Farmer John Writes: The Hill of the Unknown

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 14, September 27th – October 2nd, 2021

We had a super Field Day a couple of Saturdays back. Fabulous food; sun; hayrides; pumpkin, gourd and flower harvesting; mingling. It was about as perfect as a Field Day can be.

pumpkin fun

The crew cut the pumpkin and gourd stems ahead of the Field Day, so that shareholders could select the colorful orbs and carry them to the hay wagon without having to wield a knife or clippers to free them from their vines. As adults and kids searched for their favorites, they got a feeling for how these ornamental delights grow in random arrangements in the field. It’s important, especially for kids, to experience first-hand the random distribution of these treasures in a natural setting, as opposed to in rows or bins at the grocery store.

Still, the pumpkins and gourds were there for the taking, not quite handed to the shareholders, but made easily available. 

When It Seems Like Just Dirt

There was also digging for potatoes at the Field Day. Unlike pumpkins, potatoes don’t announce their whereabouts. There are hills of soil wherein lie potatoes, hidden. Where in these mounds do the potatoes lie? No one knows. 

potato hills

Adults and kids alike found joy rooting in the piles of dirt for a potato, and then finding it. There’s a gloriousness, a feeling of triumph in the find of each potato.


potato farmers

Farmer John & Louis

Prior to this joyful unearthing of the potato, there was seemingly nothing there. But there was a potato, a treasure. 

A Cupholder

I had a car without a cupholder. This bothered me. I often lamented its absence of a cupholder. One day, feeling especially remorseful and resentful about this cupholder absence, I started seriously complaining about it, flailing my arms. I noisily said, “How can there not be a cupholder in this car?” I grabbed a protrusion in the dash. “It would be right here, but no!” I mockingly pulled on the protrusion, and out slid a cupholder.

A Worldwide Wonder

The Beatles did not know beforehand that they would unearth world fame and beget cultural transformation (in spite of pushback and discouragement from friends and family). They delved into the hill of the unknown, and discovered how to change the world.

Might Be Something There

Consider what is there in life, business, relationships, design, and romance that is unconsidered and unrealized. Consider the many great inventions, musical innovations, religious movements, gold mines, and business transformations that resided once as undiscovered, unimagined ideas. 

Consider the intrinsic joy of finding potatoes. Perhaps the joy comes from being reminded that where there might be nothing, there might instead be something. Only with searching will one know if there is something there to be discovered. (Much of the content of this newsletter comes out of apparent nothingness, which I mysteriously access week after week.)

Got a hunch? An impulse? A wild idea? Do you keep it buried, unmanifest, unexplored? The potato-unearthing shareholders at our Field Day just might have discovered a dream on their way home and pursued it.

Before and After

Before digging for potatoes, Haidy and I would never have dreamt of this beautiful case for the iPhone

Unearthed Praises

The Week 12 issue of Farm News, This Farm Was Made for Sharing, unearthed many messages of encouragement and affirmation from our shareholders. We received many beautiful, supportive comments from shareholders on the blog post, as well as a lot of wonderful emails and comments on Facebook. Wow. We are so thrilled and moved by your love and support. Thank you.

Some of you shared great ideas for strengthening our CSA through more rigorous enforcement of policies and also through changing some of our policies. We will review these suggestions come winter, and will likely implement many of them. 

Examples of Supportive Shareholder Comments

“Dear Farmer John
I am crying a little while reading the awful comments above. I am a new member this summer and recently drove out there to pick wildflowers and beans on a U-pick day (?). I felt such a connection to the earth, to you, and to the workers who were rinsing and stacking pallets and took the time to call out a Hello and asked if I needed anything. (I didn’t bc all the instructions were very clear). I feel so grateful to all of you for the very hard work you do all Spring, Summer and Fall. Don’t know about Winter. As I left the farm with my beautiful flowers and beans, I literally could not drive faster than 15 mph bc I felt such a deep peace. Luckily no one came up behind me so I didn’t have to break my trance…”

   ~ Shareholder Claudia

“I do not understand the disgruntled comments. We have been shareholders for two years and have always been delighted with what’s in our boxes. And have always been treated with respect and courtesy when we had questions. Every time. We are thrilled with “our” farm. Thank you for the care to take in growing the best produce around.”

