Farmer John Writes: The C in CSA
Harvest Week 13, Deliveries of September 12th – 16th, 2023
With all the things there are not to believe these days, I never disbelieve the harvest week we are in. No amount of scientific research, math abracadabra, government intrusion, or passage of time will get me to believe this is other than week 13.
We had a little cloudburst last week; it seems we were about the only location in the area that received any rain at all. It was enough to germinate our fall peas which had been laying in the dust. Without rain to get the peas going, they are about as dormant in the field as they are in the bag. We continue to irrigate our vegetables and herbs, as the recent rain was just a teaser.
Farm Field Day Coming Up on Saturday, September 23rd
We will be hosting our Fall Field Day for shareholders on Saturday, September 23rd.
The pumpkins are already turning orange. There are still lots of flowers in the U-Pick Garden, and we have some super entertainment lined up for after our potluck lunch: illustrious guests Sara and Symbria Patterson and their farm manager TK will be visiting then from Red Acre Farm in Utah.
Young Farmer Sara Patterson and elder Farmer John will spar/commiserate/giggle on the barn stage, with Sara’s mom Symbria moderating/refereeing. Shareholder Megan Eberhardt will lead group singing before and after the Patterson/Peterson entertainment.
Check out our Field Day web page for the schedule and all the details.
Potatoes and Leeks
We have a nice crop of leeks, so I decided this week to offer up our first harvest of potatoes with a side of leeks.
Potatoes get scuffed a bit by the harvester. We minimize this as much as possible.
Fall is approaching, and you are eating seasonally, so consider this combination as a segue into fall. Potato leek soup is perhaps in order.
We have nice fall carrots for you this week. The carrot ground was very hard from drought, and the carrots (oddly, in light of the drought) were the longest we have ever raised. Our carrot lifter could not go as deep as we wanted, so the tips of some of the carrots were cut off. We included a judicious amount of cut carrots in your box if you ordered carrots, as they are eminently edible. Also, the carrot fronds were not suitable for bunching—they were brittle and flimsy—so we bagged the carrots.
The sweet corn last week and this week is advanced. Some actually prefer it that way, some don’t. To mitigate the anticipated corn complaints, I am including a free bag of lovely lettuce mix for those who ordered corn—this in addition to the corn for the people who customized their boxes with corn. We have a surplus of mixed lettuce this week; it grew breathtakingly fast. I didn’t want the surplus to go to waste, so I added it as a consolation prize for those who ordered corn that might disappoint them, again to hopefully avoid a slew of complaints about overdone corn.
Those who work on the farm who like advanced corn (which is most of the people who work here) say to grill it or roast it. It’s more like the corn, elote, that you can buy from street vendors in Mexico. In order to finish with the corn this week, I will sometimes be adding an extra ear of corn to your share beyond the number of ears that you ordered.
Green bell peppers are considered sweet peppers (although a shareholder recently disputed this). We used to leave parts of our green pepper crop to mature further into multi-colored peppers, but we suspended this practice years ago, since letting peppers mature on the vine stopped the growth of additional peppers. I’m going to try it again in a small patch, though, just to evaluate the process.
If you want your green peppers to turn red, leave them on a counter in a sunny location in a warm room for a few days. The peppers will sweeten as they turn color.
We also have some Carmen peppers turning red on their vines. Several inches long and triangular in shape, Carmen peppers look hot, but they are not; they are sweet.
On Crop Estimates (Again)
Since we have many shareholders who receive a share every other week, I am addressing the crop estimates challenge in Farm News a second week in a row, with somewhat different wording.
I’ve been having to face the problem of inaccurate crop estimates a lot the past few weeks. I know that we offer boxes customized to your preferences, but my crop estimates sometimes border on guesses. Sometimes they don’t border on guesses; they simply are guesses.
Eggplant will yield an abundant crop, but they will often rot as they mature. Same with heirloom tomatoes. A worm might invade them; the sun might scald them. Same with regular tomatoes. Remember, we do the crop projection on the Tuesday of the week before we deliver those vegetables. Vegetables are a moving target. They can look splendid on that Tuesday and become unacceptable by the following week. The (non-) basil last week was a good example of that, especially in late summer; the leaves just quickly went bad.
