Farm News

1

Farmer John Writes: Healing the Past

Harvest Week 13, September 20th – 25th, 2021


Please Set Your Preferences for Winter Squash Varieties

In case you missed last week’s newsletter–please go to your membership account, click on “Item Preferences”, and set your preferences for the different types of winter squash that we grow, which have now been added to our list of crops. Your preferences will be automatically saved. (Note: It’s quite the challenge to know just how much of each winter squash variety we have to offer, so, occasionally, you might customize your share with one variety, and we might need to substitute with another variety, ideally a similar variety.)

Great Field Day

We enjoyed a festive Field Day here this past Saturday; everything about it seemed perfect. I will probably write more about it next week, given how extraordinary it was. For those of you who didn’t come but still want pumpkins and gourds, we’ll bring them up to the buildings soon and will let you know by email when you can come get some.

Teamwork

There is a lot of work that has to be done here to grow the crops, harvest, pack and deliver them. Outside of that, there is an enormous amount of more systemic work to do: build compost piles; prepare fields for the upcoming season; maintain and repair buildings and equipment, etc. How we can actually go beyond the day-to-day demands and get to some of the other work here is because of a confluence of skills, willingness, and equipment. 

Victor the Victor

To get a picture of a major player in this confluence, meet Victor Magaña, our crew leader and extraordinary mechanic. Victor has been working here for 11 years. I don’t believe he has ever shied away from a challenge. I ask him to do something challenging, fine, he’ll do it. If he can’t do it, he’ll do it anyway. If he still can’t do it, he’ll watch videos on how to do it. If he still can’t do it, he’ll call around to figure out how to do it. And he’s not one of those people who will get bogged down doing a difficult or seemingly impossible job and spend an inordinate amount of time on it. He works at an almost unimaginably fast pace–his hands often a blur of motion, his tall, lean form a streak across the fields or the farmstead.

Victor assesses the corn

Fun?

On a recent Saturday, Victor showed up at 6:30 a.m. sporting his usual cheerful (and yes, mischievous) smile. I presented the morning’s harvest tasks to him (the crew does not work on Saturday afternoons). It seemed an almost impossible directive to fulfill—harvest winter squash, chard, eggplant, peppers, parsley, dill; just explaining it to Victor made me slump from the enormity. After I finished going over the tasks, Victor said, “this will be fun!” Victor is indomitable. 

Saturday morning’s work

Is it Art?

A little elaboration on the role of crew leader. It requires an extremely rare combination of common sense, stamina, flexibility, firmness, conviviality, and intuition. Every moment of managing the crew is different from the next moment, and the next, and the next. No manual or standard operating procedure is ever going to capture and organize what it takes to run a crew on this diversified vegetable operation. Just a single crop is often different from one day to the next. Bunches often need to vary in size, due to more leaves or less leaves available, or bigger leaves or smaller leaves, or minimal insect damage or extensive insect damage, or heavy blight damage or no blight damage. Maybe there are two crews working in two parts of the farm. Instructions need to be given, standards upheld, judgments made—will the one crew do it well enough, thoroughly enough, consistently enough for Victor to go be with the other crew? Will the crew grading tomatoes be too lenient, too stringent? Will they compost enough? Will they compost too much? Will there be enough for the pack? And it all has to be done fast. Decisions have to be made fast. We need how much? How many? How big? How soon? 

Victor evaluates on the fly, a continuous improvisation, doing what that moment requires, then that moment, then the next. I consider it one of the highest forms of art. 

Victor harvests basil with the crew

That’s Not All

I’ll add that Victor seeds all the carrots, baby greens, cilantro, dill, radishes and turnips here, almost always with great results. And while he is running the crew, he is keeping machinery going, tires fixed, carburetors and points adjusted—yes, he is a rarity, an inspiration for the crew and an enormous blessing for the farm. (I’ll add that he is extremely funny, and he has many of us laughing hard several times a day.)

Victor seeds radishes with the Allis G

Farm Freedom

Besides writing about Victor because he is extraordinary and should be celebrated, I’m writing about Victor to get to how, because he handles so much of the day-to-day tasks here, we are able to free up Pollo to get to other things that have been eluding us. (For more about Pollo, read Farm News Week 10, The Wrong Kiss.)

Pollo Deleted the Ditches

One big job that Pollo did due to this freedom was tear up 14 acres of pasture and 4 acres of hay ground where the seeding had worn out, and re-seed it with grass, clover and alfalfa. This was land that I used to own, land that I had not worked in 40 years. My sister Carol bought that land from me, and still owns it. (For elaboration on this time lapse, watch The Real Dirt on Farmer John.) 

Pollo tears up old seeding

There were ditches in the slopes that Pollo filled in and seeded, ditches that were not there 40 years ago, because I had then contour farmed those fields to prevent erosion. I even received the Boone County Conservation Farmer of the Year award in the late 70’s for my soil conservation practices.

These ditches had formed later due to 20 years of conventional farming practices that took place after I had to sell off that land. After those 20 years, the land had provided hay and pasture to the Angelic Organics Learning Center. Those 20 years of their being in hay and pasture had not healed these scars. Driving a truck or tractor through the field and hitting one of these ditches gave a tremendous jolt, threatening damage to axles, tie rods, shocks and tires.

I believe we now have these ditches filled in and smoothed out well enough so the water from a heavy rain will no longer gush down them and further erode the hill. We will now think of them as waterways, as opposed to ditches.

once a ditch, now filled with soil and seeded and on its way to becoming a waterway

grass waterways will slow the water that threatens erosion on this 14-acre slope

In case you wonder what I plan to do with these fields in the future, I’m not sure. I was thinking about putting the larger field into vegetables, but our level of shareholder sales won’t justify such expansion at this time. For now, I just rest easier knowing that, by the time you are reading this, restorative cover crops will likely be sprouting on this land, with the possibility of pasture, making hay, or producing vegetables in the future. 

Pollo Resolved the Ruts

Now to another part of the farm. As long-term shareholders know, we recently had three consecutive seasons of extreme mud here. (Read Farm News, Week 15, 2019, Before the Fronds Wilt for an example of the mud.) We had to work the ground wetter than we wanted, but we figured it was better to feed our shareholders every week than to wait for ideal soil conditions (which didn’t arrive month after month.) When the tractor would get to the end of the bed, known as the headland, and the implement was raised out of the ground, the combined weight of the tractor and the implement would make deep ruts in the ends of the fields, creating a sort of washboard in our headlands. Driving along these headlands, and especially mowing them, was a wildly bumpy, borderline violent ride.

Last week, Pollo tore up these ruts with our subsoiler, smoothed them out with our rotavator, and seeded them—a very bumpy job that took days to accomplish. It was extra challenging due to the extremely dry and compacted soil of our headlands. How did Pollo get to it? Victor was running the crew, freeing up Pollo to do farm upkeep—teamwork.

dry, rutted headlands subsoiled by Pollo, before rotovating and seeding; cover crop of fall peas in background

A Smoother Future

These wounds from the past—ruts and ditches—are interesting to consider: how the past can plague us in the present, toss us around and jostle us. It’s important to find the time to heal them. 

Overheard at the Health Food Store

Customer: “My dad died. And my brother is an alcoholic, which makes things more complicated. Too bad we can’t choose which family members to keep.”

Store Employee: “Oh, I hear you on that.”

Warmly,
Farmer John

19

Farmer John Writes: This Farm Was Made for Sharing

Harvest Week 12, September 13th – 18th, 2021


Please Set Your Preferences for Winter Squash Varieties

Somehow, when we added the crops that we grow to CSAware, we lumped most of our winter squash varieties into one category, simply titled Winter Squash. We grow many different types of winter squash, so we have further differentiated the winter squash into their respective varieties for your customizing pleasure. Please go to your membership account, click on “Item Preferences”, and set your preferences for the different types of winter squash, which have now been added to the list of crops we grow. Your preferences will be automatically saved.

