Farmer John Writes: Did I Like the Squeals?
Holiday Season Week 2, Deliveries of November 14th – 18th, 2023
Beets—we decided to harvest our beets, even though they did not achieve the glorious sizes that you are used to. I just thought that, with the season nearing an end, our shareholders should have a taste of our fall beets. The leaves did not survive the frosts, so bunching the beets was not an option. Life goes like this sometimes.
Lettuce—the lettuce that we harvested a while back did not hold up well in storage. Storage of perishable crops requires its own vast area of expertise; I do not always succeed in storage methods. There is a Food Safety Modernization Act Safety Compliance protocol that requires that most crops not be in contact with wood surfaces, so we have to use expensive, unwieldy plastic liners inside of our wooden bins to keep the crops legally sanitary. Ironically, the plastic traps so much moisture that the crops often spoil faster than they otherwise would.
I really don’t know the solution in some of these situations. Of course, we try to hold the crops in the fields as long as possible, then harvest them and store them for a short time, but this is not possible during frost season. The short version of this section is that there is no lettuce for the rest of the season; we had to discard it. Fortunately, we have lots of other crops.
Popcorn—shareholders have written and asked how to pop the popcorn. Arguably, the kernels are really hard to shell if you are hoping to pop them in a frying pan or a popcorn popper. It seems most people pop ears of popcorn in their microwave, like this.
I read some of the appreciative comments that we have received from shareholders this season to the crew. It is most special how many of our shareholders admire and acknowledge our crew.
Also, I played this cute video of a young indigenous woman’s journey to independence for our crew, since both Maythe and Bartolo are from that area of Mexico and speak that language.
Well, so I thought. The video claimed to be in that language. Maybe there are numerous dialects of that language. Bartolo recognized one word in the whole video; Maythe recognized none. So much for a special moment.
At the Biodynamic Conference last week, I met Betty LaDuke and learned about her paintings of farm workers that she paints right in the fields. She is excited to soon read the accounts of our farm workers in Farm News.
This ebullient message of gratitude just arrived from a shareholder, which I will soon read to the crew (with translation):
“What a wonderful tribute to the people of field, vegetable bins, trucks, plows and tractors. Let them know that their faces and hopes live in the foods they have touched. Let them know how very much I hope that their dreams come true. And let them know that this Thanksgiving, this shareholder will think of them gratefully for their hard work and the sacrifices they have made to work in our fields.”
Mild. Occasional rain. Overall, kind to our workers and to our pack volunteers.
I’m writing this on the plane back from Denver where I presented at the Biodynamic Conference. I did a little customer service when at the conference, but hey, it was a conference.
The Biodynamic Conference
The conference was quite the convergence of personalities and initiatives. (In case you’re wondering, my wife Haidy didn’t join me at the conference because she’s going through some health challenges.)
Sara and Symbria Patterson from Red Acre Farm, whom I presented with and whom some of you met at our Field Day, were their delightful, animated, entertaining selves. I have never known anyone with their energy, except my mother, who outworked our young farm interns two-fold when she was in her mid-70’s. She had so much energy that people her age could not come to terms with it. Remembering now, our farm interns also could not come to terms with her; they were offended that she so outworked them, not motivated, not inspired—offended. Some of you knew my mother.
Back to the Pattersons and our presentation. Sara is eloquent. It just seems to come naturally. She is urbane, poised, and so down-to-earth at the same time. I feel joy and awe when I listen to her. And her mother, Symbria, our moderator, is so quick-witted and funny. She seems able to summarize in a second what might take most a minute just to ponder. How do they do it?
The feature documentary, The Real Dirt on Farmer John, directed by Taggart Siegel and chronicling 50 years of my life, has mostly gone dormant for others and myself. However, at the recent biodynamic conference, it was still living in the hearts of many. I was a bit blindsided by the number of requests to pose for photos with film fans, and also the number of people who said it was the best film they had ever seen, also that it had helped some of them choose to go forward with a career in agriculture.
When the film was making its way in the world, occasionally I was received like a celebrity. I wouldn’t say I especially loved this, but it certainly made it easier to enter into social life in my travels. Fame, for me, had the one advantage of not having to prove myself from scratch in social situations. Other than that, I found it a bit of an irritant. (Well, okay, sometimes it was fun to receive standing ovations and to be besieged by squealing fans, but I wouldn’t want to do it for a living.)
I met a man from India named Sundeep at the conference. For years, he had headed up a Biodynamic training program for the Biodynamic Association of India, and had always had his students watch The Real Dirt.
He had them watch other farm films, too, but said they were gloomy and The Real Dirt was hopeful. Sundeep travels the world in support of Biodynamic initiatives. He had recently been in Germany at a Biodynamic/Demeter research center, where he was shocked that the heads of research there had not seen the film. He had them sit with him and watched the movie, one month before encountering me off the screen. He was shocked to see me in person. Sundeep might visit the farm soon.
