Farmer John Writes: We Are a Team

 In Farm News

Harvest Week 15, October 4 – 9th, 2021


Weather

Overall, it’s been a dry season. Thankfully, we have enjoyed some recent rescue rainfalls, though for the most part they have been too light and too few.

seeding hay into dust

Check out Week 13 Farm News, Healing the Past, to learn more about this field.

Water

We have irrigation to cover about 3/4 of our vegetable fields. We have the well and pump capacity to cover all of our fields, but not the supply line capacity, at least not without the great effort of disassembling and re-assembling supply pipes. These matters are always considerations of time, labor and capital. Daily, even hourly, we are considering how we allocate such resources. Are we going to spend half a day moving irrigation pipe to get water to a drought-stricken part of the farm, when the forecast is for rain tonight, or rather, for a chance of rain tonight? And if that rain misses us, do we move the pipe when another rain is predicted for two days from now? 

water makes your vegetables

Sometimes the likelihood of rain is forecast to be 100%—how brazen.  And sometimes, when the forecast is for a 100% chance of rain, it doesn’t rain. This past Saturday morning, there was a 0% chance of rain forecast, so we hastened to prepare for a winter squash harvest, and then it started to rain early morning. 

Where are the media censors when forecasts like this don’t materialize as rain or no rain? Don’t these forecasts qualify as disinformation? I guess they are misinformation. Disinformation, I recently discovered, is intentionally misleading; misinformation is innocently misleading. The differences are more nuanced than this, but this can suffice for this edition of Farm News. 

Whose Crop Is It, Anyway?

Within the CSA model (except for any crop that we have planted for another market than our current shareholders), the broccoli that we are stewarding is really already yours. It’s not the farm’s broccoli until the shareholder accepts it; it is the shareholder’s broccoli from the get-go.

When we get asked by a shareholder for a credit for a marginal head of broccoli, it already belongs to the shareholder, because the shareholder has signed up for a portion of the crop that we grow, not a portion of the crop if it is excellent and bountiful, but for a portion of whatever crop we grow—or try to grow and then fail. The farm never owned the broccoli; the farm just did its utmost to grow the best broccoli possible for the shareholder.

We diligently treat your portion of the crop like it’s yours, because that is our nature—to take care of the crops for you. While the crops are on our farm, we are their caretakers, their stewards. Technically, they belong to you. The blemished tomato belongs to you. The misshapen carrot belongs to you. Our job here is to look at a marginal head of broccoli, a blemished tomato, a misshapen carrot, and decide if is good enough so that you would use it. It’s your broccoli, tomato and carrot already, but you never really paid for it; you simply paid for the service to grow it.

Our ideal grading approach here is not to imagine this tattered head of broccoli in a store and then knowing for sure you wouldn’t buy it; it’s to imagine that it is already in your refrigerator, and would you still use it? There is a very different mindset when we assess the broccoli as though it’s already yours, versus assessing it as though it’s ours and we hope you will accept it and not demand a credit for it.

In a conventional retail exchange, the item for sale belongs to the seller until the buyer pays for it, and then it belongs to the buyer. Then a disgruntled buyer might demand a refund. Some of our shareholders project this model onto our CSA. It’s not an appropriate model. The farm can’t give a shareholder a refund for an item that already belongs to the shareholder from when it was a seed. The shareholder in actuality never paid for the item; the shareholder partnered with our farm through a payment to provide the service of growing your vegetables and herbs that you own from the get-go. (In a certain crass, unpoetic way, we are merely contract growers for our shareholders.)

This has been a bothersome issue here for years. What Community Supported Agriculture means is that there is no seller and no buyer. It means there is a generous caretaker—the farm—and a generous recipient—the shareholder—and we are sharing in the same story, the same initiative, the same process. We are on the same team. 

The current system that we use for customizing your share via price per item is rather inappropriate and awkward. How do we sell you something that is already yours? And if we don’t have it to provide—say, if a crop fails—whose loss is it? In the current customizing model, the loss is ours. We can’t charge you for items we don’t provide for you but for which we invested time and money in order to provide it for you. 

