Farmer John Writes: The Art of Growing
Harvest Week 14, Deliveries of September 19th – 23rd, 2023
Upon reviewing the crops that are scheduled for this week’s shares, I thought I would highlight the Art of Growing. It’s a collaborative art, requiring the efforts of many people, long-term planning, daily planning, good equipment, good soil, adequate infrastructure, and receptive shareholders.
This issue is a tribute to the many at Angelic Organics who feed you, and what they bring forth from the fields.
The Art of Growing
For this week’s shares, we offered selections from 14 different crops. Below, I offer profiles/photos of all 14: celeriac, leeks, potatoes, cilantro, heirloom tomatoes, regular tomatoes, parsley, baby lettuce, arugula, radishes, kale, thyme, delicata squash, and Brussels sprouts tops.
In presenting this list above, I was taken back to the creation of Farmer John’s Cookbook, now out of print, which was originally going to be full color. Every one of the 36 crops elaborated with recipes and overviews in the book was to have five photos accompanying it, photos that showed the crop from early growth stage to fruiting through harvest and washing. The idea was to impart the Anthroposophical/Goethean emphasis on metamorphosis. It was a tremendous project to document all these crops in their various stages of growth, harvest, and post-harvest. That photo documentation would have enhanced the cookbook immensely. The publisher promised a hard cover coffee table book in full color, then reneged. Things don’t always turn out as planned.
If this edition of Farm News were a movie, the crops profiled below would receive acting credits. Our field workers would be the production team. The cover crops would be the caterers, since they feed the soiI. Haidy would be publicist and administrator. I suppose I would be the director. Shareholders would get credit as the executive producers, since they are the source of money.
The 14 Crops Available this Week
Celeriac—it has been several years since we grew such a nice crop of celeriac. This year, some of the leaves are finally starting to fray, so we have decided to start harvesting it, even though some of the bulbs could probably get bigger (but not if the leaves are withering).
We have a similar condition with celeriac’s leafy cousin, celery. Before the celery is fully grown, it starts to spoil in the field, so we tend to harvest it early when it is still mid-sized.
I noticed that a rather small percentage of our shareholders chose to receive celeriac this week. About half as many shareholders ordered celeriac compared to potatoes and leeks. I am also remembering that some shareholders love celeriac and have lamented the failed or sparse crops of recent years.
Leeks—beautiful crop this year.
Potatoes—not a bountiful crop of potatoes this season. And weirdly, some of the potatoes spoiled in the ground. With the dry summer, this perplexes me. The crew does their best grading potatoes before bagging them, but I’m sure they miss a few.
Potato Hygiene—our shipment of paper potato bags did not arrive in time, so some of your potatoes went into plastic bags and some into biodegradable, more porous non-paper bags. I suggest, if your potatoes are in the plastic bag especially, but maybe also if they are in the biodegradable non-paper bags, that you remove and inspect the potatoes and then transfer them to a paper bag.
Here is a recipe for leek and potato soup with celeriac. For those of you who study the recipe and then regret not choosing celeriac, there will be another chance to pair celeriac with potatoes.
Cilantro—a very popular crop.
Heirloom Tomatoes—almost done. Many heirlooms spoil on the vine, and they require more care for harvest and transport. It’s understandable why they command significantly higher prices than regular tomatoes.
This is probably the last week for heirloom tomatoes. I am tired of thinking the ones left will ripen, and they rot instead, and I have been continually over-estimating their availability.
Regular Tomatoes—they took forever to ripen and suddenly, most of them ripened at once. We’ll probably offer regular tomatoes for one more week.
Parsley grows back again a few weeks after harvesting.
Baby Lettuce—we harvested our lettuce mix a bit on the small side, because we had offered it for this week. Due to the cooler, shorter days, it was slow to grow. The bags will be smaller than usual. Your lettuce should be delectable.
Fabulous Arugula—we have some of the nicest arugula ever this week. The most destructive enemy of arugula, the flea beetles, are in remission. Let’s hope they stay that way through the week’s harvest.
It is the best arugula crop ever. We normally split up a crate into 12 to 15 bags for your culinary pleasure, depending on the size of the harvest. We will divvy up each crate this week into 8 bags. (We can’t hold arugula over in the field for another week—it will bolt.) This arugula took 4 weeks to grow to maturity—4 weeks!
