Farmer John Writes: Water Poured Through the Walls

Harvest Week 3, July 7th – 13th, 2020

Last Monday evening, it didn’t really seem that it was rain falling on the farm; it was more like a lake falling. The air was so saturated with water that I wondered if it would soon be hard to even breathe, if the storm might actually drown us.  This lake of water gushed in through the walls of our barns, as though they were sinking ships. It poured in through roofs that don’t leak. (I don’t mean to imply that the farmstead was actually under water; it was more like it was in water, or water was in it.)

During this deluge…well, deluge is too modest a word…during this flood, I could only wonder about the damage to the crops.

Afterwards, the sweet corn was leaning severely. It has since straightened back up.

The potatoes were flattened into the mud. Now they are upright and growing astoundingly fast.

sweet corn leaning just after the storm

upright sweet corn five days after the storm; notice how much it grew in those five days

Tatters
The pounding water tattered the choi, ripped and split its leaves, crumpled some of them. We salvaged what we could out of about 2000 heads of green choi—600 heads or so qualified as suitable for our shareholders. If you receive choi this week, and you think it was too damaged, know that we labored tediously over the grading of it. The harvest and grading took probably 3 to 4 times what it would normally take, due to the storm.

Strange Strengths Against the Storm
The beet leaves held up quite well to the storm.

The summer squash and zucchini stood straight and firm, perhaps even proud, after the storm. They often snap at the base of their stalks during a storm like this—not this time.

The lettuce was not shredded.

More about the Crops
I hope that you feel we are offering you a nice variety—about 10 to 13 vegetables and herbs for each delivery—and a sufficient quantity of crops. Your share variety and quantity so far is in spite of extreme weed pressure that has caused me to tear up about 27 beds (3 fields) of salad greens so far this season. It’s not possible to keep the weeds out of these beds. Well, it’s possible, but it would require at least 150 hours of weeding, or about $2,500, per bed, and I don’t have that much money or labor available. In the past, to keep these beds free of weeds so that you could enjoy arugula, mizuna, baby chard and baby lettuce would maybe have required 15 hours of weeding or about $250 per bed due to less weed pressure. Other than in these salad greens, we have been able to manage the weeds here.  (I wrote more about weeds earlier this season in Farm News: Important Update about Your First Delivery.)

You can look forward in coming weeks to lovely carrots, radishes, kohlrabi, cabbage, beets and more. Sometimes, a crop is not available to all of our shareholders, because there is not enough to offer for the full two-week (odd week, even week) cycle. I try to ration crops so that their availability is spread out over two weeks. I am not always able to achieve this, such as when we experienced a major shortfall as in the choi this week, or even a slight shortfall, as in the garlic scapes. This past week, we had no scapes available for the final deliveries of the week.

I will keep trying to find ground that will not overwhelm our baby salad greens with weeds. We went for about 20 years here without major weed pressure, because we had a strict policy of controlling weeds, no matter what. The past three seasons of flooding caused the weeds to proliferate on the farm. We could not control them. These weeds begot more weeds which begot more weeds, hence the absence so far of a variety of baby salad greens in your share.

I have seeded and torn up and re-seeded some of the same beds of baby greens three to four times this season, in the reasonable hope that these eradications of weeds through tillage will finally put the weeds to rest—not so, so far. Normally, by this time of the season–post Summer Solstice–weed pressure subsides. We are still tilling weeds into supposed submission. It seems they should soon give up.

Customization
Why have I recently been remembering monogrammed sweaters from the 60’s, I wondered?  Then I realized that in some way, your customized boxes are monogrammed. I suppose that’s cool, from a certain perspective.

Most shareholders who have written me regarding my observations about customization in Farm News, Week 1 are either neutral towards the feature or they have suggested that we eliminate it, often commenting that they like the element and challenge of surprises in the box, or they feel protective towards the farm’s time and money. Of course, some shareholders prefer the customization process. I suppose we should conduct a survey to get a clearer picture of what shareholders want overall.