CSAware offers other options for customizing shares which we will consider for next year. It is really inappropriate for us to be treated as sellers of vegetables. We are providers of a service that tends to result in great vegetables. 

The Future

Next season, we will introduce and adhere to policies that conform to our vision of what a CSA should be, and we only want people to be part of our CSA who agree with these policies, who regard themselves as being on the same team as us. I do not want to seek yet another farm office employee who is primarily steeled against entitlement and rudeness, but a person whose primary role is providing warmth, guidance and hospitality to our shareholders. 

We will probably be downsizing our CSA to serve people who we love and who love us, and entering into the wholesale markets where the terms of buying and selling are clearly defined. This will be our first serious venture into wholesaling since 1991. It would be more ideal for us to grow everything for people who are part of our CSA program, but it has become too disappointing to let just anyone out there join our CSA farm and then lambast and belittle us. I didn’t sign up to run such a farm. (I anticipate that farming will become more fun as a result of this new model.)

Another reason for the likely downsizing of our CSA is that the interest in and support of CSA has been in a decline for years, for us and throughout the rest of the country (with the exception of the 2020 surge in share signups, which has since subsided). Because of this downward trend in CSA enthusiasm, it is very hard to find people who want to join our CSA, who are a good fit for our CSA, and who will be shareholders for more than one season.

We will keep you posted on any future changes. This new direction is still forming.

Transition

I’m sure you have noticed that the peak summer crops are mostly behind us. Sweet corn, tomatoes, basil, and summer squash (all bumper crops) are done. Celery and celeriac succumbed to fierce winds and high temperatures. Peppers and eggplant, our best in years, will be finished soon. 

A plethora of fall crops is coming towards us. Besides broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts and a mountain of winter squash, the fields currently host an enormous amount of beautiful head lettuce, baby lettuce, and arugula. Also plentiful are kale, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, beets, kohlrabi, cilantro, dill, radishes, turnips. And we have harvested our best carrot and potato crops in years.

bok choy

We harvested our potatoes and carrots free of mud, which is a great benefit for the harvest itself and also for storage.

Amanda at the hydraulic controls of the potato harvester

a stream of carrots

The mild frost-free weather is also helpful for our winter squash harvest. 

spaghetti squash

Pollo remodels a harvest wagon for squash storage

After a recent light rain, the broccoli heads became darker green and they expanded to sizes I don’t believe I have ever before seen here.

broccoli head and Amanda’s head

We have never before had such great fall crops. I’m glad you are with us this year to enjoy them.

Two Potato Notes, In Case You Missed Them Last Week

1.) 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.

2.) 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.

Overheard

Second grade art teacher to child:

“This is an excellent piece of art. You used two primary colors, green and red. You made the red dense and the green light, which is the right way to work with primary colors. However, since I’m sure you didn’t know this technique—it was just chance that you used it—I am giving you a C+. You did it right, but you didn’t know you were doing it right.”

Warmly,
Farmer John

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Showing 16 comments
  • Faith Bailey
    Reply

    Dear Farmer John and Family of Cultivators,

    Thank you for inviting us shareholder/team members into your thinking as you continue to expertly dance around the vagaries of weather and the shifting expectations and demands of the general public. Considering that some of these demands are unreasonable, one would hope that your consistent, detailed, honest, often-humorous communications would have given some dissatisfied participants a more educated attitude about farm-fresh food. Always excited about the vegetable characters we meet upon opening our box, we have been derelict about passing along our “wow” responses to you growers; for instance, this season’s carrots are as sweet and tender as candy, and what robust brocc! The great variety of contents always presents a desired challenge for us to immediately produce a tasty concoction and to savor the fresh taste. Also appreciating the “personalities” of a few veges grown in our own backyard–whether misshapen tomatoes or crazy cukes–we are grateful for what comes our way from Angelic. We are curious and happy shareholders who hope all of you Angelics will continue to find satisfaction in the overall wholesomeness of your operation while you work out your most sensible, healthy business model for yourselves. Thank you for all!