This Week’s Arugula Bag
Doing the math, at 8 bags per crate, the volume of a bag will be a little less than 1/4 bushel. Your CSA box is 3/4 bushel, so one bag of arugula willl take up a little less than 1/3 of your box. Of course, the bag compresses a bit, so it’s more likely that your bag of arugula will take up about 1/4 of your box. If you ordered 2 bags of arugula, they would come close to filling 1/2 of your box.
I just did a reality check and put two bags of this week’s arugula into a CSA box. It seems the arugula compresses more when bagged than what I anticipated. Still, the two bags took up over 1/3 of the box volume.
Radishes—grow fast, are the right size for just a few days, and then they split, especially if it rains.
Kale—we offer kale most weeks, a super popular crop.
Thyme—we harvest thyme and a few weeks later, it’s back.
Brussels sprouts tops—very popular with our shareholders.
Winter Squash—we have many fields of winter squash to harvest. Also, we have ripe pumpkins and gourds for you if you attend our Field Day on Saturday.
Cover crop of fall peas feeds the soil—the catering team, remember?
Careful With Those Box Tabs
We get a lot of boxes back with ripped tabs.
The farm has to replace those boxes that have been made flimsy due to ripped tabs. Without ripping the tabs, a box should last the whole season. A box that is not flattened properly will only hold up for maybe 6 or 7 deliveries. We probably replace 2,000 damaged boxes per season at a cost of about $5,000 to the farm.
Please watch this video of how to properly flatten your boxes.
Next year, I plan to put a label on the bottom of the boxes to remind shareholders not to rip the tabs. That will probably reduce our replacement box expenses.
Please Return Your Vegetable Boxes
Most shareholders who pick up at a community site flatten their box and take their vegetables home in the liner. Home delivery shareholders get the box itself plus contents, and are asked to put it outside their door on the day of home delivery, so the Metrobi driver can pick it up and start its journey back to the farm. These boxes are often not returned to the farm. I am guessing that about $5,000 worth of boxes are not returned. Please put your flattened box where the Metrobi driver will see it and recycle it to the farm.
The compostable box liners help to keep the temperature of your box contents stable. They also keep the inside of the box clean. I thought that the cost of the box liners of $300 per week would be offset by not having to replace so many boxes, since the boxes are kept so much cleaner due to the liners. Also, typically the boxes are flattened at the site upon pickup and left there, so they aren’t as likely to be stockpiled in someone’s garage and go out of circulation. The box liners have not saved us much money in box replacements, however, because so many of the boxes are rendered unusable due to the ripped tabs.
Box Liners This Week
Our box liners didn’t come on time this week, so some of the boxes in the early part of the week will not have box liners. Worse things can happen…
Field Day This Saturday, September 23rd
Come have fun with us: pick flowers, ride on the hay wagon, get your pumpkins, sing songs with Megan shareholder Eberhardt, dine, meet our farmer friends from Utah…. learn more about the upcoming Field Day.
Your emails aren’t junk. They are supposed to go to our customer service platform Freshdesk, where we are admittedly behind in answering them. But if they land in Freshdesk, we will eventually see them and answer them.
For some reason, our email delivery provider was GoDaddy and then it one day became Microsoft Office. Your email might end up in Freshdesk, where it is supposed to land, but your next email might end up in an obscure junk folder in Microsoft Office. This is tremendously hard to manage, and we have not figured out how to train Microsoft to stop randomly depositing your emails in junk. We might be waiting for an email reply from you, and then still waiting, but your reply was re-directed to a junk folder off yonder in Microsoft Office.
On this junk note, our CSA management platform, CSAware, has a service that lets us efficiently send bulk emails to you, but for some reason, these emails are sometimes vaporized by the provider—not just emails from our farm but from many other farms that are trying to be in contact with their customers. If we send you an email through the CSAware system, and you don’t get it, and it’s not in your junk folder, it was probably vaporized by the provider. Imagine this: we send you an email; you don’t receive it; you don’t know we sent it; we don’t know you didn’t get it.
CSAware is trying to fix this problem. It seems it is a highly technical, very fussy issue, because CSAware farms are not supposed to use the CSAware system for promotions, but our notice to you, for instance, for our Field Day is hardly a promotion, but maybe some algorithm decides it’s a promotion. Or maybe other farms are using the system for clearcut promotions and then all the farms using the system are held suspect for promoting.
