Farm News

4

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

3

Farmer John Writes: In Flux

Harvest Week 3, July 12th – 17th, 2021

The season is underway. Unlike last week, when I shared My Inner World of farming with you, this week I will report on the outer world, the crops—not just the crops, but also some of the circumstances and considerations that surround the crops.

lettuce mix

The Fire

You probably know that there was a huge fire at a chemical plant in Rockton, Illinois, several weeks ago. Some shareholders have inquired whether the smoke or debris affected our crops. No, we are 7 miles east of Rockton, and the smoke went directly south of the plant. We saw the plume from the farm, but did not get even a whiff of the smoke.

A Tornado

Well, I don’t think there really was a tornado nearby, though the weather service reported one in Rockton in an emergency phone notice. Rockton also blasted their emergency sirens. Usually, when there is a tornado, someone gets a photo of it and it gets broadcasted far and wide. All the photos that I saw of the storm were of dark, ominous clouds.

As scary clouds were gathering west of us, and with the phones pinging emergency warnings and sirens blaring, I took note. The crew had harvested about 3/4 of our garlic crop by the time the storm approached. I called them in and directed them to the farmhouse basement, our storm shelter.  

There was another crew transplanting that day. Upon finishing their second field of fall brassicas, they had come in to transition to cabbage transplanting. Their timing was excellent, as they were near the farmstead when the storm hit, and they quickly sought shelter in the basement.

Also, there were maybe 20 people—mostly volunteers–on our packing line. After some deliberation and sky-watching, I announced that they should briskly follow me to the basement. 

There were probably 35 or 40 of us in the basement, waiting out the storm, wondering if the house would start to shake and rumble and perhaps lift off. It did not.

chillin’ in the farmhouse basement

Jemima and Concepcion wait out the storm

After about 20 oddly congenial minutes in the basement, the storm let up and everybody went back to their jobs.

I have lived on the farm my whole life and have never seen a tornado or a funnel cloud. That doesn’t mean that a tornado will never strike the farm, but it does mean it’s not likely. Still, we were in the basement.

Wet

Some crops can be harvested wet, such as beets, broccoli, cabbage, sweet corn, melons, bunched kale, and bunched chard.  

Muddy

Some crops cannot be harvested if the ground is muddy, such as garlic, carrots, and potatoes.

our garlic crop under cover

Moist

Some crops cannot be harvested when the foliage is wet, such as cilantro, dill, basil, arugula, and sage. Cilantro, dill, basil and arugula, however, need to be harvested when they are a little bit moist, or they will wilt in storage. I often check the dew on the grass in the mornings, and try to arrange harvest with just the right amount of moisture remaining. Of course, the moisture level might be right for a few minutes, then the wind may pick up and excessively dry these crops.

 

basil harvest

Late

Another challenge is that some crops, if they are not harvested in a timely way, will bolt and/or flower, or perhaps rot. When I say in a timely way, that often means in a two or three day window. Lettuce heads will bolt. Sometimes, before they are full-sized, they will start to rot. Dill and cilantro will flower; so will basil. 

Early

Turnips will often succumb to worms before they reach maturity. The turnips can look perfect one day with no worm damage, but they are still too small to harvest.  Two days later, the worms might have destroyed a third of them. We often harvest our turnips a bit small to avoid these damages.

Bugs

We usually cover the mustard greens, such as arugula, mizuna and choi, with row cover. This is to protect against flea beetles. On rare occasion, flea beetles are not a problem, so we decide not to cover. However, a crop of uncovered arugula that is beautiful on a Friday, and scheduled for harvest on the following Monday, can be ravaged by flea beetles on a hot weekend and be ruined by Monday morning. It can happen that fast—no exaggeration.

Heat

Broccoli is one of the most challenging crops to raise in the spring in this part of the Midwest, because a heat wave can decimate it. Sometimes we get pristine spring broccoli; often it is not pristine. Because of the intense bouts of occasional heat this spring, our broccoli was compromised. A third of it flowered before it even made heads. We have been putting lumpy, separating heads of broccoli that I am not proud of into boxes. They will still be delicious, even if they are off-putting in appearance. We raise broccoli in the spring, because it is such a popular crop, and sometimes it turns out great. Fall broccoli is a much more reliable crop, because it matures as the days are shortening and the weather is cooling.

spring broccoli

Trust

Every day at the farm is a weather dance. A predicted rain might not arrive. A predicted sunny day might turn into rain. You may wonder how this can possibly be navigated. Most afternoons, at the end of the work day, Victor, Pollo and I make plans for the following day. Along with Nathan, we have another planning meeting early the next morning, before the field crew starts working. Often, that plan will be different from what we decided on the day before. And we might keep changing the plans as the day unfolds. A truck might not start. A tire might go flat. A crop might need special care. We re-schedule, re-prioritize. We must be continually nimble, yet ongoingly steady and resolute. Sixteen-or-so field workers must be kept busy, but with what? Week after week, crops are at stake. You customize your boxes. Your boxes have to be filled with items that you choose. 