I’ll note that it’s quite the challenge to know just how much of each winter squash variety we have to offer. We’ll do our best, but you might customize your share with one variety, and we might need to substitute with another variety, ideally a similar variety. Since we did not distinguish the different types of winter squash this week, refer to this handy visual guide to winter squash varieties.

delicata squash

Fall Field Day and Covid 

We will host a Fall Field Day for shareholders and other friends of the farm on Saturday, September 18th. The Field Day will take place outside—therefore, masks are optional (but recommended for those in the food line and on the hayrides.) Potluck lunch at 12:30 pm. Sorry, no bluegrass band after all.

There are flowers, thyme and sage in the U-Pick Garden. There will be tables for those who want to enjoy lunch in proximity to fellow shareholders (outside).

For those who want to socially distance, you can: bring a blanket and spread out over the shady farmyard to enjoy your lunch, and avoid the hayride and walk 10 minutes or so to the pumpkin patch to select your 3 pumpkins and 5 gourds per family. It might take some effort to walk your fall treasures back to your car.

For more details, visit our Field Day web page.

We Are Blessed in Many Ways

We have many dedicated, enthusiastic, and appreciative shareholders.

In Some Ways, We Have a Mixed Blessing

Even though many of our shareholders are well-meaning, there are ways that they can help us to make our farm work better, such as by: doing their own share customizing and not requesting highly personalized treatment from our office staff; reading Farm News to stay current with developments on the farm so as to understand proactively why a crop might be late or non-existent; flattening boxes carefully as opposed to ripping the tabs and rendering the $2 boxes unusable; reading their pickup instructions to learn about late pickup policies, etc.

The volume of unjustified requests and complaints that come to the farm office makes it harder for us to do our work of growing vegetables and delivering them to shareholders. 

$5,000 worth of new CSA boxes, mostly to replace those boxes returned with ripped tabs

Please Read Upcoming Refresher Email

Soon, you will receive an email that will recap the main things to know about being a shareholder with Angelic Organics. Please review it and see if you can help us out by taking on more of your responsibilities and commitments as a shareholder.

We Are Not So Blessed in Other Ways

We also have some shareholders who are difficult to deal with, and are often impossible to please.

In order to screen out the people who might cause us trouble due to their unreasonable expectations, we require that people agree to our Shareholder Agreement before they sign up, which leads with a statement that the shareholder is very familiar with our CSA program:

I Am Prepared
I have thoroughly familiarized myself with the Angelic Organics CSA program at the main Angelic Organics website.”

Drawbacks with this way of joining our farm:

1) People don’t carefully read the information.

2) People read it but don’t really comprehend it.

3) People read it and agree to it and simply decide later to ignore it (because we are not in an age where integrity is in general highly regarded). 

From a disgruntled shareholder:

“I…don’t like your policy, which is essentially that you can switch whatever you want whenever you want. I would like to discontinue my subscription, and receive a refund for remaining boxes. I would like that refund to include today’s vegetable box and the fruit subscription as well.” 

Regarding the shareholder comment above, this below is from our Shareholder Agreement:

Shared Risk, Shared Reward
The farm does its very best to bring me a beautiful and bountiful box each week, but since the farm’s boss, nature, provides no guarantees — the farm can’t offer any either. One of the principles of a Community Supported Agriculture program is that I share, through my vegetable share, the farmer’s experience of nature’s blessings and mischief.”

From a disgruntled shareholder:

“I want to cancel my share. I just put it through last week and the first box is full of nothing of substance… Please confirm you will cancel and reimburse me.”

Regarding the shareholder comment above, this below is from our Shareholder Agreement:

Cancellation Policy
If I am dissatisfied with my CSA membership, I will reach out to the farm by emailing email hidden; JavaScript is required. The farm welcomes my feedback and would like the opportunity to make things right. Since the farm has already invested in growing a whole season’s worth of vegetables for me, I need to experience at least four deliveries before being eligible to request a refund due to dissatisfaction with my CSA share.”

From a disgruntled shareholder:

“…we just signed up for this last night. Nowhere on the website could we find information about what would be in the boxes promised and how much items would cost until after we signed up. If a refund isn’t provided, we will cancel the credit card charge explaining the situation, and report this incident to the better business bureau as a dishonest business practice.”

Regarding the shareholder comment above, this below is from our Shareholder Agreement:

A Shared Commitment
When I sign up for a CSA share, I dedicate myself to being a shareholder for the whole season, thus providing the farm a secure market — a welcome measure of certainty in the fickle world of farming! The farm, in turn, dedicates itself to me, providing me with a varied, nutritious vegetable diet.”

From a disgruntled shareholder: 

“Good Morning, We want to cancel the remainder of our CSA shares immediately. We have tried to be understanding, but we can not continue to receive at best marginal produce… Would you please refund the balance at your earliest convenience? Best Regards!”

Regarding the shareholder comment above, this below is from our Shareholder Agreement: 

Decorum
The farm conducts all communications to shareholders with respect. I promise to also conduct all communications to the farm with respect. I know that the farm is on my side and wants the best possible outcome for my CSA experience. I will not be rude, mean or hostile in my communications with the farm. Constructive criticism, tactfully presented, is welcomed by the farm, as the farm is always striving to improve its services to shareholders. I will only offer constructive criticism if I am current in reading farm communications, as my concerns are likely to already be addressed by the farm in its correspondence.”

(Note: Interesting for the shareholder to sign off with Best Regards!  Does this satisfy the requirement for Decorum?)

People who are involved with customer service in many fields today will say that in general people are meaner and feel more entitled than in the past. This is certainly the case with a noisy minority of our shareholders. And, of course, one can experience on social media tremendous coldness, judgmentalism, and cruelty today. 

seems people used to be nicer (1954 Harvest Festival down the road from the farm)

We do not toil here day after day in order to face a barrage of rudeness and unreasonable demands from some of our shareholders. The crassness and entitled behavior of some of our members has crushed some of our office employees over the years to where they could not continue to do customer service—it is simply too toxic a job. I’m not exaggerating.

The Original Loveliness

The original impulse in creating our Community Supported Agriculture farm was to share a farm, especially with our urban friends who do not have access to a farm. It was to give people a feeling of belonging to the earth, a feeling for where their food comes from and how it is grown. This is a great story, the story by which people receive their earthly nourishment, their sustenance. For many of our shareholders, this has been their experience, an experience of the richness and the drama of their food and farm. For this I am grateful.

We do not offer a product, but a relationship. The food springs from the relationship. However, for too many, we have become the source of a product; we serve as a store, where discounts are expected, where quality standards are impossible to meet, and where customers see rudeness as an entitlement. I want to offer an experience which includes food and a relationship—food as part of that relationship, not food as a commodity. 

Back to Blessed: Comments from Appreciative Shareholders

“We appreciate the efforts of you and your workers! Thank you for once again painting a rich picture of farm life. We enjoy knowing about (at least some) of the processes and enjoy the vegetables and fruits of your labor.”
~ Adam

“Thank you for this – glimpses behind what goes into the wonderful produce we receive, endear the farm, all of you farmers and workers, and the whole CSA relationship to us even more!”
~ Megan

“Always astounded that you endeavor to have such an amazing variety and spectrum of food/plants- your choice for varietals that grow best here in Illinois and in this soil…it all is an amazing amalgam of wisdom and skills. I turn to thinking who will carry this knowledge forward?”
~ Nicole

What to Do?

We are not a store. We are part of a relationship that connects people to their farm, their farmer and their food. Some people don’t get it or aren’t interested in that sort of relationship and these people should not be part of our community. There is way too much work and devotion going into the farm here to be chastised for who we are and what we do. Should our community be so inclusive today as to include those who disparage and belittle us?

I don’t really want to downsize our production, because our systems, infrastructure and equipment are all designed around our current scale. In fact, we could  fairly easily take on a few hundred more shareholders and still provide for everyone adequately. I like wagons creaking with produce and fields throbbing with crops. But, maybe we will need to downsize—seems odd, when the world seems to be suffering so much from lack of connection to food and farms, and when we have the wherewithal to provide that connection. 

Since I’m a farmer, I don’t like facing a problem without coming up with a solution. I have ideas for how to move forward, so that we can consistently feel like we here at the farm are on the same side as our shareholders. Of course, this will require some finessing of how we make shares available. One could conjecture that more of a screening process would exclude the troublemakers, but we have a screening process in place with our Shareholder Agreement, which works sometimes, sometimes not.

