Farmer John Writes: What is There?
Harvest Week 19, Deliveries of October 24th – 28th, 2023
For Some of You, This is Your Last Delivery of the Season
If you receive a bi-weekly share on the odd weeks (that’s this week, Week 19) and you don’t have an extended season share, this is your last week of deliveries. Thank you for being with us this season.
If you are unsure about your delivery schedule for the rest of the season, check the delivery calendar in your membership account.
Fall Beets—slow going, even the ones that are covered. Next week will be warm. Maybe we’ll have beets.
Broccoli—has not enjoyed the fall warmth, not sure what we still might be able to harvest. Much of it bolted.
Chinese cabbage—nice, big heads.
Arugula, cilantro, dill, kale, chard—all flourishing…
Head Lettuce—The last head lettuce of the season was transplanted too late for my comfort. However, the fall warmth and the comfy row cover have combined to provide a nice crop of head lettuce. If not for the unseasonal warmth and the row cover, this paragraph would have been titled Had Lettuce.
Daikon radishes—some of them got big this year. Big daikons make for fine cuisine.
Interesting that some of our shareholders love our head lettuce but not our mixed leaf lettuce; some prefer our leaf lettuce. When we need to substitute one for the other, we will invariably receive objections to those substitutions.
I have on occasion sent emails identifying the substitutions, but not always. In general, we substitute when we need to, and giving shareholders a heads-up about a substitution often goes beyond the granular shareholder service I am able offer.
While I am on this subject of customer service, I’ll mention that we get emails and calls at all hours and on all days of the week, often requesting immediate replies, as though we have a full time staff just doing customer service. Maybe these people have heard the saying a farmer’s work is never done.
Whose Garden is It?
A friend recently made the observation about the farm: “It’s the shareholders’ garden. If a shareholder went out to their garden and found a pepper with a spot on it, would they throw it out or cut out the spot? If they found a head of lettuce with a worm on it or a spot of mud, would they throw the lettuce out? If they picked up a smallish squash, would they discard it, because of its size? All the blemished produce belongs to the shareholders.”
A shopper might dismiss a pepper with a spot on it in the produce aisle, but once the spotted pepper is in their refrigerator, it falls into the category of acceptable—just cut out the spot. It’s interesting to consider by when the pepper in our CSA belongs to the shareholder—once it is examined upon arrival at their home and deemed acceptable, or when it is being packed, or before it is graded? Does the blemished pepper belong to the compost pile of the farm and the pristine pepper to the shareholder?
I mentioned last week in Farm News that I lowered our grading standards for peppers this month, because peppers in October are a bit like kicking up sand on the beach and unearthing a gold nugget. They are a rarity, but sure enough, we got complaints about these heroic peppers—not just their quality but also that they were out of season, and carrots should have taken their place.
Borderline balmy. Farmers often complain about the weather, but I like pretty much all sorts of weather.
The H-2A workers’ visas are good through Friday, November 17th, two weeks before our extended season ends. Will we be able to finish the season without them? Probably, because pretty much all the crops have to be in storage by then, because hard frosts will destroy what is still in the fields.
Is it Still Fresh?
The late fall crops are harvested early to get them out of frost’s way. Are they still considered fresh then? That’s a good question. We can leave kale out in the field until the low-mid 20’s, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and spinach, also, but it gets scary at those temperatures, because temperatures vary a lot from their official forecasts.
I don’t lean much into Rudolf Steiner’s body of work known as Anthroposophy in Farm News, because Steiner is not for everyone and it seems that he is really not for most people, period. And, I don’t like to proselytize. However, I am an Anthroposophist and am very engaged in Rudolf Steiner’s work.
I have read over 100 of Steiner’s books, mostly compilations of his lectures but also some cornerstone books he wrote himself.
If you google Rudolf Steiner, you will find an immense body of work by him and about him, and also dismissive, condescending, and vitriolic claims regarding Steiner. (How gratifying it must feel to be part of the cancel culture.)
Am I a closet Anthroposophist? Maybe, but technically not, because in certain circles I am an obvious Anthroposophist.
I bring Steiner up because we practice Biodynamics at Angelic Organics. Biodynamics is one of many initiatives launched by Steiner in the early 1900’s until his death in 1925. In a less formatted way, Steiner’s approach to design has also been incorporated into the farmstead at Angelic Organics, and, also, some of his recommendations for social life.