    Sincerely, Faith and Bill Bailey

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Faith and Bill, Lovely from you. Thank you. I suspect that a lot of shareholders do not read Farm News. Given what some of them complain about, it seems unlikely that they take that much actual interest in the farm. Reading Farm News is a requirement for membership in our CSA, but not everyone on earth does their assignments.

  • Lindsay Winn
    Reply

    I would also like to pile on my appreciation for this year’s crop. Wow. I’ve been a member for years and this has got to be the best year yet. The carrots are so wonderful they literally bring me joy. I smile and laugh and walk around the house showing them to the family. Even the carrot greens are nearly perfect this year and have adorned our salads. The broccoli has been out of this world, too. The leaves have been great too and I roast them with the florets to get a lovely crunch. An entire giant bowl of beautiful ripe red tomatoes was the centerpiece of our kitchen at a recent party and drew comments from all. Please pass on to the crew how grateful and joyful we are this year to be enjoying all your wonderful crops. Not sure what’s up with the complainers.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Lindsay, I will certainly let the crew know how pleased you are. This is great to read. Thank you for the descriptive praise.

  • CMC
    Reply

    Farmer John and Wonderful Employees
    Thank you everyone for this “maiden voyage” into the CSA experience. Nutrition-wise, I have greatly benefited from the vegetables grown on your farm. Not only picture perfect (after washing), they taste marvelous. I have not seen more captivating carrots, gorgeous tomatoes or vibrant greens and broccoli-and I’ve got a few miles on the ol’ jalopy. Being a member has provided more adventures in learning new recipes and preservation techniques. I’m no Martha Stewart, but being a CSA member – its a joyous thing.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      So glad you are so pleased with your share. Thank you for letting us know.

  • Mark Breen & Sara Stevenson
    Reply

    Glad and grateful to be part of the team.

  • Jayme Silvestri
    Reply

    I’m really impressed along with your writing talents and also with the layout for your weblog. Is that this a paid subject or did you modify it your self?Anyway stay up the excellent quality writing, it is uncommon to look a nice blog like this one these days..

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Jayme, I am the writer. My wife Haidy lightly edits my editions of Farm News, and does the layout. I’m glad you like the blog.

  • R Squibbs
    Reply

    We joined the CSA last year and were so impressed with the quality and variety of the crops that we figured we’d just gotten lucky and that this year probably wouldn’t match up. But it’s exceeded — even far exceeded — our experience last year! The turnips were divine, the tomatoes a treat, and the broccoli out of this world. One thing I’ll say in favor of this year’s customization feature: we haven’t wasted *anything*. Last year, sometimes we’d receive a bunch of delicate greens during a week when we weren’t going to be able to get to them quickly and they’d go bad before we could use them. This year, if we know we won’t be around to cook much during a given week, we’ll opt for hardier storage veggies. Then, the next week when we’ll be cooking/eating at home every night, we’ll go for the delicate crops and use them right away. So this new system has helped us avoid wasting such wonderful produce, which is always a shame. Looking forward to what the rest of the season (and extended season) offers!

  • Farmer John
    Reply

    Glad you are pleased, and wasting less. This has been one of the best years for growing since we started the CSA over 30 years ago.

  • Jörn and Julia
    Reply

    We have joined the CSA this year and have been very impressed with the quantity and quality of the produce. We were surprised to read about people complaining and would like to express our full support to your vision of CSA. This is how it should be.

    • Farmer John
      Reply

      Thank you so much for your message of support and solidarity.

  • Arlene Stach
    Reply

    In an era when complaining is rampant and compliments are few, it isn’t surprising that there are some “bad apples” out there! And yes, as a retired teacher, I can attest that complainers are more likely to NOT read your blog. But those of us that do are highly impressed and find joy in the turns of phrase, elevated vocabulary, and heartwarming views of farm life that we are not sharing with you, except in the wonderful tastes on our tables. Thank you.

  • Farmer John
    Reply

    Arlene, so nice from you. Thank you. My mother taught school for 35 years, four of those years in the one room schoolhouse in which my wife and I now live (now with more rooms.) She infused me with a love of the English language, and inspired me to learn rules of grammar at a young age. In grade school and high school, when my teachers were stumped with a grammar question, they would often ask me to resolve it.

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