So, back to the ideas I just mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph—I know it will seem a bit like teasing, but I need to formulate these ideas more fully before revealing them. Just know that we plan to look deeply into our CSA model in the upcoming months with the intention of having a more meaningful, more constructive, and more fun Community Supported Agriculture Farm into the future. 

This Farm Was Made for Sharing, and So Were We Humans

I believe that we can further deepen and enrich the relationship between this farm and our shareholders. I do not want to run a farm that is caustically regarded and capriciously dismissed. I want to take care of my fellow human beings, nurture them, and to be of service. 

More later.

Warmly,
Farmer John

14

Farmer John Writes: A Life in the Day of a Farmer

Harvest Week 11, September 6th – 11th, 2021


I will share with you a day of recent activity on the farm, along with attendant considerations, doubts, sureties, and vacillations.

Early September is about the last chance to get in crops that will mature in the fall. Last Thursday, the second day of September, we transplanted 14,000 seedlings of lettuce, 4,500 seedlings of choy, 1,500 seedlings of Chinese cabbage. That was a lot of transplanting to do in one day—the most we have ever done in a day—and that was a small part of what we did that Thursday. The crew finished at 3:55 pm, 5 minutes before our normal quitting time. At 4 pm, we turned on the irrigator.

the crew transplants lettuce; Victor seeds baby greens in the background

Amanda drives the transplanter

Victor seeded 16 500-foot-long beds of baby lettuce, radishes, turnips, arugula, cilantro, dill, and spinach—the most we have ever seeded here in a day. He finished at 3:40 pm. But he wasn’t just seeding that day; he was also supervising the crew on tomato, carrot and arugula harvests.

Victor seeds radishes

Pollo spread compost on 5 fields that will be in vegetables next year, and seeded them to a cover crop of fall peas. That wraps up all the field preparations this year for next year’s crops. (Many of the fields are already lush with fertility-building peas.) Oh, yeah, and he lifted a bed of carrots that morning. In the afternoon, he ran the greens harvester to bring in a crop of arugula. 

Pollo finished seeding the cover crop of peas at 6 pm, 2 hours after our regular quitting time, but hey, it’s a farm, and Pollo knows what it takes to run a farm; it takes doing what has to be done.

The rest of the crew harvested and washed about 800 bunches of carrots. They harvested a few thousand tomatoes. They separated bulbs of garlic into cloves for our late fall seeding of garlic. They harvested arugula.

Armando and Giovanni wash carrots

Socrates, Armando, Luis and Andres harvest arugula

Neftali, Andres, and Jimena with their tomato harvest

This all might read like a pleasant dream, like a well-oiled, highly coordinated farm, with people doing their jobs, and tasks happening on time. But, let’s back up a bit—why did things happen on time? How many trucks, tractors, implements and other equipment had to work reliably in order to get all this work done that day? 4 trucks, 5 tractors, a greens harvester, trailer, wagons, undercutter, compost spreader, Bobcat loader, bunch washer, several coolers, 2 well pumps, grain drill, transplanter, seeder, rotovator, irrigator. These all had to work that day.

Why did these machines work? Because Victor has a shop directive in the winter: make everything able to work all season long, no breakdowns, no downtime—everything has to always work all season long. Victor, Pollo and I know that this is a fantasy goal, but a worthwhile one. Every winter, more and more, Victor gets the equipment into better condition, makes it more reliable.

Do we ever have a mechanical problem during the season? Sure, but fewer than before, and Victor solves problems on the fly with blistering speed—Pollo, too. How can we be so lucky to have people like this on our farm? Such people are almost impossible to find, but here they are, year after year. 

Why else did we get all that work done on Thursday? Because we had the foresight to go through a myriad of bureaucratic hurdles in order to host legal guest workers from Mexico on the farm. If we had not arranged for them to work here, we would not have even made it to last Thursday. We would not have had the workers to get the work done this season. The workers aren’t out there locally. They aren’t available. They aren’t interested, aren’t willing. 

Why else did we break those seeding and transplanting records on Thursday? Because we had a solid plan the day before. We knew just where we were going to transplant and where we were going to seed. We had the seed on hand. However, by early Thursday morning, that plan was changed into a new plan. Why? 

There are two reasons why the crops we plant in early September might never make it to your box. It might be too cold. It might be too dry. We could get the crops into the dry ground on Thursday, but we needed to get them growing right away. Rain was forecast for that night. We had to get them into the ground before the rain that night, but what if it didn’t rain that night? (It didn’t.) If it didn’t rain, the crops would not grow; in fact, the transplants would be wilting the next day.

On Thursday morning, I decided to put all the crops into two fields that we could easily irrigate—on our former sweet corn ground, as opposed to the Wednesday afternoon plan to scatter them in different locations throughout the farm We had to get them in before the rain, but, if it didn’t rain, we had to get them irrigated before it didn’t rain. To heighten the stakes, all the transplanting had to be done that day, because if it did rain that night, the delay of transplanting for a few days due to mud would increase the likelihood that these crops would never see the inside of your box, due to upcoming cold fall weather. (A lot to juggle, eh?)

irrigating before the rain that didn’t come

This farm cannot run on a hope that it will rain, or a hope that it won’t rain. It’s as though we exist in multiple realities—that things will work out and that things won’t work out. There is so often a need for more rain to support the crops; or no rain so the crops can be planted; or less rain so the ground does not become saturated or flooded. There is need for more heat, to mature the crops; less heat, to spare the workers. It’s an interesting space to inhabit, this space of various, often conflicting simultaneous needs and wants. 

Farming is an ongoing training in being effective while in a vast range of realities, possibilities, hopes, and desires. It thwarts the whole idea of rights and entitlements, because nothing is fair about the weather, and nothing is unfair about the weather. Both pessimism and optimism are punished and rewarded on a farm. Anticipating a letup in rains might be punished with flooding, and it might be rewarded with sunshine. The weather does what it does. It interrupts. It facilitates. It batters. It rains down ruin and it rains down plenty. Does one deserve something different than what the weather hands them?

To conclude, last Thursday, we did the work we did because we were prepared and flexible (we had a plan and we changed it); we had the equipment and the equipment worked; we had dry soil; and we had a willing and enthusiastic crew. And think of all that work going on concurrently, with different constellations of workers and equipment forming and re-forming throughout the day. 

You might read this thinking humanity would be better off to be fed by 3-D printers or robots and hazmatted technicians in antiseptic vertical farms. You might think that the skills and equipment needed to keep this farm going are archaic, that the labor here is being exploited, and the soil vandalized.  

Or perhaps the account of this day is poetic to you, husky and rugged, with dust and shouts swirling through the air, trucks and tractors purring and roaring, wagons creaking with carrots and tomatoes, arugula whizzing into crates, seed streaming into rich soil, transplants gliding into the fertile earth.

This is how your box comes about week after week. We feel fortunate for the opportunity.

Shareholders–Come to our Fall Field Day on Saturday, September 18th

We’ll have a potluck lunch, hay rides, free pumpkins and gourds, and maybe bluegrass music (stay tuned about the music—we’ll let you know when we know.) Learn more on our Field Day web page.

Overheard

“There is a cute mouse living in the house. It probably shouldn’t be here. We need one of those humane traps. I wonder what kind of cheese she likes. Gruyere, perhaps. I am making quiche soon—maybe she would enjoy a miniature quiche. She should have a nice doorway for entering her temporary cage, a portal—arched.”

Warmly,
Farmer John

10

Farmer John Writes: The Wrong Kiss

Harvest Week 10, August 30th – September 4th, 2021


Fall Field Day on Saturday, September 18th

Shareholders–we hope you will attend our Fall Field Day on Saturday, September 18th. We will have a great crop of pumpkins and gourds for you to choose from. Learn more on our Field Day web page. Also, we just might be offering live bluegrass music—details on that soon. 

U-Pick Garden

Shareholders, you are also most welcome to come pick beans, flowers and herbs from our U-Pick garden. Check details on our U-Pick Garden web page.