For this week, I simply made an error in offering eggplant. I knew not to offer it, but somehow it got by me and it got into the offering of this week’s crops. Sorry for that. To make up for the eggplant shortfall, I will add two regular tomatoes for every missing eggplant.
The heirloom tomatoes are subsiding. If we are short this week, I will offer two regular tomatoes to substitute for any missing heirloom tomato.
Usually, there is more demand for the sweet corn from the very beginning of sweet corn season, but this year, demand was mild. Of course, one can argue that the sweet corn crop can be tailored to the demand with advance planning, but this is not really the case. We can’t anticipate the number of late signups for our CSA, nor the weather that matures the sweet corn, nor the demand from week to week. This year especially, because the crops have been so plentiful, we have often been offering 14 crops with which to customize your box, whereas in previous years, we were likely to offer 12. With more crops to choose from, the demand for corn was diluted. Another way to express it is that the extra crop varieties we offered this season somewhat competed with our corn demand, as shareholders had more options for other crops than usual.
I never try to trick myself into thinking we have more of a crop than we have. I do the most accurate projection that I can do. But eggplant hides under the leaves, as do the peppers. I can’t count every eggplant, every pepper. Again, some of these might go bad after that Tuesday crop projection; some might look like they’ll be ready the next week, but they don’t mature fast enough.
It’s also interesting to consider the salad greens, such as the arugula or the baby lettuce. They might look too small to harvest the upcoming week, but then they might be too big if we wait an additional week.
So, recently I have been offering a lot of substitutions for crops that I thought we would have. I can’t get overwrought about this; I just have to flow with it—and be happy that I have crops to substitute. It’s just one of hundreds of things I have to manage throughout the week. Hundreds? Probably. (More on this below.)
We Are a Farm, Not a Store: A Short Review of Community Supported Agriculture
This review might be more information than some of my readers would prefer, but the whole topic of CSA is quite interesting as a social/economic model/experiment, so I invite you to read and ponder. If it’s not enough information, learn more about Community Supported Agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library.
People join our CSA for myriad reasons. Some want to support a local farm. Some want to support a farm that is dedicated to nurturing the soil. Some like the prospect of truly farm fresh vegetables and herbs. Some believe our food will be cheaper than Amazon’s food. Of course, there are more reasons and combinations of reasons.
The CSA model ideally represents a synergy between farmer and consumer, providing mutual trust and respect, where the farmer is making a living doing their best to provide food for the shareholder and the shareholder is benefitting from the farmers’ best work possible. The CSA model is supposed to offer the farmer a buffer of security against crop failure or other setbacks.
If you think about the model outlined in the previous paragraph, and compare it to how it now exists at Angelic Organics (and many other CSA farms), you will notice flaws or drawbacks in the current model:
- Some shareholders end their shares during the season. The farm has undertaken the expenses to grow crops for them, but they request a refund.
- Some quit because they can’t stand the program, the variety, the quality, the quantity or because they move away.
- Some we encourage to quit because they are so nasty, demanding, and critical that they completely darken our spirits. We then offer them a pro-rated refund for a season’s share that we have already invested in growing.
- Although shareholders agree to read Farm News in the Shareholder Agreement, many don’t read it, so they don’t have a relationship to the goings-on at the farm, which include updates on crop conditions and weather. (You, on the other hand, I will wager, are actually reading this edition of Farm News.) These people are not really participating in the CSA model. They might write a scathing critique of a marginal crop which we included in the box with a condition that has already been addressed in Farm News.
- (I will note here that there is a glitch with CSAware which causes some of our shareholders not to receive our emails, so the problem of not reading our correspondence from the farm is not necessarily indifference or disinterest on the part of our shareholders.)
- Of course, it can happen that an anticipated vegetable is not in the box, because a distracted pack volunteer neglected to put it in the box. Our pack volunteers are very conscientious (and generous), but distractions happen. We always make up for missing items with a credit.
- The CSAware share customizing system is brazenly transactional. We price the crops you order and fill your box with these crops until your box has reached its $45 threshold. This gets (some) shareholders thinking that a tomato is worth this much, a melon that much, etc., and customizing becomes a bit like shopping prices at the supermarket.