In 2012, I presented on The Farm as Social Organism in a daylong workshop at the farm prior to the National Biodynamic Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
At the same time I met Sara Patterson and her mom Symbria. I will be co-presenting at the National Biodynamic Conference next month with Sara, with Sara’s mom as moderator. Some of you met the Pattersons at our Field Day last month. Many of you mentioned how thoroughly lovely, creative and helpful they were.
I have been rather under the public radar for many years since my five-year tour with the film The Real Dirt on Farmer John ended in late 2009. During the span of that tour, I was interviewed over 1,000 times. Although I have been mostly out of the public eye since then, a couple of days ago, the Biodynamic Association decided to promote Sara’s and my workshop with an email promotion which resurrected me as a Biodynamic Rock Star. Cute.
“The National Biodynamic Conference is thrilled to welcome Biodynamic rockstar Farmer John Peterson of Angelic Organics as a workshop presenter this year!
You may recognize him from the the feature documentary film The Real Dirt on Farmer John which chronicles over 50 years of his life and his farm Angelic Organics. Peterson is also the author of Farmer John’s Cookbook, in which he brought Rudolf Steiner’s work on nutrition and the goodness of Biodynamic vegetables to the general public.
Farmer John, along with Sara Patterson of Red Acre Farm and Center, will be presenting the workshop What Can You NOT Learn from These Two Totally Opposite BD CSA Farmers, where the two lifelong farmers and best friends—one 28, the other 72; one steeped in the Mormon faith, the other a dedicated Anthroposophist; one offering a full diet farm pick up feeding 60 people, the other with 2400 shareholders delivering to Chicagoland; one in windswept southern Utah, one in the verdant Midwest—discuss their farms, their lives, their love for farming, and why age doesn’t matter (much).”
– Biodynamic Demeter Alliance Newsletter
In last week’s Farm News, The Heavens Beckon and The Earth Dictates, I addressed the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes conflicting, relationship between earthly mandates and heavenly inspirations. It is not a misnomer to recognize this age we live in as highly materialistic (earthly) and decidedly unspiritual (heavenly). If one were to deeply engage Steiner’s work on this dichotomy, one would learn the importance and necessity for this period of humanity being steeped so deeply in matter, as offensive and uncomfortable as it might be for some.
Biodynamics has a lot to offer those of a materialistic or at least an earthbound mindset. Here I excerpt from the Biodynamic Demeter Alliance:
“A Biodynamic Farm Is a Living Organism
Each biodynamic farm or garden is an integrated, whole, living organism. This organism is made up of many independent elements: fields, forests, plants, animals, soils, compost, people, and the spirit of the place. Biodynamic farmers and gardeners work to nurture and harmonize these elements, managing them in a holistic and dynamic way to support the health and vitality of the whole. Biodynamic practitioners also endeavor to listen to the land, to sense what may want to emerge through it, and to develop and evolve their farm as a unique individuality.”
This paragraph above will resound for many–it somewhat emulates an image of an idyllic diversified organic farm. However, if you investigate Steiner’s work further, you will encounter numerous references to a world and universe inhabited by spirits and other invisible forces (some of these forces play a role in the Biodynamic preparations) and this is where many (most?) people thoroughly reject Steiner.
To be more forthright, in Steiner’s words (translated from German into English):
“All that surrounds us in the world of sense — all we can perceive through our senses and understand with our intellect — which is bound to the senses — is not the whole world, but that behind it all lies a spiritual world. And this spiritual world lies not in some undefined “beyond” but surrounds us here and now in exactly the same way as color and light phenomena surround a person born blind. But in order to perceive our environment we need an organ of perception. And just as a blind person cannot see color or light, so someone of our age cannot, as a rule, perceive the spiritual facts and beings surrounding them here if they possesses only their normal powers of perception.“
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 272 – GOETHE’S FAUST FROM THE STANDPOINT OF SPIRITUAL SCIENCE – Strassburg, 23 January 1910
My writings about the farm and my life tend to be earthly, with little forays into more subtle regions, but Steiner’s work deals in a very straightforward way with forces and beings invisible to the eye, and this is partly why so many people today and most contemporary science reject his work.
In Week 8 of Farm News, 2020, Is the Farm a Being?, I explore the question of whether the farm is a thing or a living organism. It’s not especially esoteric, but it does address the issue of whether a farm is an individuality, which can tend towards esoteric.
Since I was 8 or so and had learned to read, my main interest was in invisible forces, and I would read about them voraciously. My favorite work was Stranger than Science, by Frank Edwards. I would read particularly compelling esoteric stories to my mother, who would then read them to her 7th and 8th grade English classes. I was reminded of this years later, when a former student of my mom told me how much his class looked forward to these otherworldly readings, and how if she had done such readings years later, she would have lost her teaching job.
