Farmer John Writes: A Peek into the Backstage
Harvest Week 12, Deliveries of September 5th – 9th, 2023
Diversification on the Farm
Is a farm with crop diversity more resilient, or more brittle? Too diversified, and the myriad details might cave a farm in; too specialized, and it is vulnerable to the dangers of market whipsaws and disease disaster. This issue of Farm News conveys slightly the immense range of tasks and responsibilities that characterize the ongoingness of Angelic Organics.
The crew is fun and hard-working. Every morning at 6:30 I lead a meeting to outline the day. The meeting often meanders into frivolity, even hysterics, ebulliently propelling the crew into their morning work.
Some mornings are complicated. We might need to transplant a couple of beds in a field, and right after that we need to irrigate the field. But maybe there is a crop of kale in that field that needs to be harvested before we irrigate. But the kale can’t be harvested yet, because it’s too soon before we pack the boxes.
This is just one tiny scenario amongst many that characterize this often glorified/romanticized picture of diversification on a farm. The complexity can threaten to paralyze a plan. Interesting how people who come to pick flowers in our U-Pick garden or who come to pick up their shares in our cooler mention how peaceful it is out here.
Thanks to Our Pack Volunteers
Every Monday and Thursday afternoon, about 20 volunteers show up to pack your boxes, coordinated/organized by energetic and charismatic Don Glasenapp. The volunteers are mostly different for the Monday pack versus the Thursday pack, so we have maybe 40 volunteers each week who help with the pack. In exchange for helping, each volunteer gets to pack their own box of vegetables.
The pack is a festival of camaraderie and movement—quite the joyous occasion, and of immense support of the farm, as it allows (on most pack days) for our crew to continue working in the fields.
A Small Example of the Work Backstage
I suppose it’s easy to imagine what we do here at Angelic Organics as tending and harvesting crops, but there is continually much more going on that is similar to something like back stage.
For our pack line, the boxes go on to a conveyor about 60 ft long and are filled with your order by the time they reach the other end. Our pack line had a major breakdown with the drive system, which had to be rebuilt.
Upon evaluating the conveyor rebuild, we decided to do another ambitious upgrade that was probably 20 years overdue—eliminate the chains that suspended the very heavy conveyor by having Victor build stands upon which the conveyor can rest. Eliminating the chains provides more freedom of movement for our pack volunteers.
This conveyor project is just a little taste of what we do here day after day, beyond tending the crops. There are hundreds—no, thousands—of moving parts that have to harmonize to bring you a box of vegetables on schedule throughout the season.
As you may realize, our farm is staffed by extraordinary people with extraordinary skills. They can make about anything happen in a timely and graceful way.
We have had perfect growing weather, though it’s getting a bit dry, which is why we are irrigating. The fall cover crops are almost completely seeded. Temperatures have been mostly mild.
The Vegetables and Herbs
Tomatoes are ripening weeks later than usual. We have many.
Alas, the basil yellowed quite suddenly, so we will likely substitute tomatoes for basil. This has been a good year for basil, providing about three harvests per planting. More typical are two harvests in a season, even one. Still, I lament that we cannot fulfill this week’s basil customizing commitment. Glad we have extra tomatoes.
Unfortunate detail about basil quality—we keep two of our coolers at 34 degrees, and one at 50 degrees. The system went out on the 50 degree cooler. No technicians have been able to repair it, so we have kept things in the cold coolers that normally would be stored in the warmer cooler, such as your packed boxes. Basil in some of your boxes could not tolerate that cold temperature. I just figured out this basil problem yesterday. I still have lots to learn about life.
We have had a lag in lettuce availability. There should be lots of beautiful lettuce mix available to you week the after this week. Maybe head lettuce, also, but that will probably not be available for yet another week.
Sweet corn will probably end next week. The corn this week is rather mature, with just a few kernels beginning to dent. It is still succulent, but not as sweet as earlier harvests. Boiled and salted, or grilled, it will still taste great. Next week’s corn, the final harvest, will be a bit more mature. If that type of sweet corn is not to your liking, don’t customize your box with it. This is part of the adventure of eating seasonally.
The Fall Cover Crop
Some shareholders do not receive our emails. We have been trying to figure this out, as these shareholders are not even getting the share customization emails. Upon careful communications with some of these shareholders, we know that our emails are not even going into their spam folders.
Of course, this is a very challenging problem, because we often don’t even know that certain shareholders are not receiving their emails, so how can we address the problem? But how do we address the problem, anyway? We have discussed this with CSAware, and they have been trying to figure it out—very complicated and labyrinthian…and very frustrating, because communication is a cornerstone of our CSA.
Sometimes we even discover that some shareholders’ emails have been going into an obscure junk folder, even if that shareholder’s previous emails have landed in our inbox. Oh, technology…
As mentioned in Week 10 Farm News, even if you do not receive your share customization email, you can log in to your membership account on Tuesdays (usually after 2 pm) to customize your share for the following week by clicking on the following week’s delivery day (in green) on your delivery calendar.
Customer Service Backlog
We are sorry if you emailed the farm a while ago and are still waiting for a reply. As a reminder, my wife Haidy is filling in for the role of customer service in addition to her many other responsibilities on the farm. Haidy is doing the job of two people, even while visiting her home country of Finland recently. She has just now returned from Finland, and will be better able to catch up with the email backlog.