I recently did a little rough math to calculate just one component of the customization process—labeling the boxes. The labor for labeling the boxes takes about 80 hours per week, or about $1300 per week. The labels cost maybe $200 per week, so that effort itself of just doing labels for customization is about $1500 per week. Renting the customization platform is astoundingly pricey, at about $5,000 per week. Often people suggest that we create our own customization system, but I am sure that Harvie has way, way over $1,000,000 in development costs in their customization platform. The last thing I want to do is to get mired in the myriad details of coming up with our own customization platform. I am a farmer, not an IT person.

Home Delivery
Managing our own refrigerated home delivery service was nightmarish in the beginning. We made a guess that we could do all the deliveries in five days per week. This very wrong guess was based on a lot of deliberation and consideration as we were getting accustomed to the routing app that we use. We knew that we were probably going to be wrong, but we were attracted to the efficiency and management of doing home deliveries in five days a week. The routing app made this seem sort of feasible.

We had to go to seven days a week of home delivery, in order to have each route take a reasonable amount of time. This required a lot of complicated re-scheduling and re-notifying. Now the routes take around ten to eleven hours each. We have a main driver and also a relief driver (both are fabulous). As we get more accustomed to the whole process, we may be able to take on more home deliveries. We are thrilled that we can now deliver boxes to your homes cold, and also knowing that they are handled with the utmost care.

To Summarize
Customizing is a burden, an expensive burden, but we might keep doing it next year, depending on shareholder input.

Managing and implementing home delivery is a burden, an expensive burden, but we are thrilled to be offering it (and it is already becoming less of a burden).

More Next Week,
Farmer John

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Showing 59 comments
  • Dori Conn
    Reply

    Haven’t written before but wanted to say, I agree with those who say they don’t mind the challenge of a box full of surprises (especially given your commitment to trying to provide a balanced variety), and I feel protective of the farm’s time and money. Also I’m gardening for the first time in over twenty years (Thank you, Pandemic) and it makes me appreciate more than ever your challenges and tremendous successes at growing huge amounts of beautiful produce.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Dori, So nice of you to wrote with such a supportive message. Much appreciated.

  • Lori Kaplan
    Reply

    Thanks for the update. As a new shareholder this year, I haven’t experienced what it was like before customization (I like being able to customize, although I’m very concerned that it is such an expensive process). I would be interested to hear what others think who have been shareholders for longer.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thanks for your comments. I appreciated your concern for the farm’s well being. It’s tough to keep a farm on track.

  • Sharon Salveter
    Reply

    We have been Angelic subscribers for over 15 years. I don’t need or want the customization, especially at the high cost. Love the surprise of the box. We enjoy eating whatever the farm produces in a given week. Over the years I’ve learned to love/like lots of vegetables I had never used before. And the ones I still don’t love — well that anise hyssop makes a nice bouquet on the kitchen island. So I vote for discontinuing customization.
    We used home delivery for several years in order to avoid our weekend pickup date, as we are often away on the weekend. But now our delivery date is also on a weekend day. So we’re managing with rescheduling deliveries. Perhaps fewer people would want home delivery if there was a choice of weekend and non-weekend pickup days in an area. My neighborhood has 2 pickup sites, both on Saturday. Perhaps one could be during the week? Though I’m not sure if the logistics of this would be any better than managing home delivery.
    Thank you Farmer John and all the Angelic crew for all you do to bring us wonderful, healthful food.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Sharon, Logistics is an interesting and guiding aspect of what we can offer. The most challenging (and frustrating) part of our CSA is deliveries. Thank you for your comments.

  • Debbie & David Barford
    Reply

    We have been with Angelic Organics over many years – had a gap during the time we traveled way too much in the summer to follow our children’s adventures in camp and college, but have been back for a number of years. We also love the surprise boxes – one advantage with Harvie is we can exclude the nightshades I am very sensitive to. In the past, we just gave them away, but sometimes a box would have tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants all in one with not much else. I have to admit, I prefer life without that scenario. But not at the expense you describe. I added a lot to the share box, but I was so happy to get extra beets, for instance. The element of surprise adds joy, which is something we all need.
    Thanks so much for all you do. We really appreciate the opportunity to share in your harvest.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      “The element of surprise adds joy, which is something we all need.” Beautiful from you, Debbie.