To my shareholders, I mostly present myself as a practical steward of the land who is perhaps a bit imaginative. I do not venture far into spirit land, because esoteric missives can be very divisive, and can trigger condescension and rejection. Am I coming out of my spirit-imbued closet today? Not with any fanfare; I just like to hold up to others that I feel there is more to life than meets the eye.
I like to think that what especially matters to most shareholders is: do the crops go in on time in properly stewarded soil, get harvested in time with fairly treated workers, and get delivered on time in good condition in generous or at least adequate quantities? Whatever fancies I entertain beyond that are okay, as long as these notions don’t get in the way of the farming.
Earth and Sky
The stage in our main barn embodies the relationship between the earth (lower stage) and the heavens (upper stage), with a middle stage that mediates between the two.
Also in the barn loft is a sort of shadow box that offers a representation of our Biodynamic farm. At the bottom is a tree root which represents earth and the mineral-based, earthbound agriculture that is widely practiced. Floating near the top is an angelic being representing the heavens. In between, mediating the relationship between earth and sky, are the Biodynamic practices.
My Journey to Biodynamics
Here is a story I wrote in the 90’s about my transformational encounter with invisible forces and how that encounter lead me to Biodynamics and Rudolf Steiner.
My Dream Once
Over 20 years ago, when Bob Bower was still working here (whom many of you will remember), Bob and I hoped to fashion Angelic Organics somewhat after Hawthorne Valley Farm, an Anthroposophically inspired community in the Hudson Valley of New York that has many initiatives related to Rudolf Steiner’s work. This was a tall order, but like Hawthorne Valley, it had to start at the beginning, with a vision. Bob’s and my stated dream and intention was to move Angelic Organics in the direction of an Anthroposophical Center that would embrace Steiner’s work in a range of areas, with a central focus on Community Supported Agriculture and Biodynamic farming. Our goal was to forward the stated cultural and social impulses inspired by Anthroposophy. (Bob Bower is now a Christian Community Priest in New England. The Christian Community Church is another branch of Rudolf Steiner’s work.)
While on my film tour, I diligently sought out Biodynamic farms, Anthroposophical communities, Waldorf schools, Camphill Communities, and Christian Community Churches to get inspiration and practical guidance for how to develop Angelic Organics as a mecca for Anthroposophical initiatives. Alas, I returned to a farm that relentlessly needed me in myriad ways to make it productive and viable. I was unable to stay present to my dream, and my broad vision for the farm hasn’t manifested.
Permit me to reflect here on this dream not coming to fruition. It was founded on intention, declaration, commitment, vision, determination and, perhaps, a sense of destiny. Yet, it did not manifest. In Farm News earlier this season, Why Did It Happen?, I addressed the phenomenon and mystery of will. Some things seem to come about easily with only a nod of intention, some things come about through immense struggle, and some things never manifest in spite of tremendous effort. It seems to depend on the person, the vision, the timing, the need and myriad other factors. As a farmer, I recognize that some crops flourish with little effort; some crops fail in spite of immense effort.
Good has certainly emerged, however, since I returned to the farm 14 years ago: Angelic Organics has become a Biodynamic powerhouse of production, a mecca for Community Supported Agriculture, an avid employer of those-with-less below the border, and a vibrant laboratory for the design of social spaces and farmstead renovation. I am also blessed to have a most lovely Anthroposophically-inspired wife, Haidy, from Finland, whom I met on the film tour through the…let me take the liberty here…cosmic organizing force of the Second Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, which is the worldwide center for Anthroposophy.
Although this farm never emerged as a broader center for Rudolf Steiner’s work, my interest in Steiner is steadfast (ok, insatiable). I lament that the farm was never developed as an Anthroposophical center, but I am personally centered in Anthroposophy, so maybe I can be my own Anthroposophical Center. My wife Haidy is similarly committed to Anthroposophy, so maybe we qualify as an Anthroposophical Center of Two.
Pondering now, how would I, if I do qualify as a closet Anthroposophist, come out of the Anthroposophy closet? I think it would go a bit like this.
Me: “Hey, I just want you to know that I have been an Anthroposophist for years, and I’m sorry I have never told you.”
Them: “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Me: “About Anthroposophy.”
Them: “What’s that?”
Me: “Uh, it’s kind of hard to explain.”
Them: “Well, how can we approve or disapprove of you being an Anthroposophist, if we don’t know what Anthroposophy is? How can we know whether to embrace you or shun you?”
Me: “Uh, let’s just drop it.”