Crop Update

Zucchini and summer squash are done. Melons will probably end this week. Sweet corn will end next week. Lots of other crops will be available: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, carrots, garlic, kale, leeks, onions, herbs, baby greens, head lettuce, and soon the fall crops—broccoli, winter squash, beets, kohlrabi, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and more…I don’t think we’ve ever experienced such a bountiful crop year as this one.

basil, eggplant, pepper and tomato fields

best leeks in years

The Wrong Kiss

For many years, most of the work on this farm has been done by Mexicans. It’s pretty hard to find anyone else to do the work. 

I have spent a lot of time in Mexico on and off since the early 70’s. It’s a country very dear to me, so I am happy that some of the spirit and vitality of that country can be welcomed here on our farm. (Fortunately, we can now host foreign workers here through the government sponsored H-2A program. If that were not the case, I don’t know how we would be getting the work done this year.)

Pack Volunteer Coordinator Don Glasenapp paints a farm building (2019). Colors inspired by Mexico.

I recently asked a field worker here if he knew how to build fence.

“Yeah.”

“From where, Mexico?”

“Yeah, we’d go into the forest and make posts out of trees, the straight trees.”

“With an axe?”

“Yeah.”

“Your family’s forest?”

“Everyone’s. It belonged to everyone. Everyone could go there to get what they needed. But not anymore. The Mexicans who moved to the U.S. stopped it.”

“How could they stop it?”

“They make the police in our town give tickets to people who go into the forest. They decided the forest is theirs.”

“So that’s a lesson they learned by coming to the States…oh, my. If we get burros here,” I continued, “we’ll need to build a fence. You had how many burros in Mexico?”

“Five.”

“Did you ride them?”

“Mostly we just used them to carry corn and wood home from the places we could not reach any other way.”

“Did they have names?”

“Just Burro.”

The field worker’s name is Pollo. He’s not only a field worker…he’s also our main machinery operator and our main carpenter. It’s not easy to write about Pollo—he’s vast; he’s cosmic; he’s enigmatic; he’s insightful, wise, intuitive, and unassuming. He seems to have a photographic memory. He’s careful, deliberate, steady, a quiet leader. I marvel at Pollo pretty much every day. He has been working on the farm for 22 years. 

Pollo in foreground

Every few years, I ask Pollo an important question, such as “What’s your thinking about God these days?” or “Do you believe love exists?” or “Do you believe in reincarnation?” 

To the reincarnation question, he said recently, “is that when you have more than one life?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure. I know that sometimes I need to do something that I have never done before, and I know how to do it. Where did that come from?”

Often, people who hear me refer to him as Pollo think that some disparaging, culturally insensitive name has been assigned to him, since Pollo means chicken in English.

“How’d you get your name, Pollo?” I asked recently. It had probably been 8 years or so since I had last asked him. I wanted to refresh myself on the details.

“There was a homeless guy in my town. Everyone called him Pollo. He roped plastic bottles to his body and carried all his possessions in his bottles. When I used to hunt, I would do the same thing, rope bottles to myself and carry my ammunition and my food that way. I also strapped a flashlight to my head, just like Pollo did. So, people called me Pollo, too.”

“Do you like the name Pollo?”

“Yes.”

In the early 2000’s, I visited Pollo’s town in Guanajuato. Its name is La Luz. 

landscape near La Luz

It seemed more like I was visiting the town in the early 1900’s.

approach to La Luz

Men in huge sombreros sat on the sidewalks, leaning against ancient adobe storefronts. They studied me curiously as I slowly drove by, nodded, sang “Adios!” into my open car window.

I was warmly greeted by Pollo’s parents and his wife, Carmella. They showed me around their farmstead, which was situated at the outskirts of the town. I met their chickens and their burros. I saw their treasure of ear corn in a room in their home, piled high and proud and golden.

La Luz

That evening, the family had an impromptu fiesta for me in a nearby grove of trees. Pollo’s wife took on the role of hostess. People from throughout La Luz came to the fiesta, stared at me, smiled, laughed. No one spoke English. I knew almost no Spanish. 

After the fiesta, I prepared to say goodbye. I went to kiss Carmella on the cheek.  Her look became increasingly alarmed as my lips neared her cheek.

I had been living an hour and a half away in San Miguel de Allende—a cosmopolitan Spanish Colonial town that drew people from all over the world, a town where people greet and depart one another with a kiss to the cheek, maybe both cheeks, sometimes a third kiss, sometimes even a 4th. Sometimes the cheek is just grazed by the other person’s cheek, so it’s not always a kiss. But sometimes the cheek receives a cute, quick little smooch, which is common in San Miguel.

Carmella began to turn her head away from me. The villagers were watching. I am so used to the kiss on the cheeks. Should I stop my trajectory? Should I continue? 

Carmella turned her face more and more away from me. Perhaps it was simply habit, but I kept going in. My kiss landed on her ear—a smooch to her ear.

In front of the villagers, I had just kissed the ear of Pollo’s wife.

I looked around at the villagers.

They seemed frozen in their expressions, transfixed.

I nodded towards them, waved, faked a warm departing smile, slinked through the trees to my car, and headed back towards San Miguel.

Carmella now lives in nearby Beloit. I see her every so often and wonder what she remembers about my kiss to her ear.

Overheard in the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland

Receptionist: “A couple times a year, someone will come in here and claim they are the reincarnation of Rudolf Steiner.”

Visitor: “What do you say to that?”

Receptionist: “What can I say?”

Warmly,
Farmer John

5

Farmer John Writes: On Life and Death

Harvest Week 9, August 23rd – 28th, 2021


Today I shall undertake a topic that, at first glance, might seem unpleasant, or even inappropriate. The topic is death, though it also will include its counterpart, life. 

Having grown up on a farm, the life and death processes are familiar to me: grain grows in order to ripen and grain dies in order to ripen; hogs are born in order to be eaten; weeds are killed in order for crops to flourish. These are not experiences accessible to most today, with most people so disconnected from the farms and the land in general.

where’d he go?

I realize a discussion of death could fall into the category of other often-uncomfortable topics like money, sex, digestion, and maybe even God. I have noticed how certain people, when I have inquired if they have a will or some other sort of estate plan, fidget, look around in discomfort, perhaps even turn an ashen gray, as though foreshadowing their end time. 

That’s a Big Expensive Building

We have quite the range of health care available today—immediate care, women’s health, men’s health, sexual health, dental health, family health, mental health, physical fitness, behavioral health, optical health, spinal care, cancer care, cardiac care, addiction treatment…I suppose this list could go on for the rest of the newsletter. (If you really want more, Mayo Clinic offers an alphabetized comprehensive guide on hundreds of conditions.)

My point here, though, is to draw attention to the edifices that are often built to represent the availability of health care. They are frequently imposing structures, likely designed to be re-assuring that the most modern health care is available therein.

For many years, upon gazing at certain of these structures, I have often been visited with a feeling of Ancient Egypt. “Why do these edifices invoke in me this feeling?” I have asked myself. “They certainly don’t have an architectural style that is reminiscent of Ancient Egypt.” Still, looking at these massive edifices, I have felt something related to Ancient Egypt, even to the point of saying to myself, “ah, that structure is so Egyptian. Something about it inwardly harks back to Ancient Egypt.”

Ancient Egypt, really?

It’s a Wrap

I received clarification of this mysterious feeling upon reading a book of lectures by Rudolf Steiner, Egyptian Myths and Mysteries, in which Steiner elaborated on the Egyptian ritual of mummification. Mummification was a method for preserving life forces after death. 

It’s a Jab

Today, great effort is expended to preserve life forces before death. The Ancient Egyptians endeavored to prolong life after death; modern medicine endeavors to prolong life before death. Is life so fabulous that people strive to continue it, or is death so terrifying that people strive to avoid it?

Overheard: “She Doesn’t Look Sick”

My mother asked me to stop at a funeral home so she could pay her respects to a deceased neighbor. She was in the funeral home for a few minutes, got back into the car and said, “My gosh, she doesn’t look sick at all. Everyone said she looked sick these past few months. She looks fine to me.” An Ancient Egyptian throwback? A contemporary triumph? Both?

Early Morning

Most mornings before plunging into farm work, I do an exercise suggested by Rudolf Steiner to behold both life and death, or perhaps, I should say, to experience the forces of life and the forces of death. 