  • Joan Levergood
    Reply

    We are long time shareholders and loved the surprise boxes. I would never have learned to love so many veggies if we had chosen from the beginning. We pass on to a neighbor the one thing I have never found a way to love. No need for the additional work and expense on our account. Keep up the great work farm team!!!

  • Gail E Micheau
    Reply

    This is my first year so not much experience. I do truly appreciate the customization option. I kept an open mind and included a good variety of things ranked pretty high so am expecting some variety of new things. First week I learned how to saute beet greens, had always just bought the beets without the greens in the past. Given that this is new to me, unsure how this option affected the price to the customer, so might feel otherwise if I had a comparison.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Gail, I keep assessing the customization process. Besides the Harvie fees for the platform, it takes over 100 person hours per week for the administration, printing of labels, and applying of labels to boxes. Also, now we audit the boxes during the pack, to minimize error in packing, which takes up most of one person’s time. We also have to have extra packers, because the room for error increases if a person is putting two items in the box vs one item. I estimate it costs us close to $2,000 per week beyond the $5000 or so per week in customization platform fees to make customization work. On the other hand, what do our shareholders want? What serves them?

  • Colleen calhoun
    Reply

    I am a first time shareholder, and am looking forward to my second box. I like the customization, only because I do have veggies and herbs in my own garden. And once those tomatoes and cukes start coming, I don’t need more from the farm. However, I would not mind being surprised when I open my box and see what’s fresh, especially knowing it would help cut costs for you. It’s like getting a present every other week! I really enjoyed the garlic scapes and Swiss chard! Keep it coming!

  • Catherine Bryla
    Reply

    This is our first year as shareholders and we are just getting used to your system. So far, we feel that it is nice to be able to set preferences at the beginning of the season. However, we don’t feel that it is necessary to be able to customize the order a couple days prior to delivery. We can tell that you have already taken our preferences into account.

    We have been so impressed with the quality of the produce! Thank you so much for what you do. It is such a treat to receive beautiful organic produce every week from a local farm!

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Your distinction between the two customization processes is most appropriate. Considerably less than half of our shareholders actually use the customization option that is available shortly before the pack, when we publish our harvest estimate.

  • Sally Milow
    Reply

    I’m sorry that I didn’t recognize the delivery person’s name on my phone for my first bi-weekly delivery on June 25, but fortunately someone let him into my building. (I get way too many phone calls from people who turn out to be businesses or NGOs who want to ask me for money that I don’t have.)
    I’m divided about “customizing” or not. On the one hand I hardly used any of the pea shoots. But I loved everything else. All of this weeks options are very good for me.
    If weather and time don’t permit you to customize in the future, I’ll let go, let God.
    Thank you guys so much for the incredible labor and obstacles involved in organically farming during Climate Change.
    I wish you all the best.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      If I answered my phone as much as it rings, I wouldn’t be able to run the farm… and then there are the texts, then the emails. I really appreciate your understanding comments regarding our farm.

  • Laura
    Reply

    I am allergic to an herb, so I am thankful when I can swap it out (if need be). Or, if I need an extra lettuce.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      I think that your first round of customizations, which you do when you sign up at the beginning, would protect you from getting an herb you don’t want. The second round, which occurs a few days before we pack your box, adds considerably to our workload.

  • Cara
    Reply

    We became CSA members 4 years ago understanding that we would receive what the farm produces. We had two years of surprises and now we are in our second year of Harvie. We love the surprise and try to ignore the emails from Harvie when they tell us it’s time to customize. It has opened our world to try new things. We appreciate your constant efforts and will continue to be shareholders whether you continue customization or not. These 16 weeks are our favorite time of year.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thank you for your lovely vote of support and for your note about the welcome surprises from the previous system.

