Farmer John Writes: Bringing the Farm to You
Harvest Week 5, Deliveries of July 18th – 22nd, 2023
Every week of farming provides enough material for me to write a book or two, so generally Farm News is an exercise in restraint.
It’s been a very cool July this year—great for the crew, lettuce and other greens, not thrilling for the corn, peppers and eggplant, but these latter are survivors; they will do fine.
Recently in Farm News, I mused about the lack of activity this season on the part of flea beetles, little bugs that chew holes especially into the mustardy crops such as arugula, choy, and mizuna.
I suppose the flea beetles have their bots scouring farm newsletters to make sure that no farmer is exempt from their activity. Last week, they started to maraud. Those of you who received baby bok choy and heads of bok choy in the beginning of the week last week enjoyed pristine choy for the most part; those who received choy towards the end of the week last week probably received some pockmarked choy—safe to eat, way too good to discard.
Heads of bok choy in your box this week might display a few pock marks. This season, we did not cover the choy with row cover, because flea beetles were not a problem (until now). The other problem that has made up to 80% of our choy heads go to waste in previous years has has been aphids. Why aphids? Because we covered the crop to protect it from flea beetles, and aphids like the wind-free, snuggly environment provided by row covers—at least that is one of the theories that I believe has merit.
We had to harvest the basil earlier before the pack than usual, because rain was predicted for the weekend, and basil cannot be harvested wet. It’s hard to store the basil for a few days; it cannot be cooled or it turns black; if we keep it covered, it heats up; if we don’t cover it, it dries out. We uncovered it, so it would not heat up, and some of it dehydrated.
If some of your basil arrives dehydrated, try reviving it by putting the stems in water (do not let the leaves touch the water). For added hydration, place a plastic bag over the leaves to keep the moisture in.
We love our basil and manage it to our utmost, but sometimes we are unable to deliver it in pristine condition. No rain is predicted for this week, and if that forecast holds true, we will be packing more pristine basil for those who receive deliveries later in the week.
Looking Out for You
We store our vegetables and herbs (except basil) in 4 coolers. This season, I devised an inventory monitoring system to assure that we are tracking all the required information for every crop. Every pallet of crates and every bin and crib are identified with the name of the crop, what day it was harvested, from which field it was harvested, and where it is stored in the cooler. This assures that we can always track location and freshness of everything that we have in our inventory.
This has been an interesting undertaking (like most things about farming). And it is essential for assuring freshness and traceability.
We have 67 crops for which Mayra, Victor and I devised and implemented a system for tracking our harvests. 67 crops? This depends on what constitutes a crop. For instance, we lump together all sweet peppers under one label, even though we raise several varieties of sweet peppers; same with sweet corn and many of our other crops. But, if we get too granular with a system, it will be brilliant, and it will paralyze the farm. Excellence is our goal, not perfection.
Dave Matthews’ Chef’s Request Reminded Me of My Film Tour
The chef for Dave Matthews Band contacted Angelic Organics a couple weeks back to source vegetables for their concert in Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, Chicago, on July 8. They planned to feed 80 or 90 people 6 meals over the weekend.
Was 80 or 90 people the size of their entourage, or were they hosting local dignitaries? I don’t know.
Thinking about their tour reminded me of my 5-year tour with The Real Dirt on Farmer John. I was sometimes hosted with fabulous banquets in theaters both palatial and modest. However, my main requirement for screening the movie in a city was not a banquet; it was to visit a diversified farm nearby—visiting farms was one of the best parts of the film tour.
Bringing the Farm to You
Farming is exciting hour after hour. Most of you live far from the farm, and for years I have wondered how to get you closer to the action. Writing Farm News has been one way of getting you closer to the farm; also, Field Days; also your being able to see 50 years of the farm in action via the feature documentary film The Real Dirt on Farmer John; and, of course, sending you vegetables and herbs creates a certain kind of closeness to the farm.
This season, my wife Haidy and I have been giving you ongoing access to Angelic Organics through social media, offering a regular stream of videos and photos documenting our farm in action. Haidy and I love touring the fields, seeing the crew, equipment and weather in action, and watching the crops grow. We are now sharing this action with you more than ever before. Huge thank you to Haidy for her ongoing curation of videos and photos. Stay close to Angelic Organics by regularly checking out our Facebook and Instagram pages.
A Moment of the Past
Haidy and I ran an errand to Beloit recently. We like to go on the scenic route which takes us by an old-timey farm that has a bunch of kittens and kitty-moms spilling out of the main door of the barn. We often stop alongside the road to enjoy them from afar, scampering about.
Haidy has a strength for cats. (I realize that such an affinity is often labeled a weakness, but tenderness is a strength, not a weakness, so I reiterate that Haidy has a strength for cats and, while I mention it, pretty much all other animals.)
This time, Haidy said, “Do you think the farmer would let us pet them?”
The farmer and a helper were standing in a nearby shed. I knew him from school days, but had only seen him one other time in the past 55 years. We were having an old-timey visit with them the other day, the way a person could expect at most places up and down the rural roads in the 50’s.
“Peterson, here,” I said. “Okay if we pet the cats?”
Then I noticed that his hand had been in an accident, long since healed over, but still noticeable.
At our farm when I was growing up, we had breakfast before milking while listening to Beloit WBEZ radio. My mother, who had probably been up since 4 that morning, said, “a neighbor boy blew off most of his fingers last night playing with fireworks. Now he will have to live with that the for rest of his life. This is such a shame.”
Here we stood a few days ago in the presence of this farmer and his battered hand, over 50 years later. I reflected inwardly on that morning decades back, when my mother lamented his accident. She always showed compassion in her life; she did not choose to blame, or wish punishment on anyone for wrong-doing or mistakes. She always wished the best for everyone. I learned about compassion from her. (Some of you probably knew my mother, or at least got a strong sense of her from watching her in The Real Dirt on Farmer John, which should have been titled something like Farmer John’s Mom Rocks.)
As we all chatted, I was hearing in my memory the news being repeated over and over that fateful morning so many decades ago on WBEZ radio, and remembering my mother’s compassion. I reflected on trauma that leaves wounds that might persist decade after decade, how misunderstood trauma can be, including emotional trauma.
“Sure, pet the kitties,” he said amiably. “How much rain did you get the other night, that big storm? Sometimes the rain hits here and doesn’t even hit next door,” he said.
“A couple inches,” I said.
As we headed for the kittens, Haidy said, “there’s a farmer for you. He would not let you go without talking about the weather. He simply had to do it.”
“Did you notice his hand?” I asked.
“No,” Haidy replied.
The Farm Office is Understaffed; We are Looking for a New Employee
As announced in last week’s Farm News, Amanda is no longer with the farm. We are currently understaffed in our office, and we are searching for someone who can be our new Customer Service Representative. If you know someone who fits the description and lives near the farm, please share the job description with them.
While we are in the process of finding a new office employee, please allow us extra time to get back to your inquiries and requests. We are doing our best to get back to everyone as soon as we can. Remember to utilize our FAQ’s.