Here is Steiner’s recommendation:

“To begin with, the attention of the soul is directed to certain events in the world that surrounds us. Such events are, on the one hand, life that is budding, growing, and flourishing, and on the other hand, all phenomena connected with fading, decaying, and withering…

“The point is that the attention should be directed with perfect inner balance upon both phenomena. If the necessary tranquility be attained and you surrender yourself to the feeling which expands to life in the soul, then, in due time, the following experience will ensue. Thoughts and feelings of a new kind and unknown before will be noticed uprising in the soul. Indeed, the more often the attention be fixed alternately upon something growing, blossoming and flourishing, and upon something else that is fading and decaying, the more vivid will these feelings become. A quite definite form of feeling is connected with growth and expansion, and another equally definite with all that is fading and decaying. 

“It should be emphasized that the student must never lose [one]self in speculations on the meaning of one thing or another. Such intellectualizing will only draw [the student] away from the right road. [The person] should look out on the world with keen, healthy senses and quickened power of observation, and then give [one]self up to the feeling that arises within him. [The student] should not try to make out, through intellectual speculation, the meaning of things, but rather allow the things to disclose themselves. ”

     ~ Rudolf Steiner

Anew

For several months now, I have been beholding separately in the early morning a blooming flower and a dead tree. By bringing a certain attitude or feeling to this process, my experience of the forces of life and death are gradually transforming, not into a preference or an opinion, but into an acceptance and a reverence. These are not concepts or ideas; these are revelations, truths that exist at a fundamental level of existence.

In Farm News, Week 6, But I’m Farming, I wrote “…farming, like the rest of life, is a continual process of dying and becoming, of growth and decay, of building up and tearing down. This dead farm somehow came back to life in a new way—an ancient story that crosses many cultural boundaries and epochs, a story of redemption.

“How did this happen?  The farm died. A (subterranean?) process ensued. There was a resurrection. The death of the farm was needed for the farm to arise in a new way.”

Today, you eat life from a once dead farm.

It is only because of death that there is life, and only because of life that there is death.

The U-Pick Garden is Alive and Ready for You

Shareholders, come out to our U-Pick Garden west of the barns for green beans, flowers and herbs (notably thyme and sage). Check here for details: www.angelicorganics.com/shareholder-u-pick/ 

flowers for you

green beans for you

New Customizing Policy

It’s quite the interesting challenge to forecast in advance what we will have available for you to customize your box with in the upcoming week. Most of the time, we have everything available that we say will be available, but not every single time. From now on, if we run out of something that is scheduled to go into your box, we will simply substitute as comparable an item as possible, as opposed to tracking you down to offer you an apology and a credit. This new policy will help us to keep things in balance.

The Melons

I think our melon quality this year is a bit lower than usual. Perhaps this has to do because of the heavy rains that came when the melons were forming. 

The Tomatoes

We transport our tomatoes to you in our share boxes. Some might get knicked; some might get bruised or squished. We can’t protect them any more than we do. It’s just part of the CSA program. Some shareholders want perfect produce; some shareholders want or at least accept imperfect produce, to avoid food waste. Vegetables are like people, in that even the best of them are likely to have flaws.

Driver Praises

“Just wanted to let you know we have been super pleased with our [home] delivery service this year. Our delivery person [Michael] is always friendly and courteous – he even puts our box in the cooler on our porch to keep things fresh in the summer heat. A+ service. Oh and the produce has been terrific of course. Really looking forward to cooking up the sweet corn tonight!”

~ Shareholder Kevin

 

“This morning our doorbell rang. Unusual because usually the boxes are delivered to our south Oak Park dropsite without fanfare. Sometimes I don’t know the delivery has happened! Anyway, there is Zdenek holding a box of screws and a drill. “You have some stair boards a little loose, do you mind if I just put a few screws in and tighten them up?” So simple! I can’t explain how sweet his offer was! For my husband and I, we only see that we have to paint and eventually replace the stairs. Zdenek with his quick, simple, and generous offer, just gave our stairs new life! And he always puts our box closest to the front door for easy access. He is truly a mensch!”

~ Shareholder and Site Host Laurel

Warmly,
Farmer John

8

Farmer John Writes: Lost and Foundered

Harvest Week 8, August 16th – 21st, 2021

The U-Pick Garden is Ready for You

Shareholders–come out to our U-Pick Garden west of the barns for green beans, flowers and herbs (notably thyme and sage). Check here for details: https://angelicorganics.com/shareholder-u-pick/ 

flowers for you

green beans for you

New Customizing Policy

It’s quite the interesting challenge to forecast in advance what we will have available for you to customize your box with in the upcoming week. Most of the time, we have everything available that we say will be available, but not every single time. From now on, if we run out of something that is scheduled to go into your box, we will simply substitute as comparable an item as possible, as opposed to tracking you down to offer you an apology and a credit. This new policy will help us to keep things in balance.

A Peek at Peak Summer

We have melons, peppers, tomatoes and sweet corn galore—plus arugula, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, garlic, kale, and more…and on their way, onions, sage, cilantro, baby chard, baby lettuce, leeks, and more—a great year for variety and volume.

muskmelons in bins; honeydew melons repose to the right in the field

Our Neighbor Called and Left a Message about Our Corn

“That corn is the best corn I’ve had in my lifetime, I believe. At least, I can’t remember ever having any better than that.” 

He’s in his 70’s, so he’s sampled a lot of sweet corn. I’ll add that he’s not prone to exaggerating.

enough corn?

Overheard

Neighbor: Thirty years ago, it just rained. Now, when it rains, the alarms go off and we’re supposed to take cover. Take cover from what? It’s just rain.

2nd Neighbor: That alarming people is a big business today.

Want Farm Animals in Your Back Yard but Without the Fuss?

Helga Stentzel hangs clothes to create surreal farm animal illusions.

They Say It’s My Birthday

I have a story that won’t go away. I wouldn’t call it a farm story, though you might be able to read something farmer-ish into it. I normally won’t go to the trouble of sharing a story unless I think there is a point to it—a message, a meaning, a moral. I can’t locate a message, a meaning or a moral in this story. Since I had a birthday this week, I’m just going to take the liberty to share the story, and maybe there’s something in it for you.

Lost and Foundered

A few months back, Haidy and I spent a weekend in a lovely cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin. 

Upon returning to the cabin that afternoon, Haidy spotted a feather on the boardwalk. She stooped to pick it up.

“Such a gorgeous feather. Where do you think it came from?” I asked. 

Haidy, who has been finding a lot of feathers in the wilds this summer, examined it wondrously. “So beautiful,” she swooned.

“I want to keep it,” I announced.

I then noted that the base of feather was wrapped in copper wire. “This is someone’s personal feather. It’s more a constellation of feathers,” I said. “It’s important to someone—sacred, a good luck charm perhaps or—what do you call it?—an amulet. Some people think that way today—that feathers will protect them. We can’t keep it. ”

We took the feather charm to the office. I said to the receptionist, “do you recognize this feather? We found it outside our cabin.”

She studied the feather and replied, “no, I don’t recognize it.”

“It seems like the sort of thing that would belong to someone on your staff, maybe the person who brought us lunch. It seems like it would be important to someone.”

“I’ll check with the staff,” she said as she studied the feather.

When we were driving back to the farm that afternoon, I had my hat perched on the dashboard of our car. 

Haidy said, “Isn’t your hat supposed to have two feathers in it?”

“Uh, oh.”

I called the clerk at the lodge. 

“This is John who turned in the feather today. Remember?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“It’s supposed to be the second feather on the hat I was wearing.  Could you please send it to me? I guess I’m the one it’s supposed to be important to.”

“Will do,” she said.

More About the Providers of Feathers

Every morning before I start work, I do an exercise suggested by Rudolf Steiner to consciously listen to the sounds of nature. It’s a good counter measure to listening to the roar of farm equipment, the whir of the air conditioner, the sound of the printer. It’s an exercise in subtlety, in noticing that which works through quietness. Mostly in this listening, I notice that I am listening to birds. Real birds, I thought, until Amanda August, our customer service manager, showed up recently wearing a shirt claiming that “Birds Aren’t Real.”

I was disappointed. I was sure I had been listening to real birds, and sporting real bird feathers in my hat. Should I trust Amanda? Perhaps the birds are real and Amanda’s news about the birds is fake.

coming Chicago way in October

Warmly,
Farmer John

16

Farmer John Writes: Do You Eat Data?