  • Andrea Tentner
    Reply

    This is my first year with the farm – I have an allergy to the nightshade family so I really appreciate being able to exclude those items from my box. I agree with lots of folks on here that it’s generally nice to be surprised and I don’t need the option to customize beyond excluding veg I am actually allergic to..I went for the home delivery option mainly because I was worried about COVID exposure at pick-up spots. I feel less nervous about it these days, and would be happy to switch to pick up – thanks for all the hard work growing great food!

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Hi, Andrea, I do not want you to receive nightshades if you don’t want them. This is the other side of the consideration: what does our shareholder need? what does the farm need?

  • Oliver
    Reply

    I’m new to this and love it. I like not having to choose. I just learn about and eat what’s in the box. It’s all been excellent so far! No customization needed. Although I just purchased additional Kohlrabis. Also, the pickup location is very convenient for me. Thought about home delivery in the beginning but it’s really not necessary.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Great to hear from you, Oliver. I love your flexibility.

  • Rishi
    Reply

    This is my first year as a shareholder and my vote would be for removing customization given the added complexity & burden it creates. I definitely have compassion for those with allergies, though. I hadn’t thought about that. Big thanks to the whole team for all the hard work and obstacle maneuvering that goes into this.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thank you for your considerate post. “Obstacle maneuvering” is a great term. I briefly considered it for a tag line: “Angelic Organics: We Remove Obstacles.”

  • Annette B Huizenga
    Reply

    I’ve been a very happy member for at lest 10 years, and I too feel ambivalent about the customization. Last year I was glad never to receive garlic scapes, for example. On the other hand, I’m sensitive to the added expenses taken on by the farm. I appreciated the share boxes for exchanging unwanted items. I remember that there were difficulties with the packing of custom boxes as well.I would still buy a share if you choose to leave Harvie behind.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Annette, I appreciate how you see things from both your point of view and the farm’s point of view. This is the ideal relationship for a shareholder to the farm, and for the farm to a shareholder. We look out for one another. I would like for all of life to be like that.

  • Jason E
    Reply

    We’ve been eating your veggies for 15 years, and since you solicited some feedback about customizing: doesn’t seem worth the added cost and hassle to the farm (though we appreciate the impulse behind it). Before customizing, our site always had a “swap box,” where you could quietly trade the vegetable you never learned to love for a similar quantity of something you did love (but someone else must not have!). While this didn’t always mean the trade would work out, it combined some elements of choice with the joy of being surprised. (Now that I’m writing this, I realize I don’t know the ins and outs of the swap boxes and how they factored in or didn’t to the move to customizing.) Thanks for providing lovely food year after year.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Jason, The swap box was in many ways a good system, though it was not always considered with the right amount of concern for the other shareholders. One shareholder brought her friend to pick up at the farm every week, and her friend simply walked off with the swap box every week, until we figured this out and put a stop to it. When we put a stop to it, the shareholder seemed astounded that we would try to control how the swap box was used. Thank you for your thoughtful note.

  • Byonca
    Reply

    I would like to add a plus one to the removal of customization. This is my second year with Angelic Organics and I have always been happy with what I receive. Thank you all for your hard work!

  • Julia Scott
    Reply

    We’ve been members for years. We loved the surprise boxes, we love the customization. In short, we just love Angelic Organics. Our vote is for whatever is best for the farm, because we benefit no matter how you deliver.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Julia, Thank you for your note of what I experienced as unconditional love.

  • Kara Spak
    Reply

    I think we are on our fifth or sixth year as members and I do think the customization eliminates food waste – we know we are getting things we will eat. That being said, if it’s a huge headache on your end we also enjoyed the thrill of the surprise box (but did not enjoy kohlrabi) so we will stick with you as long as you will have us, customization or not. We added the fruit box this year FYI which has been a nice addition. Thanks for all you do.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      So nice from you, Kara. Note on kohlrabi–we had so much of it last fall, and I was quite surprised at how many people wanted it–it was a kohlrabi craze. (But that doesn’t mean that you should like it.)

