Farmer John Writes: The Gaze of the Poodle

 In Farm News

Week 9, September 3rd – 7th, 2019

Crop Update

This week, we are offering many greens–beautiful arugula, pristine pea shoots, luscious kale, and gorgeous head lettuce.

It’s a bit odd that pea shoots and arugula are coming on at the same time. Perhaps you remember from a former newsletter that several weeks ago I seeded bed after bed of all sorts of greens in a very narrow time frame–mizuna, arugula, baby lettuce, pea shoots, red Russian kale, and more baby lettuce. I had no idea which beds would soon be engulfed in weeds, so I just seeded in multiple locations hoping that some of the beds would flourish weedlessly. It turns out that many of the beds we seeded during that period are relatively weedless–not all of them, but many. These were the same beds that were prolific with weeds earlier in the season, where I simply had to tear up the crops and try again, then again. Go figure.

This week’s arugula protected from insect damage by row cover

We are also offering a limited amount of celery. Its quality is a bit impaired, and the celery plants are small, probably due to their soggy start. Their quality will continue to deteriorate, so we are harvesting them and spiffing them up as much as we can by removing wilted leaves and brownish stalks. You may find some browning on the surface of some of the stalks; either dispose of these stalks, or scrape off the brown area–it is mostly superficial. 

This celery has a strong flavor, and seems more suited to soups than for munching.

Sweet Corn
Sweet corn matures at about three times the speed on hot and humid days than on cool, cloudy days. It can go from not-ready, to ready, to overdone in 3 to 4 blistering hot days. The recent cool days have slowed its maturity considerably.

This year, we have often been compelled to pick each planting of corn twice, as some ears in a planting ripened much earlier than others. This makes for a slower and trickier harvest, especially the second time through the field. The ears vary considerably in quality during the second harvest, but we must harvest them, or lose thousands of ears. You might receive a range of ear sizes and ear maturations. (Does this make you want to farm?)

This week will probably be the last week that we will offer sweet corn–or it might run into next week a bit. It’s a joyous part of the season when we are bringing in the corn.

Where is that Line between Okay and Not Okay?
It’s a quandary to determine when to offer produce that is less than pristine to our shareholders. Standards for what is acceptable vary from shareholder to shareholder. We know that some shareholders have left our CSA to get their vegetables from Imperfect Produce, without realizing that Angelic Organics and other CSA’s also give out less than stellar produce when warranted. 

Peak Season Performance
We were hurt by the late plantings of peppers, zucchini, summer squash, and tomatoes. These crops have been yielding maybe half of what they would yield in a normal year–peppers even less than half.

Basil was lovely for the first harvests, and then withered. This early mortality is increasingly common with basil throughout the country.

Cucumbers yielded well, and are now done. Sweet corn and melons have been stellar performers. 

We have blessings to count and also disappointments to tally. As I have often noted, it’s a miracle that we have been able to harvest as much as we have harvested this season.

Potatoes, fall brassicas, winter squash, and fall carrots are looking good. 

More Accurate Box Customization
Pack volunteer and IT expert Chris Flueckiger figured out a way to increase the font size on our labels. The labels are now much easier to read, which means that our packers should be able to pack your box more accurately–a big relief.

Back Again
My back went out recently. I spent a day or two wincing and hobbling–it’s fine now. It reminded me of a back problem I had in Luxembourg in 2007 while on my film tour.

There is much that I have never shared in Farm News about my five-year tour with the feature documentary film about Angelic Organics and my life, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. (You can stream the film for free here.) The film tour ran from 2005 through most of 2009. It included 400 to 500 presentations of the film in 16 countries, one of which was Luxembourg.

The tour had really sped up prior to Luxembourg–New Zealand for theatrical distribution, then Champagne-Urbana for Roger Ebert’s Film Festival,

then a brief stop in Morocco for a wedding, then Italy for several screenings at an international organic conference, and then Luxembourg, to present the film for the 20th anniversary of the Demeter Association of Luxembourg. (Demeter is the certifier of Biodynamic farms.) All of this travel happened in just a few weeks time.

By the time I arrived in Luxembourg, my back had gone out. I was walking with my torso at more or less of a right angle to the ground. 

I said to my host, “I can’t present the film like this, all hunched over. I need to see a chiropractor.”

“There are no chiropractors in Luxembourg.”


“They are not allowed.”

“Acupuncturist, then.”

“Oh, my no.”

“Massage therapist.”

“Not possible.”


“None of these are allowed in Luxembourg.”

“How am I going to present to your group? I can’t straighten up.”

“There is only one idea I have.”


“I think I can get you in to see a vet.”

Hours later, I was sitting in the waiting room of a Luxembourg veterinarian. Also waiting in the room was a poodle in the arms of its owner. 

The poodle gazed at me with curiosity. Or was it compassion? Perhaps it was wondering where my pet was.

The poodle looked a little like this:

Rather, I suppose this is what it looked like when it was romping the forest.

After the poodle and its owner were done seeing the vet, I entered her office. The vet seemed a little condescending. Perhaps she resented me because I was not a pet.

She had me do some exercises while I was sitting in the chair. I wondered if these were supposed to heal my back or if I was just putting on a show for her.

I started to imagine the story I would write.

I think she said I was too white, or so white, or something about my whiteness. (She was as white as me.)

 She said, “you have a few good years left.”

“What do you mean? To live?”

“You know what I mean.”

That night, I presented the film to a most receptive group of Demeter farmers. I was standing straight. 

Had the vet’s method really helped me? She never touched my back–she just had me wiggle around in the chair.

Or was I simply so astonished by the vet’s methods that I forgot I had a bad back?

Or was it the gaze of the poodle that cured me?

From an internet search:

“Luxembourg has one of the best healthcare systems in the European region.”

Your Share
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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.

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

Farmer John



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  • Mary Jane Lewis

    Very interesting newsletter, John, especially about the vet and poodle.

  • Marie Dolan

    You crack me up! Thanks for the vegetables and the LOL

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