Harvest Week 7, August 9th – 14th, 2021

 

heaps of sweet corn

Overheard

#1) It’s a STEM school.

#2) What’s a STEM school? What’s STEM stand for?

#1) Science, technology, engineering and math.

#2) You are kidding! Where’s the L for love, the C for compassion, the for devotion? No wonder the world is so screwed up today.

Once Words

“Under pressure, Oxford University Press revealed a list of the entries it no longer felt to be relevant to a modern-day childhood. The deletions included acorn, adder, ash, beech, bluebell, buttercup, catkin, conker, cowslip, cygnet, dandelion, fern, hazel, heather, heron, ivy, kingfisher, lark, mistletoe, nectar, newt, otter, pasture, and willow. The words introduced to the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player, and voice-mail.”
   
~ Robert MacFarlane in Landspeak (Orion Magazine)

Interesting to note that Oxford University Press was under pressure to make these changes. Just because the world is going a certain direction doesn’t mean it’s a good direction, doesn’t mean we should accommodate the direction. 

Is a Farm a Data Point?

I toured for five years with the The Real Dirt on Farmer Johna feature documentary about Angelic Organics and my life. I presented it hundreds of times in theaters and I led audience discussions after the screenings. I was interviewed over 1,000 times. Sharing the story of Angelic Organics was somewhat motivated by the impulse to offer a picture of the farm as a living organism, a place where nature and humans converge, an interface between the whims, welts and gifts of nature, and the resolve and ingenuity of humanity. 

Your farm is a being, a living being. However, what I realized from engaging audiences and interviewers during my extensive touring was that, in general, a farm was regarded as a source of food, a sort of factory (and for many, a data point.) I would suggest that engaging the land through our hearts and our will would result in food. I said, to little avail, that the farm was the most important thing and the food was the result of the care of the farm.

carrot data?

A Child

Think of a child. A farm is a lot like a child. A child needs you, needs your guidance, your care, your protection. The child cannot provide this on its own. You simply love and nurture the child. 

Eventually, the child will be independent of your care. A farm never will. A farm will always require the care of the farmer, its steward. 

A child is not an economic unit. Should a farm be considered an economic unit? Is the food a farm generates an entitlement or a gift, a blessing? Is it grace?

It was clear from my tour that, in general, audiences regarded the food as the main thing, the farm and the farmer as secondary. 

We Deserve It

“We deserve healthier, cheaper food,” audience members would often say. “On whose back?” I would ask. “Do you want there to be space in the farmer’s life to lovingly engage the land, or do you want the farmer to work more and sleep less and worry more so you can have cheap food?” (I am blunt at times.)

onions are not cheap to grow organically

Do You Eat Data?

Today, the source of food, the whole idea of food, is increasingly data driven—vertical farms, hydroponics, food miles, calories, nutrients, meatless meat, milkless milk, 3D printed food, and, of course, from the conventional farming sector, genetic engineering, smarter chemicals, and more granular collection of field data. Wondering now if the 3D printer that will make your socks will also make your sandwich—lucky we have food police today.

“Chemical agriculture is already an assault on life, on the living. A.I. coding takes that further because it can only look at what can be quantified. It leaves out everything that is not quantifiable. But the non-quantifiable is life.”

~ from the interview When A.I. Encounters Agriculture with Nicanor Perlas, who has an extensive background in both Anthroposophy and Biodynamics. Perlas is author of Humanity’s Last Stand: The Challenge of Artificial Intelligence amongst other books.

Your farm, Angelic Organics, has not evolved out of data, but out of love, out of a sense of stewardship, of relationship, of connectedness. Of course, we engage science, technology, engineering and math (daily, even hourly), but the underlying forces that guide this farm forward are love, compassion, and devotion. When these are present, life flourishes at the deepest level, and food follows.

Brussels sprouts, with love

Why People Belong to Our Farm

There is a broad range of reasons why people join our farm: fresh, local, organic, Biodynamic, variety, seasonal, reliable… For some, it’s a bit like a food club–primarily a source of food.

From a less material angle, the farm is a place in the hearts of many. Hundreds of shareholders have been with our farm for over a decade, some for over three decades. Many feel a part of this being of the farm; of the surge, the thrust of the farming endeavors–the sheer robustness, the dynamism of the work. Many feel love and devotion towards the farm.

the thrust of farming

A Farm is a Being

A farm is not a thing; a farm is a being, a childlike being that needs care, love, devotion, guidance. Thank you to all of you who put your faith and trust in us here to steward the beingness of the farm, to nurture its individuality.

But, Then…

The farm has to sustain itself economically; a child doesn’t have to do that. 

Food, for many, is a product, even a bit like an iPhone or a chair—an item, something to procure, something produced. Yes, a farm produces food, but a farm is not a factory; it is a convergence of nature and humanity. As life today becomes more and more materialistic and data driven, a CSA farm can become more of an anomaly, an anachronism, as a CSA farm is really about a partnership between producer and consumer (shareholder).

This arrangement or relationship lies outside of the conventional producer/consumer model, where a producer is trying to get more money for the product and the consumer is trying to pay less. A shareholder ideally participates in the upbuilding of the farm by offering a nurturing gift to the earth—and the farm ideally participates in the upbuilding of the shareholder by offering nutritional, emotional and moral sustenance.

melons–gifts from the earth

Special Thanks

We are very appreciative of all of our shareholders. We are especially appreciative of those of you who send us money now and then because you recognize that the farm is like a child with needs. And we appreciate those of you who do not take a discount towards your share in order to help the farm out a little bit more. Back to being blunt: the enormity of keeping this farm going is not for those who are faint of heart or weak of will. 

Farms span the globe. Almost half the earth is taken up by farms. If we are going to help the earth, we have to take proper care of the farms. The food will follow.

Warmly,
Farmer John

3

Farmer John Writes: But, I’m Farming

Harvest Week 6, August 2nd – 7th, 2021

Last week’s edition of Farm News, The Anvil, The Tulip Tree and Grandma Moses, was about decades of delay in the realization of the installation of an anvil, the bloom of a tulip tree and Grandma Moses’ fame as a painter. 

Impulses are interesting. Which ones manifest as results? How do they manifest as results? When do they manifest as results?

Shareholder Michael Rabiger posted this to the Farm News blog recently: 

“Dear Farmer John, I was Taggart Siegel’s documentary teacher in Chicago, back in the late 1970s. His first film was heartbreaking: it was about you having to endure your family farm being sold during that time of farms all over the midwest going broke. What a great pleasure today to be dining on your excellent produce and reading your meditations on the challenges a successful and ethical farmer faces, week by week. A story with a happy ending!”

Thank you, Michael, for reminding me of this film.

The name of the film that Taggart made with guidance from Michael Rabiger was Bitter Harvest. It is not available online. However, an excerpt from that early documentary is available in The Real Dirt on Farmer John from 19:50 to 23:29. I encourage you to watch this excerpt (if not the whole film).

In The Real Dirt on Farmer John (26:15I declare “I will never farm again.”

From last week’s newsletter, in the case of the anvil, the tulip tree and Grandma Moses, you can identify an impulse, an impulse that wanted to unfold into the future, and that did unfold into the future.

My mother declared at the age of three that she planned to become a teacher. She taught for 35 years. 

At age 30, I declared I would never farm again. 

But, I’m farming.

What caused my mother, upon declaring as a 3-year-old that teaching was her future, that she would go on to teach for 35 years, whereas I declared I would never farm again, and now I farm?

What causes things to come into being? Fate? Circumstances? Destiny? Will?

The farm went through a death. 

How is it that you are eating vegetables and herbs from a farm that had perished, that was reduced to nearly nothing–a shell?

There was a death event, a complete termination/destruction of the farming way of life. 

prelude to the farm’s death—1960’s

Something died.

Watch The Ridgepoles Go from The Real Dirt on Farmer John. 

From The Way We Whir, a story I wrote about the loss of the farm:

“The lawsuits and taxes, lost face and empty barns, foreclosures and frozen silence of the farm, the ominous mailbox and ringing of the phone – a great psychic wound opened up and I spilled through it. I turned off the phone and stuffed my mail unopened into huge plastic bags. I pulled the shades and lay in gray still non-time for two non-years. I only came out for court hearings and to turn birthday gifts into cash. And once I went to the Madison University Library to study signs of testicular cancer.