- This is a most unfortunate aspect of the customization platform, even though it is necessary and understandable as a kind of regulatory or organizing force. It turns the farm into a sort of store and the shareholder into a consumer. Every week, we are committed to fill the box with $45 worth of crops. This is not the original CSA model, which apportioned a share of the harvest to each shareholder. This has no space in it for a shortfall; it’s a box with $45 worth of contents. It’s highly transactional; it’s not based on the farm’s output, the weather, etc. According to this system, you are always entitled to a box containing $45 of crops.
- Fortunately, your farm is very experienced in growing crops, so a shortage in your box is unlikely, but we notice that many shareholders have a high standard for what goes into the box. If the farm provides a crop that is marginal, because that is what the farm and the weather provided and we thought it was too good to compost, some shareholders will want credits—the transactional system. (I realize that many shareholders give us slack, because they are keenly aware that they are receiving their crops from a farm, not a store.)
- It happens on occasion that a shareholder will demand a credit for a bad tomato, for instance, then write again the next day asking why the credit has not yet been posted, and then write again demanding prompt action in ALL CAPS. Bad tomatoes belong to the shareholders, as do good tomatoes. Our crew just strives to insulate our shareholders from marginal tomatoes and other vegetables.
- Traditionally, if a CSA farm has a crop failure, such as our basil that turned yellow in the field last week, the farm is not obligated to make it up to the shareholder. That loss would be absorbed by the shareholder, because the farm used the shareholder’s money to grow that crop. However, we don’t subject our shareholders to this sort of shortfall, because we are a highly productive farm and we substitute for crops that fail. This is an aspect of Angelic Organics which I would prefer that shareholders recognize and celebrate—that we compensate for missing crops by substituting other crops. (Of course, the farm spends money growing these other crops that become substitutions.)
- Some shareholders resent that we substitute crops for missing crops. They don’t celebrate and marvel that we are such a productive, robust farm that we absorb the cost of crop losses and provide alternative crops to complete the box. Our substitutions interfere with their meal planning and taste preferences, etc. For the most part, we don’t often need to substitute—it’s a small or a non-issue (with the glaring exception of recent weeks). But when we do substitute, some shareholders will complain strenuously, as opposed to acknowledging us for having surplus available to make up for the shortfall.
- Last week, I re-priced our regular tomatoes from $2 to $1 each, because we had so many tomatoes and I wanted to move them. I am sure you know that lowering the price 50% did not mean that suddenly it had cost us 50% less to grow and harvest the tomatoes. I just wanted the tomatoes more widely shared with our shareholders, because we had a surplus. Because our basil crop was unsuitable to give, I offered two tomatoes in exchange for the missing bag of basil. I realized that a person steeped in the transactional model will likely want 5 one-dollar tomatoes in exchange for the missing bag of basil (which is of course what a shareholder requested). However, there were so many tomatoes that were already going into many of the boxes—tomatoes that were ordered and also tomatoes to make up for other shortfalls—that I didn’t want to overwhelm the box with tomatoes. So I offered two tomatoes to substitute for the missing basil, tomatoes normally priced at $2 but last week were discounted to $1. A person can argue that this is a non-equitable swap. A CSA farmer might say, “well, we can offer something, some gesture, to make up for that missing basil—let’s put in some tomatoes, but not too many. I don’t want to overwhelm people.” I suppose this takes us back to where the shareholder is trusting the farmer’s judgment and not her calculator’s screen.
We have many shareholders who have been with us for a long time, some for decades. And many are recent subscribers. Some recent subscribers are ecstatic that they found us; some are disappointed. Some rave about the same box contents that others disparage.
Yesterday, I read many scathing, reprimanding, unkind emails from shareholders, mostly about the dissatisfaction with substitutions. Yikes. I will therefore include an excerpt from a lovely letter from a shareholder yesterday, which softened the blows:
I am writing to thank you for the fantastic veggie box that I received today. The tomatoes are truly outstanding, the leaks are gorgeous, the eggplant is nice and firm, and the sage is beautifully fragrant!
I feel truly blessed by the bounty of this year’s harvest. Thank you for all your hard work and the work of everyone at the farm.
Thank you again!
Have a restful Sunday
Thanks to those many of you who are gladly a part of Angelic Organics Community Supported Agriculture Farm, who enthusiastically and graciously receive our vegetables and herbs and regularly read Farm News. You are an essential part of our farm, just like the trees and the soil and the barns and the crops.