Farmer John Writes: The C in CSA

 In Farm News

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.

The Weather

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.

August dust and sky before the little cloudburst

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.

The Crops


tomato torrent

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. 

first potato harvest

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.

splendid leeks; last transplanting of the season—lettuce


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:

“Dear John,

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. 

Farmer John

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Showing 23 comments
  • Cindy Stear

    I am truly sorry you received scathing emails. Our society has become quite quick to attack instead of appreciate. Words do hurt, so hopefully these words can help: I have a lifetime membership because I have been extremely satisfied for YEARS. I appreciate the newletters so much, as they are philosophical and educational. I believe Farmer John is a genious, and his wife has to be very special to be his partner.

    • Farmer John

      Thank you, Cindy, for your thoughtful post. And yes, my wife is a very special soul.

  • Linda Hayward

    I am one of your shareholders that gets a box every other week, as it is just my husband and I and that’s enough produce for us! The basil we got two deliveries ago was FANTASTIC, while the basil that came in our last box wasn’t. We were thankful for the great basil we received the first time, and while disappointed that the next batch wasn’t as beautiful, felt that we have gotten such good produce all summer that we are not disappointed that we are shareholders. We will miss this good food when we move to Michigan, probably before the 2024 season. Thank you and your team that work so hard to produce such a good variety of veggies!

    • Farmer John

      Thanks for balancing out the occasional range of quality that you receive in your share. That is a generous, practical approach to being a CSA shareholder. We always strive to do our best, but sometimes our best isn’t great.

  • Elizabeth Di Cola

    I hardly know what to say. Each time you write about shareholders’ bad behavior my heart literally hurts. We enjoy our box and value the work involved in bringing our family healthy tasty vegetables that have been raised without damaging our earth. Thank you all.

    • Farmer John

      I don’t like to write about rude, entitled shareholders, but they exist and sometimes I can no longer internalize their behavior. I wonder if they read Farm News, and if they do read it, such as this recent edition, if it reaches into them at all. The most responses Farm News receives are when I write about inappropriate shareholders. The outpouring of support is gratifying and reassuring, but do the rude, entitled shareholders learn anything from this show of support, like do they see a possibility that maybe their behavior can be different? Sadly, it’s hard to cause change in most human beings.

  • Chris

    I agree with the above note from Cindy. I am also a lifetime member and love the farm connection. Those not happy should not sign up
    again. It is taking too much of your valuable time defending what happens in nature.
    I LOVE choosing the vegetables. I have ordered lots of tomatoes each time. Salsa abounds. YUM! The supply from my uncle’s garden ended years ago, so I am happy to re-live those delicious moments with the farm. We give our sincere gratitude to you all! Gracias!

    • Farmer John

      Yes, those who are not happy with our program should not sign up again. It’s a mystery why they do (and of course, some of them don’t sign up again.) I am seldom a fan of all caps, but your LOVE above hit me just right. Thank you.

  • Tara Larsen

    Dear Farmer John,
    Thank you for this detailed weekly letter, I love learning and hearing about your Farm news. I have enjoyed receiving my box every other week and never mind substitutions. Supporting a local farm is my incentive and absolutely love your fresh and delicious produce. Thank you so very much for your thoughtful and brilliant hard of a farmer is noble and impressive, and shame on unnecessary negative comments. In appreciation to you all for bringing my family your delightful harvest!

    • Farmer John

      Tara, Your comments are lovely and most appreciated. I especially like that you hold farmers in such high regard.

  • Jane

    Thanks for all you and your team do to provide us wonderful food! We’ve been members for over 20 years and every year I think, “This year is even better than the last!”–or at least a tough year for one type of vegetable usually means a good year for another type. Hearing about the complaints make me sad that so many people are disconnected from the real work and uncertainty of growing food.

    • Farmer John

      Jane, Thank you for being with us for so many years. What a journey through time. And I appreciate your acknowledgment of “the real work and uncertainty of growing food.” I feel like you are at my side.