The uproars, digging for seed, gasoline fires and hayrides in the night, walking the corn, the mud smearing, the fender riders, burrs and sticktites, barns full of music and cultures from all over, four tractors stirring a field, tailgate picnics, a lamp in the sow pasture, aromas from the great black and white kitchen, oil salesmen promising eternal engine life, food sculptures and poetry readings, big pig litters under a heat lamp, whirlpools and lost earrings, sows clacking their teeth, scratched floors and broken hampers and stained carpets, croquet matches, sow riding, frozen waterers – they were all with me and not with me in non-time.”

I knew I would never farm again. 

I was relieved I would never farm again.  

However, farming, like the rest of life, is a continual process of dying and becoming, of growth and decay, of building up and tearing down.  

This dead farm somehow came back to life in a new way—an ancient story that crosses many cultural boundaries and epochs, a story of redemption.

From The Way We Whir:

“During the return of time, I went back into time, back to the residue of the Midwest Coast, of farming, to the fallout laying in vast heaps, the artifacts and trash that filled cavernous barns and gentle attics. For two years, I edited the materials of my past. I sorted through buttons and bones, marble slabs and ceramic dogs, masks and U/bolts. Boots, bicycles and brushes had abandoned to the Peterson farm, like the half- eaten meals immortalized in the volcanic ash of Pompei. There were skis and paintings, mangled model railroad track, barely portable shrines of the universe and of teeth, and a six-foot Mr. Peanut. Skulls and exotic dead flowers, manneguins, cabinets full of blenders and scummy see-through dishes, aerial salutes, sweet stacks of valentines, a 3-D near-life size exhibit of the circulatory system –all day, month after month I disengorged.

There were dozens of chairs, scores of baskets, enough lamps to furnish an inn. There were mountains of barbed wire that used to keep the cows in, tons of assorted hardware – bolts, corks nuts, bungs, burrs and plugs – pipe by the thousands of feet, great piles of steel channel, hundreds of fence posts, tools to keep a small village intact. There were racks and racks of rough cut lumber and ornate trim boards, stacks of rotting windows and doors and shutters, boxes of Victorian bric-a-brac. I sifted through hundreds of test tubes and beakers, beautiful green spirals of Chinese mosquito repellent, styrofoam molds, subpoenas and foreclosure notices. I lugged logs and drain pipe, cut old plows into scrap or sculpture, sorted stacks of angora sweaters from I didn’t know who. I answered letters from ten years before.

The past went into boxes with big labels and onto deep shelves and wide racks that went on forever. I created departments and zones, atmospheres and centers.

As the barns and sheds emptied out I could see the cracks in the foundations, the broken floors, the massive support beams eaten clear through by rats. I could see the sky through holes in the roofs. Windows panes balanced in their frames by one remaining nail or the last gob of putty. I caulked and cemented, patched and glazed. I bolstered and jackposted, straightened and plumbed, painted and roofed. I took building after building into the return of time, back in time, on in time.”

How did this happen? 

The farm died. A (subterranean?) process ensued. There was a resurrection. The death of the farm was needed for the farm to arise in a new way.

Watch Revolution on the Farm from The Real Dirt on Farmer John

Here is a quote from Rudolf Steiner that I encountered yesterday. Perhaps it contains a clue about the resurrection of the farm:

“There are many subconscious experiences in the human soul. There are depths of the human soul life that do not become concepts, mental pictures, acts of volition, at least not conscious ones, but only in the character of the human soul life. There is a subconscious soul life; and everything is there that can be in the conscious soul life. However, emotions, passions, sympathies and antipathies which we feel in the usual life consciously can also be in the subconscious regions, they are not perceived in it, but have an effect in the soul like a natural force, — save that they are mental and not physical. There is a whole region of the subconscious soul life.

The human being asserts, believes, and means many things not because he is completely aware of their premises; but he believes and means them from the subconscious soul life because unconscious emotions, inclinations urge him.”

      ~ Rudolf Steiner, Berlin, 6 November 1913

I can cite outer reasons/circumstances for the resurrection of the farm. I will not cite these reasons; they would be pale explanations that mask the forces of time, destiny and the unconscious. I will simply hold up this story of you eating today from your once-dead farm as an invitation to review the events, forces, and mysteries that have unfolded in your own life to have you be where you are today.

Sweet Corn—One Variety is a Little Disappointing

Some of the ears of early sweet corn did not pollinate properly; the kernels are uneven here and there. I’m not sure of the cause. We irrigated it generously at tasseling and silking time, but still some kernels didn’t form. It’s delicious, though. Please don’t doubt the deliciousness of your corn, based on an uneven distribution of the kernels. 

this year’s sweet corn

next year’s sweet corn ground being prepared this year, a process of destruction in preparation for life

Watermelons

The vines of the watermelons died back prematurely, plus the crows feasted on about 1/4 of the crop, so the watermelon crop is sparse this year. (To be more accurate about the crows, they don’t actually feast on the watermelons; they just poke a hole into the shell, suck out a few juices, and go on the next melon. They sample the watermelons.) The watermelons are a bit less sweet than usual, due to the vines dying prematurely—not sure you will notice, as they are still quite tasty. We have a lot of other types of melons coming soon (which the crows seem to have no interest in.)

honeydew melons, ready soon

Tomatoes

the best crop of tomatoes in many years is coming soon

Snippets

Years ago, I often included an Overheard section in Farm News, in which I shared snippets of the conversations of others I overheard and sometimes the conversations I was part of.

Overheard

Person #1) Do you know how I know you are an atheist?

Person #2) How?

Person #1) Because you don’t have unconditional love for me. If you weren’t an atheist, you’d love me unconditionally.

With love,
Farmer John

10

Farmer John Writes: The Anvil, The Tulip Tree and Grandma Moses

Harvest Week 5, July 26th – 31st, 2021

The Anvil

This past May, I installed an anvil—an ancient train car coupling—in concrete near our farm shop. This was part of the project of creating an outdoor blacksmithery, which I wrote about in Farm News, Roundup and the Snap of the Shank. I had purchased the coupling in the 70’s, with the plan then to embed it in concrete. The coupling had been laying in the weeds since then, dormant.

anvil in foreground of blacksmithery

The Tulip Tree

I live with my wife, Haidy, in a 180-year-old converted limestone schoolhouse across from the driveway to the farm. In 1972 I bought the one-time schoolhouse to save it from the likely fate of demolition, as it had fallen into disrepair since it had been closed as a school in the late 1940’s.

In the front of the property when I purchased it, very close to Rockton Road, was a tulip tree. It bloomed in springtime throughout the 1970’s.

Then it stopped blooming. 

Decade after decade, it did not bloom. I began to wonder if it had ever bloomed, or if I had just imagined that it had bloomed. I began to wonder if it actually was a tulip tree.

This spring, it bloomed, after at least 40 years of blooming dormancy.

Grandma Moses

Life Magazine, which was a major source of our news years ago, profiled Grandma Moses in their September 19th, 1960, issue. I remember comments by my mother at our supper table back then. (Supper took place at 5 pm, between feeding the livestock and milking the cows.)

My mother said, “Grandma Moses is what they call a folk artist or a folk painter. She didn’t start painting until she was in her 70’s. Imagine that, all those years and then suddenly, she started painting and got famous. Well, good for her!”

From Wikipedia: “What appeared to be an interest in painting at a late age was actually a manifestation of a childhood dream. With no time in her difficult farm-life to pursue painting, she was obliged to set aside her passion to paint.”

The Thunderstorm, 1948, Grandma Moses

Dormant Decades

After decades of dormancy–an embedded anvil, a blooming tulip tree, a painting career. What other surprises might be in store?