Biodynamics and Our Earth
Biodynamics could do great things for the earth, but it’s under-recognized and underrated. Years ago, one season I devoted most issues of Farm News to Biodynamics. This awareness campaign did not seem to help the movement to gain traction. Biodynamics and Rudolf Steiner did, however, get a bit of coverage in The Real Dirt and my now out-of-print cookbook. Both of these got pretty far out into the world.
At the conference, it was deeply recognized and lamented that Biodynamics had not gathered adequate momentum as a movement. There are many plans and hopes in place now to make it more honored and more prevalent.
This is a good place to acknowledge that many people who have worked at Angelic Organics (and/or seen the film) have gone on to become farmers.
Eric—one such person, Eric Landowne, was at the conference. Eric is now running a farm with his wife for a Waldorf School in California. He is just as adventurous, sweet and funny as he was back when he worked for Angelic Organics 30 years ago. I had not seen him since.
Sara & Symbria Patterson—I was so moved to receive this email below, The Weekly Weed, from Red Acre Farm—not so much because it makes me seem special, but because the Pattersons are so special and because they so freely make other people special. The Pattersons’ first interest is the people around them, how to care for them, how to support them, how to serve them, how to love them. Notice below how their lives are all about community, and community is about them.
From Red Acre Farm’s “Weekly Weed” newsletter:
“I am grateful to be writing the Weekly Weed from Boulder, Colorado, this morning. We are here for the National Biodynamic Conference. In 2012, at 17, this would be the first Farm Conference I would attend, and it holds a special place in my heart. I only learned about the Conference in 2012 a few weeks before it happened. My Mom suggested going next year, and when I saw it was only every other year, I thought I would be too old and we HAD to go. What became the burning desire to get there was the fact the farm day was at Angelic Organics with THEE Farmer John. I had seen his film and knew about his Farm and the trails he blazed for Organic, Biodynamic, and CSAs. It was far away ( Wisconsin ) and only year three of our Farm. We had zero resources. Or did we because we had a community?
So we asked our community. There was no official “GoFundMe.” We put a jar out asking for donations on Wednesday’s share day pick-up. The ask was urgent as we needed to leave on Monday. Our CSA members were generous and encouraged us to send an email out. I explained this was for my education because I wanted to stay here and be a local farm and farmer for this community. I had a bare-bones ask, $1310.The cost of the Conference for myself and my Mom was $ 710. we would pack our food, drive our about-to-break-down van, and sleep in it—$ 600 for gas. My Mom was willing but not in love with the idea that we would sleep in the van and bring our own food.
Even as I write this now, I tear up. The support was overwhelming. Within three days, we had over $6000. We had people offering their sky miles so we could fly. It was probably not the best idea for a So Cal. girl and her 17-year-old daughter to drive to Wisconsin mid-Nov. People called and offered their credit cards, asking if we had enough because they didn’t want us sleeping in our car. The Springdale farmers market I was selling at then even donated and said we want you to come back and teach a class in our community with what you have learned.
As a 17-year-old girl, that much support from that many people who cared about what I was doing, cared about my business, and wanted me to be successful was extremely empowering. With way more money given than I had asked for, Mom was willing to fly and was totally ready to sleep in a hotel. I told her these people gave me this money for education. The money is going to be used for education only. Never mind getting there, eating, or having a place to stay. The money donated is going to be our education fund. We are still going on the cheap. We packed our food, drove across the country in November, ate out once, and only spent two nights in a not-so-nice motel.
Our community invested in me, us, and Red Acre, and their investment has paid off. We were able to stretch that money by attending four different farm conferences, one being Eco-Farm. Because of that, I came home and told my Mom we needed to have something like this in Utah. A few years later, we founded Red Acre Center and hosted The Utah Farm and Food Conference, coming up on its 8th year. The Center just launched a farmer’s training program. We started two farmers’ markets. The Farm is a hub for community events with a thriving full-diet CSA model. The list goes on, but the point I really want to make is it is all because of you!
The last National Biodynamic Conference was in 2019, and I am excited to be here again, attending with Tk, our director of Botanical Affairs, and my Mom, Symbria, representing the Center. We are not sleeping in the car and only brought snacks. Things have changed. At this Conference, I am honored to be one of the speakers, and with that celebrity/ rock star in the farming world, Farmer John from Angelic Organics, we will present together on Saturday.
Some of you reading this letter have supported me since the beginning and still support me/us now—this Farm is truly a community supporting agriculture. The Farm is our and our crew’s only source of income. We wouldn’t be here without you. We hold dear our current and past CSA members. We are wild about those who volunteer, show up for events, place orders, and shop for veggies at the Farm Stand or the farmers market. And crazy about those who follow us on social media, receive our email, The Weekly Weed, stop by as you drive through Cedar on the I-15, send messages of support, tell your friends about us, and those who book a Farm stay in our Airbnb. I could not and would not want to do this without this community. We are accepting and giving grace and gratitude.”
~ Sara Patterson