Sorry about Missing Items
Occasionally, a pack volunteer, lovely and dedicated as they are, neglects to put the item(s) called for on the label as the box comes down the line. I have brought this up to our pack volunteers numerous times, and it’s clear that they all think that putting in the number of items that correspond to the box label is a good idea. However, agreeing that it is a good idea is not the same as putting the right number of items in the box.
For instance, last Friday, a shareholder got none of the 6 leeks she was expecting in her share.
We do random audits of boxes as they come off the line. We didn’t catch this oversight.
Haidy said, “imagine this shareholder who was so looking forward to her 6 leeks and none of them came.”
We are sorry about items missing from your box. I welcome every complaint about missing items and we guiltily offer credits for the shortfall. The best way to report a missing item is to fill out the Report an Issue form. (We are behind in processing these credits, but have a plan to catch up soon.)
We dramatically upgraded our vegetable and herb inventory system this season. In the aftermath of that upgrade, I planned to track which pack volunteer was supposed to put which item into your box, so that I could create an accountability system for tracking who neglected to put in items. I didn’t create that accountability system yet. I simply don’t get to all the things I want to do. Sorry.
Pack Volunteers and Our Neighbor Ole
Our neighbor David Olafsen (Ole) baked cinnamon molasses cookies for our lovely pack volunteers last Thursday. David and I have known each other forever.
The H-2A Crew Likes Walmart
The H-2A crew likes to shop at Walmart. I avoid Walmart, partly due to its immensity. I feel lost when I go there.
Farmer John: Why do you like to go to Walmart?
Crew: It’s big and it has everything.
Farmer John: That’s it?
Crew: We like to watch the people.
Farmer John: Do you know where things are, like where the toys are and the engine oil and the clothes?
Farmer John: Do you get to know the staff?
Farmer John: Do you talk to them? Are they happy to see you?
Farmer John: So, if I go to Walmart and say “Hi” from you guys, no one will know who I am talking about?
Crew: No one.
Farmer John: Well, you should get to know the staff, if you are going in there so often. You should call ahead and tell them when you are coming so they will be expecting you. I have been there once in maybe the last 5 years. It’s just too big for me. I used to raise corn where that Walmart now sits. I’d rather walk through rows of corn than down those aisles of Walmart; the colors are terrible.
Last Week’s Farm News: The C in CSA
We received an outpouring of love and support after last week’s publication of Farm News, The C in CSA. I wonder if the demanding, rude shareholders who write us will even read it, and if they do, if it will make any difference in their approach or attitude. Those ways of behavior are not easy to soften.
Here is one of my favorite replies to the issue:
“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.”
(Just so you know, some of Mae’s emails to us ended up in the Microsoft Office junk folder.)
Later, Mae added:
“I LOVE YOUR STAGING ROOM AND all the stories it already tells!”
She also added in another note:
“In how many universes are how many possibilities/probabilities, the mysteries within the mysteries … and all we can do is … the best we can…”
And then this from Mae:
“Haidy, NO problem. Also, I just read your darling’s newsletter for this week, where it was clear that you’ve also been traveling back, and all the emails you get, etc etc. Please realize that any inquiries from me are just that, inquires. I really admire the jobs that all of you on the farm are involved in, doing your humanly very best every day. I find it totally amazing what Farmer John is accomplishing in the creation, growth, and quality of the farm. Hundreds of variables with more lurking. So I may want my basil, peppers, or whatever, but I also just want to thank you ALL!”
To which Haidy responded:
“Thank you so much, Mae! What a wonderful, supportive message from you. It gave me a boost.
We are grateful to have you in our farm community. Hopefully you can come and see the farm next weekend at our Field Day.
I wish that Mae could be the farm’s resident poet.
55 Years Ago, Farmer John and His Mom at Breakfast Before Milking
Farmer John: We need a load of crushed rock for our driveway.
John’s Mom: Okay, I’ll call Porters’ right away.
Farmer John: It’s 4:30 in the morning. You can’t call them this early.
John’s Mom: Oh, Grover is up.
John’s Mom called Grover during breakfast.
John’s Mom to Farmer John; He’ll bring the rock out as soon as it gets light. We went to Hononegah High School together, you know. That was in the 30’s.
Grover brought out the load of rock when it got light. A couple of weeks later, Grover proposed to my Mom. Imagine if he had forgotten to put the load of rock in his truck, like what occurs occasionally with a pack volunteer.
They had more than 20 glorious years together.
Motivated? Single? Order rock early in the morning.