(In Finland, she prioritized which customer service emails to answer from the daily deluge; otherwise, she wouldn’t have set foot outside her door. The email volume this time of year is a veritable swarm.)
Haidy won’t get caught up right away on her return, but will chip away at the backlog.
For a more thorough explanation of the email backlog situation, check out Week 10 Farm News from a few weeks ago.
If you have a question, please consult our new FAQ’s page before emailing the farm, as chances are good that we have a thorough help article that can answer your question.
For your share customization, I need to project what crops we will have a week or more in advance of your delivery. I do the best crop projections I can, and there is always some guesswork involved. The crop availability is determined (guessed at) the Tuesday prior to the upcoming week of harvests and deliveries. Some items will be harvested 9 days after that Tuesday projection.
Vegetables and herbs being vegetables and herbs, we sometimes don’t get what we think we will get. Then we substitute with a similar crop, if possible, or a not-so-similar crop, if necessary. Sometimes after we do a substitution, we get an email from a shareholder demanding a different substitution. We are unable to be that granular here. That is what concierges do, or maître d’s—not hard-pressed farmers.
Please Stay Current with Farm News
Shareholders agree to read Farm News in our Shareholder Agreement. Farm News is where I post updates on crop conditions and crop availability. We are a farm and we grow seasonally. We occasionally get stringent complaints/accusations about crops not being offered, when Farm News explains/announces crop slowness or quickness or degradation. I suppose that the people who write such inflammatory emails don’t read Farm News. They simply should not be shareholders.
We are quick to offer refunds to cruel shareholders, but then we are left with the expense of the crops that we grew for them. I wonder what commitments such people have to their fellow humans in general.
I used to say to an acquaintance “Why are we here on earth if not to be there for our fellow human beings?” This question consistently elicited a blank look.
We Can’t Re-Customize Your Box
If you don’t get an item that you ordered, or if you received a substandard item, we’ll give you a veggie credit. We can’t add an item that is missing into your next box. We can just provide you with a credit for you to choose a replacement vegetable in a future delivery.
We can’t do a lot of handholding here; we’re too busy every day making the big things happen.
A Perfect Example of How to Approach Customer Service
“Hi Angelic Organics Team,
I’m enjoying my first season of receiving your produce!
I have a question about two items received this week that didn’t seem up to par with the rest of your beautiful produce:
– A very small, not too fresh looking yellow summer zuchinni squash. I ordered two — the other was green, fresh and a nice medium size.
– A kind of droopy small head of lettuce. I ordered three — the others were large and fresh.
Is it part of the protocol (and “etiquette”) of subscribers to let you know if an item didn’t meet expectations? If it’s possible to get replacements in my next box that would be great. I get my deliveries every other week.
Thank you and best wishes”
Note: The shareholder who wrote this above is civic minded and delightfully civil. Back when such things collectively mattered, students were graded on comportment. Comportment is dignity, poise, or social grace.
Replies to Last Week’s Farm News, It Was Either a Cow or it Wasn’t
About Our Corn and More:
“I simply cannot conceive anyone not liking the sweet corn (unless s/he simply doesn’t like corn, period)! Especially this year’s, which has probably been the best of the four summers we’ve been farm members. Even last week’s “overdone” ears were delectably sweet. And this year’s melons were definitely the best we’ve had yet.
Each of the past three summers we’ve remarked that the farm produce simply couldn’t be better than the past year’s, and each year we’ve been happily wrong. Thanks to you and your crew for all the hard work! Can’t wait to see what the autumn will bring.”
“This farm news had me in stitches! I genuinely love your writing and your humor. I feel so much better learning about face blindness. I have always said “I dont remember names or faces.” It may just be my inattentive adhd, but I have no memory capacity for either. Thank you so much for the updates on the beautiful farmland, and the much needed belly laughs. We have met, but it’s okay if neither of us could pick each other out of a lineup.
As a chef, your farm and everything it represents makes my heart happy. Thank you to you and all your amazing crew for all the hard work. I adore the green tomatoes and the corn is just splendid.”
I suppose that with all the lengthy and multi-faceted backgrounding I have shared above, the strategic thing to do for this edition of Farm News is to offer up a story that I have already written.
One Cannot Understand Russia with the Mind
I published this long story in Farm News in April of 2022, One Cannot Understand Russia with the Mind, so many of you have perhaps already read it. For those of you who haven’t read it—it generated a lot of responses when first published. I actually wrote most of it twenty years earlier after returning from a winter stay in Russia, then decided two winters ago it was time to finish it.
Bloomingdale’s and Produce
First published in Farm News in 1994, Bloomingdale’s and Produce still seems relevant today (and New York is still my favorited city). I suspect that we have a few shareholders who remember reading it back when.
The Front Stage
I have many stories from the past three decades of Farm News, plus other stories that I have written since the 80’s. In my mind, they are more performative than just words on a page. In the 80’s, I actually performed a lot of my long short stories in various venues in Mexico and the States, and had quite a following.
I now have a stage in the loft of our big barn, and am considering bringing my stories back to life via this venue and broadcasting them. I’m kind of busy with other things. We’ll see if I find time for that.
Come see our stage in action at our upcoming Field Day on Saturday, September 23rd. More details to come soon.