  • Mae

    Lest you think that only 5 or 6 shareholders are joyous about their boxes, I will add my name to the list, for at least one more shoutout of joy! I have enjoyed every single bite of everything, but especially the lettuces, tomatoes, and corn. I don’t think that I will ever forget this year’s first bite into the lettuces and the arugula! Never in my 80 plus years have I ever tasted greens such as your Farm produces. And a special recognition to the fennel that has been beyond outstanding. The 1 rotted pepper is almost forgotten. I feel badly for its never achieving its life-fulfilling purpose of passing my lips en route to nourishing my body, mind and soul. But it did try. And the Farm did try. And yes, I felt just a tiny tinge of something like “guilt,” when I asked for a vegie credit. I do feel blessed that the abundance this year has resulted in vegie credits. Such abundance is surely Heaven’s reward for something very Good.

    • Farmer John

      Mae, Your post is poetic. “I feel badly for [the pepper’s] never achieving its life-fulfilling purpose of passing my lips en route to nourishing my body, mind and soul. But it did try. And the Farm did try.” I hope you come to our Field Day on September 23rd. I want to give you a hug.

  • Barbara Carney and Paul Engleman

    Hi Farmer John–We are in our first year with Angelic Organics and we love it! The box arrival to our home in Chicago (we are alternate weekly delivery) is a summertime holiday event! Everything–and I mean everything — we have received in our box has been fresh, lovely and beautiful–and sends us to cookbooks for preparation ideas and suggestions. Very happy AO partners here–don’t let those grouchies dim your spirits or distract you from enjoying the knowledge that you have many happy and grateful CSA partners out here enjoying everything you grow and looking forward to the next box of vegetable goodness!

    • Farmer John

      “Grouchies” is a good word. I will start using it. Thank you for your lovely, spirited, affirming post.

  • Cecilia Clarke

    I am ALWAYS happy to get more tomatoes! I am sorry you get terrible emails. I have loved getting a vegetable box biweekly and although occasionally I can’t use up all the herbs (I also grow some), that’s on me. The vegetables I’ve received are always outstanding!

    • Farmer John

      Your post says it succinctly: “I am sorry you get terrible emails.” That’s what many of them are. I spent much of a recent Sunday afternoon perusing them, and I felt very darkened and soiled. I checked my blood pressure and it had gone up significantly. And then I couldn’t sleep that night. There are many supportive, loving posts from shareholders regarding this issue of Farm News–soothing and much appreciated.

  • Christian Larson

    Another thoughtfully write-up from Farmer John! The struggle is real! Sorry to hear that the pitfalls of modern day consumersim have beleaguered your farm. Shame on those folks. Thank you for the genuine and gentle reminder of what the “C” in CSA represents. Much love to you and everyone that helps make these fresh goods possible.

    • Farmer John

      Beautiful from you, Christian. Yes, “The struggle is real!” though now softened by so many loving, supportive comments from shareholders like you.

  • Leslie Campbell

    I too am saddened to read about our fellow shareholders who seem to have forgotten ( or maybe they just never informed themselves to begin with prior to signing the shareholders agreement), that you are partnering with a farm, not a grocery store or farmer’s market. Are there boxes where the vegetables weren’t as aesthetically pleasing as those in a Food and Wine magazine? Sure, but that’s not the point. I appreciate the lovely, hard working crews who brave whatever Mother Nature throws at them on a daily basis so that I may enjoy the thrill I get each time I cart my box of goodies home, unpack it and fill my fridge with the freshest, most wholesome veggies available outside of growing them myself ( and that’s assuming my soil was as good in quality as Farmer John’s). Thank you for all you do! As for the haters, well some people just can’t help acting like lemons.

    • Farmer John

      Leslie, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts about belonging to our CSA. I feel you are right there with us on this journey,

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