  • Amy
    Reply

    It is our fifth year as an Angelic member as well and no need for customization in our house. It teaches my family the value of eating locally what is bountiful and in season. There are plenty of opportunities to customize your life. I like the surprise. Thanks for doing what you do so well!

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Very special from you, Amy. I love this: “There are many opportunities to customize your life.”

  • Sari A Breslin
    Reply

    Dear Farmer John and Angels,

    Shareholders for over 15 years, we love and appreciate everything always and too love the surprises! We share with family and friends and try very hard never to waste. Knowing how hard you all work, would compel me to vote against the customization or anything else that cause you more work, money or headaches! I truly treasure the farm, the veggies and all of you! AND LETS NOT FORGET YOUR WRITING!
    Peace & Love,

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Sara, You covered a lot of bases here. Your message flooded me with warmth. Thank you.

  • Jodi
    Reply

    This is my first year joining a CSA. I, like others, appreciate the idea of being able to customize, but I do not like the expense it costs the farm to do this. If I had to choose between customization and home delivery, the home delivery is more important to me, personally.

    I was surprised to see that the variety being offered is usually 10-13 vegetables and herbs as, for example, I am only slated to receive 9 items of 7 different varieties this week which is similar to previous weeks I’ve received so far. Perhaps this is because of my customization preference options? I’m not complaining but I am wondering about it since you wrote about that above.

    Overall I am very pleased to be a part of this and receiving lovely organic produce from your farm. I appreciate all you do.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Jodi, Interesting that you only received 7 varieties of vegetables and herbs this week. The customization code that Harvie created to apportion crops is a bit daunting for me to understand. I must add, though, that normally we would have one or two offers of baby greens for most shares, but the weeds have engulfed our baby greens week after week. I have mentioned this a few times in Farm News, though the scope of these losses is hard to fully communicate. Soon the weed pressure should abate, and we should frequently be offering baby greens–lettuce, arugula, mizuna, choi, etc. I confess to becoming obsessed with growing baby greens this season, because of all the weed setbacks we have been experiencing. I won’t go into my methods for making this happen, but trust that they are born out of decades of experience. Angelic Organics was for many years a showcase for how weeds did not have to flourish on an organic farm; the last 3 years of constant mud (before this year) have made our soil way too friendly to weeds.

  • GN
    Reply

    I trust the farmer — John — to know what to grow on his soil and to adjust according to ever-changing conditions. Whatever is in the box, we will eat (or share if it’s too much for our household). More than $6000 a week for customization? Good God, it’s a farm, not a personal chef! Thanks SO MUCH for the hard work, everyday, by everyone. Farming is the world’s most important, and noblest, profession!

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      My wife Haidy read me your post and suggested a tagline for the farm: Angelic Organics: It’s a Farm, not a Personal Chef. She often brings this slogan up, and we are having great fun with it. Thank you for your spirited message.

  • Brandon
    Reply

    I’m a first time subscriber, and so far we LOVE the boxes and the quality of the produce – it’s always the first to disappear! The ability to customize the boxes is a really nice perk, particularly because with young kids I get to expose them to 1-2 potentially new vegetables while mixing it in with items that are more familiar. I would, however, be willing to pay a premium for customization, so that the impact to the farm is less substantial. THANK YOU for your hard work in growing such delicious food for my family and all of the shareholders.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Brandon, Nice to hear from you. Interesting that part of what appeals to you about customization is the option to introduce your kids to new vegetables. That is most commendable.

  • Jane Schaefer
    Reply

    We are long-time shareholders (20+ yrs), so, while the customization is nice (e.g, no pea shoots), it’s not necessary for us. Over the years, we’ve learned to eat and love so many different vegetables like sunchokes and fennel thanks to Angelic Organics! Plus, we make our neighbors very happy when we gift them a big bunch of beets that my family doesn’t like. Thanks for your and your team’s hard work, especially after last year.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Wow, sunchokes–they were a long time ago. They were fun to raise, but we could never get them to grow properly. Beets–we should call our beets by another name, given how many shareholders who originally disliked beets have come to enjoy our beets. I love your note. Thank you.