Our General Harvest Forecast for Mid-Summer

Thankfully, our crops have not been dormant. Coming up are sweet corn, melons, peppers, eggplant, zucchini/summer squash, onions, carrots, cilantro, dill, sage, thyme, kale, parsley…also, probably another week of beets, fennel and cucumbers. (The cucumber yield surged wildly last week and is now subsiding quickly.) We will also offer a sampling of okra—just a test this year. There probably won’t be enough okra for everyone. And we’ll probably have another harvest or so of beloved basil.

sweet corn is almost ready

Our Weekly Harvest Forecast

It’s a little tough to figure out just how much of what to offer to our shareholders every week. It’s hard to know what the weather will facilitate or impede. It’s sometimes a stretch to trust the numbers of what we think we have in the coolers; they are usually close to accurate, but sometimes close is not good enough. Sometimes, if we run out of an item, the crew can harvest more of it right away; occasionally, there is nothing left of that item to harvest. At times we have another item that is close enough to the missing item for us to substitute, such as sweet onions for scallions, or lettuce mix for head lettuce. On occasion, we are surprised by a burst of yield (such as the cucumbers last week), and we put extras in the boxes of those who chose cucumbers, because we don’t want to stockpile a lot of cucumbers in storage.

There are many aspects of this kind of farming that are interesting, but one of the most interesting (and most challenging) is making forecasts for our shareholders of what is available for the next week’s box. We do our best to deliver what we schedule, but we are not impeccable, even though there are shareholders who occasionally insist on impeccability. Please remember that we are a farm first–not a store, not a retailer, not a warehouse full of goods. Thanks to the many of you who are mindful that we are primarily a farm and give us a bit of slack, when needed.

Is there a substitute for beets, if we run out?

How many bags of mixed lettuce in this bed?

Unless there is a major shortfall of an item scheduled for your box, we probably won’t be letting you know with an email followup. If we make an item substitution so as to keep your box value in the proper range, we probably won’t notify you of the details. It’s too much for us busy farmers to track and communicate.

Please Supply Photos Right Away, If You Receive an Unacceptable Item in Your Box

If you have an item in your box that you think is unacceptable due to spoilage or other damage, email us with a description of the item, a photo, and the day it was delivered. Please send us any such complaints within two days of your delivery. Sometimes we get requests for a credit for an item that was delivered a week or more prior. Did this item spoil due to a grading or packing oversight here at the farm, or due to improper storage in the shareholder’s home?

Snippets

Years ago, I often included an Overheard section in Farm News, in which I shared snippets of the conversations of others I overheard and sometimes the conversations I was part of. I will again occasionally share overheards in upcoming issues of Farm News.

Overheard

Farmer: What do you do?

Guest: I help startups to succeed.

Farmer: What did you want to do when you were growing up?

Guest: I wanted to be a spy in the Middle East.

Farmer: How did you plan to go about that?

Guest: Study Arabic in high school, go to the Middle East and learn about the culture so I could eventually be a great spy.

Farmer: Did you do that?

Guest: Yes, I learned Arabic in high school and then went to Jordan as an exchange student for several months when I was in college.

Farmer: And?

Guest: I loved the Jordanian people. They are the best people ever. I could never spy on them. I read too many Tom Clancy novels, I suppose.

Warmly,
Farmer John

9

Farmer John Writes: Is a Barn a Child?

Harvest Week 4, July 19th – 24th, 2021

Rain

It’s interesting when rain comes, after not coming much for months. Back when it didn’t come, it was often predicted that it would come soon. But it didn’t come soon. The rain kept not coming. So, when rain was recently predicted, it would have been easy to think it wouldn’t come. However, I always farm as though the rain will come, because once it does, it might keep coming and keep coming. Whatever could have been done before it came either got done or it didn’t. If it didn’t get done, it might be really late before there is another chance. 

We slammed our last field of sweet corn seedlings in and then two fields of fall broccoli–hustled them into the ground, just before a tremendous storm arrived. Since that day, the rains have come often enough to keep the fields too wet for transplanting or seeding or harvesting root crops.

We had most of our garlic crop under cover by the time the storm approached, and the rest of it we were able to harvest dry in an additional little window of fair weather.

most of the garlic crop

all of the garlic crop

(The garlic needs to cure for some time before it will be available for shares.)

You want that sweet corn in late summer; you want that broccoli and garlic in the fall. You don’t want a humble excuse from your farmer that the rain got in the way of your dinner (though there have been recent seasons of relentless rain where I have offered such excuses.)

What Comes to Mind When You Think of a Barn?

In olden days, “child” came to mind. 

Barn Etymology

From Middle English barnbern, from Old English bearn (“child, son, descendant, offspring, issue, progeny”) and Old Norse barn (“child”), both from Proto-Germanic *barną (“child”), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰer- (“to bear, bring forth”). Cognate with West Frisian bern (“child”), North Frisian baernborn (“child”), Middle High German barn (“child, son, daughter”), DanishSwedishNorwegianFaroese and 

Icelandic barn (“child”), Albanian barrë (“pregnancy, child”).

our main barn, built in the 1950’s

Like a child, a barn needs constant care and love.

Like a child, a barn can provide years of joy and satisfaction.

flowering melon crop, with our reassuring barns in the background

What Comes to Mind When You Think of Farming?

When you think about the constant dance with the weather on our farm, and the weeds, the bugs, the equipment, the labor, the soil, do you wonder if maybe vertical farming is the answer? It’s getting a lot of hype these days.

squeaky clean

From Wikipedia:

“Vertical Farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers. It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponicsaquaponics, and aeroponics.”

Imagine visiting your local vertical farm for a field day, wearing the requisite hazmat suit.

What Comes to Mind When You Think of Local?

Is your food locally grown when you source it from a vertical farm in your community? Uh…that’s an interesting question. 

Is local just about how near to you it is grown, or is it also about the soil and the weather in your area? 

I don’t have an answer. I know I like soil, equipment, weather, and barns, so I have a preference. But as far as knowing what constitutes local, that’s for each individual to decide.

The Crops

A bewildering amount of crops keep coming at us: kale, beets (some very large beets), fennel, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, lettuce, summer savory, sage, anise hyssop, parsley, more cilantro and dill, carrots–oh, my, the carrots! And soon, sweet corn, tomatoes and melons—all looking fabulous. 

Nathan goes head to head with a beet

Amnda and the beet baby

Paul and Fennel

zucchini, summer squash

First carrot harvest

U-Pick Garden

Our U-Pick garden is looking good. However, nothing is ready to harvest yet. We’ll let you know when the time is right to come harvest beans and flowers. No hazmat suit required.

Zdenek Zverina, our Czech Neighbor

Some of you may have met Zdenek, our charismatic driver who delivers shares to community sites. 

“…I had the privilege to meet a delivery man today…his name starts with a “Z” and he is Czech. I cannot remember his name but he was so kind and helpful. I was in the area so was a few minutes early to pick up my box and he was just unloading. What a wonderful employee you have! Please pass this along. Thank you!”
      ~ Shareholder Erin Lukasiewicz

Zdenek said to me recently, “I liked your newsletter where you write about how deeply farming affects you. I have that, too, but with vehicles. If I see an engine air filter that is plugged, I feel that I am having trouble breathing.”

Zdenek notices vehicle problems here at the farm, often before they become big problems—a tire low on air, a suspect suspension system, a looming brake dysfunction.  He’s an almost mystical mechanic. Other than paying him to make the community site deliveries, I am unsuccessful in paying him for all the repairs he makes to our vehicles. A flawed vehicle seems to be an insult to him—he takes it personally. Most people expect to get paid for what they do—not Zdenek, even if I try to force money on him. It reminds me of the farming community here back in the 1950’s.

I was briefly in the Czech Republic for a screening in Prague of the film about the farm and my life, The Real Dirt on Farmer John. I fell in love with the Czech people. I loved how close they stood to me when they talked—like three inches away. Zdenek doesn’t stand that close when he talks to me, but he feels that close.

Another detail about Zdenek—my wife Haidy received some salty licorice, Salmiakki, from relatives in her home country, Finland. She said to me, “offer some to Zdenek. Maybe he has heard of it.”

I presented a box to Zdenek. “You familiar with this?” I asked.

“Ah!” he exclaimed. “Salmiakki. Two k’s. In Finnish, you have to pronounce the two k’s properly, not like one k. You say it longer, harder–very important.”

I have been married to my Finnish wife for over ten years now, and I never knew this about the 2 Finnish k’s.

Zdenek

Warmly,
Farmer John