Angelic Organics Learning Center
Angelic Organics Learning Center is an exciting and engaging place to learn about food, farming, and caring for the earth. They even offer overnight programs. Sign up for a workshop at www.learngrowconnect.org/events
Thank you, Farmer John! We really appreciate the box of amazing veggies that arrive on Thursdays and are so grateful for everything you and your entire team do both throughout the week and year to make that possible. We really appreciate you sharing some of the countless complexities and challenges that you face each week. It gives us an additional level of appreciation when we open the box! We savored the corn and cucumbers last night for dinner and they were fantastic! Thank you!