    ~ Shareholder Marlene

I encourage you to read the numerous additional shareholder comments on the blog post This Farm Was Made for Sharing.

Before All of That

Before I wrote This Farm Was Made for Sharing, a long-time shareholder couple sent a gift of $500 to the farm. (They want to be anonymous.) It just showed up in the mail, a wonderful surprise. We plan to treat the crew to a catered lunch and a screening of The Real Dirt on Farmer John as a result of this gift

Like the cupholder, the film about the farm and my life, the trajectory of the Beatles, and the hiding potatoes, this gift reminds me that we often don’t know what’s there, hidden, that is on its way into our lives.

Come Get Your Pumpkins and Gourds

For those of you shareholders who haven’t yet received pumpkins and gourds, stop by the farm to select up to 2 pumpkins and 5 gourds per family. We also encourage you to venture to the U-Pick Garden west of the farmstead to pick a magnificent bouquet of flowers; these flowers will succumb to a frost soon, so either you or the frost will get them. (Find clippers and bags in the shareholder cooler between the two barns.)

no random distribution of pumpkins here

We Sometimes Substitute an Item

It is impossible to impeccably forecast what will be available for your box. We get it about 95% right, but between when we project what’s available for you and when we pack your box, crops bolt, get eaten by bugs, spoil due to weather, or are miscounted when harvested. We do our best, and when it’s not good enough, we do our best to adjust to the new circumstances, for example substituting a different herb for an intended herb, or butternut squash because we ran out of kabocha squash. 

Potato Harvest

Our Field Day visitors did their best to harvest potatoes, but to finish the job, we figured we better put our potato harvest machine in action.

We Don’t Wash the Potatoes

Potatoes keep better when unwashed, so we don’t wash them. Please wash your potatoes before use (as well as your other vegetables). Also, our elderly potato harvester nicks and batters a potato on occasion; please accept them.

Potato Varieties

We grow several different potato varieties, including ones with purple skins and flesh, and ones with pink skins. We don’t distinguish the types of potatoes we grow for customizing, so prepare for potato surprises.


A couple exits a post office.

Woman: “Doesn’t it feel great to mail a package?”

Man: “Sure does. Imagine how Jeff Bezos feels…every nanosecond.”

(Many of Bezos’ friends discouraged him from founding Amazon; they knew it wouldn’t work.)

Farmer John


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Showing 6 comments
  • jeff milroy

    Love your potato digging reference. One of my earliest and fondest memories is digging potatoes at a neighbor’s farm near our converted one room schoolhouse near Polo Illinois. What a delight. The same neighbor/farmer (Mr. Wilson) tilled our 1 acre vegetable garden with his tractor. His wife sometimes took care of us when my mom was working. I remember the love they expressed to us kids and the wonder of unearthing potatoes on their farm garden followed by eating same with home churned butter from their dairy cows. And their cuckoo clock – I never ceased to wonder at its mechanical heart and ingenious interaction with gravity. (Not a AA battery in sight). The Wilson’s were the salt of the earth – how blessed we were to have them as neighbors. Each box a shareholder receives contains very much the same gift. Savor it folks – people like the Wilson’s, Farmer John and his crew are now very few and very far between.

    • Farmer John

      Great words from you, Jeff. My wife and I live in a converted one room schoolhouse which I purchased and renovated in the ’70’s.

  • Marie D

    Hello All! I have been a member for at least 12 years, not all consecutive, but I keep coming back as AO keeps improving their CSA. When I first signed up, we had some glorious years and boxes brimming with produce. Then as weather has become more severe, we went through some tough times. Farmer J and his hard working staff are always thinking and planning to meet the problems caused by climate change and factory farming. They are part of the solution and we need to be patient and focus on the good we are doing being part of this community. The quality and choices we have in designing our box will keep me coming back!

    • Farmer John

      Thank you for your supportive words, Marie. You have been a part of the flow of farm time.

  • Michelle S

    I may adopt “Prepare for potato surprises” as a new mantra. It’s a good philosophy in general.

    • Farmer John

      One never knows what’s coming, though sometimes one kind of knows.

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