  • Laura
    Reply

    Shareholder for a few years. The customization is OK, but I really only ever change out 1 item a week at most. However, I do like being able to buy extra when available. All in all, if its costing too much, I’m OK going back to the old way. I liked seeing the Facebook posts of what is coming in the box that week! It made me so excited to try something I normally wouldn’t buy or have never tasted or didn’t know how to prepare.

  • KAREN BENDER
    Reply

    We were shareholders in the past and had to stop for a few years, rejoining again this season. I was excited about the customization but did not realize the expense that it adds to the process. I think that I would rather get the “surprise” box and have more of the expense poured back into having more vegetables! In the past, the swap box at the host site usually took care of any item that I was less fond of! I understand the “weather” problems this year impact the yield. but I don’t understand why if there are extras to sell, that they don’t just end up in the shareholders boxes? I hope that is a fair question to ask. The produce has been delicious!

  • Farmer John
    Reply

    Karen, Interesting question about the surplus. We offer about 10% to 15% more than what would be assigned to shareholder’s boxes, in order to provide flexibility for swapping one unassigned item for an assigned item. In other words, we have to offer overage for the customization process to work. The extra items that we offer, that might seem like surplus, are just opportunities for a shareholder to choose more of something and less of something else. The overage generally ends up going into the next pack. Often, the overage does not get harvested until later, unless we are notified that it is needed for a current pack. Also, most CSA farms do not grow just for their CSA; they grow things for other markets. We just grow for our CSA, however.

  • Al & Karen Bender
    Reply

    Thanks Farmer John for explaining to me about the surplus. That makes more sense now. It helps to understand more about the running of an organic farm which of course I know nothing. There is rarely something that we don’t eat in the box as we eat a plant based diet, so really everything goes! I had to stop membership for a few years because we traveled in the summer. I do like the new policy of being able to cancel a few times a season. Before I had to find someone to pick up the box and they never seemed to appreciate the goodness as much as we did! Things are different now because of the pandemic but I know a few years ago, we were able to pick green beans, flowers,and some herbs. Is that even a safe possibility this year? It was fun to see the farm when we did make the drive up to you. Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      The U-Pick Garden is just coming into its own–flowers just starting to bloom. We’ll post something about it soon. I think it will be fine for shareholders to come out and enjoy it. There is only a big convergence there during a Field Day, which we are not hosting this summer. I like when shareholders come out for the U-Pick, though I realize that they sometimes cone and go and I wasn’t around to say hi.

  • Vicki Bielanski
    Reply

    I’ve been a member for over 20 years. I appreciate all the hard work you do to provide all of us with great produce, especially with the trying weather we’ve had the last few years. I really like the customization of boxes. I hate to cook, but want to eat healthy, so I like getting those things we like to eat. Also, before the customization, some of the produce was wasted because I didn’t get to it soon enough. Now, I only get what I want and use. But, having said that, if most members would rather return to the way it was, I’m game. If the money used to customize the boxes can be put to better use on the farm, I’d be okay with getting rid of the customization of boxes – but I will miss it!

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      You seem like an agreeable sort. I appreciate your balanced view.

  • Larry Atkin/Ann Wasserman
    Reply

    We are long-time subscribers. We’ve been very happy with the customized boxes, because there are some things one or the other of us can’t eat and a couple of things that neither of us like. Before customization, we’d always find a friend to take the things we didn’t want, or would leave them in the swap box. But would a swap box impinge on safety issues if, hopefully not of course, we’re still stuck in pandemic fears at delivery sites? We’d love to continue the optimization, but didn’t realize the huge expense. We’d rather have surprise boxes than no Angelic Organics! In a couple of your comments up above, it sounds like maybe you could keep the preseason preferences and drop the the weekly choices, and maybe save some time and money that way?

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