When you note all the things that can go wrong on the farm, all the disparate forces at work, you could easily decide to forego the drama and uncertainty and to buy your vegetables and herbs from a store. But, you have chosen to get them from us, to embrace or at least to risk the chaos, the flux, the uncertainty that accompanies a membership in a CSA farm. You have made the source of your food personal and local. You have decided to trust your farmer and your farm to provide for you and your family. 

We are honored by your commitment.

Many, many thanks for putting your trust in us.

Warmly,
Farmer John

7

Farmer John Writes: My Inner World

Harvest Week 2, July 5th – 10th, 2021

Please read Week 1 Farm News, More Than Before, for an introduction to the 2021 season.

Radishes

Reverence

In Farm News, I often report my outer life to youthe weather, the equipment, the soil, the workers, the crops, the work. Today I’m going to relate to you my inner life in relation to farming, because farming for me is also an inner experience.

Farming is part of me. I intimately identify with the farm and the process of farming. I inwardly experience the farm through a mood of devotion, of reverence. This mood enlivens and informs my experiences. What I am experiencing speaks to me, informs me, guides me.

A sign from The World of Tomorrow art event, Angelic Organics, fall, 2018

From Farm News, Week 6, 1996: 

“Since childhood…I loved looking at the farms: how the fields were laid out; how the buildings were situated, their color, sizes, forms and states of repair; the landscaping of the farmsteads; the livestock and the pens and corrals; the condition of the crops. Each farm was a fascinating story–these physical outgrowths were where the farmer interfaced with the land. The barn is that big, I would think. It is not bigger. It could have been bigger. It could have been smaller. It is that big. The farmer made it like that. He put it there, right there. He could have put it a little to the left, or to the right, but he put it there.”

end of 1996 Farm News excerpt

Within

The following are some of the ways that I inwardly experience the farm. 

A broken machine is broken inside of me. 

A weedy field grows weeds inside of me, makes me feel unkempt.

Leaves pockmarked with insect bites create inner pockmarks, dark speckles in my inner world.

High temperatures burn fiercely inside of me. 

Frosts nip at my insides. Rain hydrates me. 

Winds swirl in me. 

My barns invoke an exalted feeling of space and form. 

The red, yellow, and orange Spanish colonial colors of the farm buildings make me inwardly festive. 

A leaky roof drips into my inner being, makes it soggy. 

A rusting machine withers me. 

A new machine shines gloriously inside of me.

A flat wagon tire torques my spine, makes me tilt.

A bumper crop engulfs me.

A mis-firing tractor unsettles me.

A worker’s absence incompletes me.

Dust coats and dries my insides.

Devotion

Overall, I make little distinction between what happens on the farm and my inner life. If not for devotion, for love of the farm, these experiences would be whipsawing, fragmenting. In a mood of devotion, though, they bless me with murmurs of revelation and guidance.

From How to Know Higher Worlds, by Rudolf Steiner: “Our civilization tends more toward critical judgment and condemnation than toward devotion and selfless veneration. The student must…endeavor straightaway to cultivate thoughts of devotion.”

I suspect that, if I identified less with the workings of the farm, I may not be as diligent a farmer; I would not be able to endure the strife and hardship that accompanies running a farm; I would not so devotedly impart my love onto the farmstead and the fields. Throughout my life, I am the farm. The farm is me. Taking care of the farm is like taking care of myself, often more paramount than taking care of myself. (I’m not complaining, not lamenting, just noticing and sharing, so that you have a better sense of who is at the helm of this farm that feeds you.) 

Of course, this way of experiencing the farm, through a prism of love and deep interest, is far from Newton’s mechanistic, impartial method of observing phenomena. It is more like Goethe’s method, which encourages a living interaction with the process of experiencing phenomena, an active participation in the process. Goethe felt that Newton’s method could not be properly applied to life processes, to the unfolding of nature.

(Rudolf Steiner built on Goethe’s method to create a body of work known as spiritual science. Steiner also incorporated Goethe’s work into the foundation for Biodynamic farming, which we practice at Angelic Organics.)

Science Says What?

Farm chemicals, by ensuring a death process (i.e. death of weeds, death of insects) are really part of a life process, as death and life are inseparable. Newtonian science (or at least how Newtonian science is typically applied) has paved the way to widespread industrialized, chemicalized agriculture by leading to certain findings about farm chemicals such as Roundup (glyphosate) and organophosphates, which has led to the consequent blessings and widespread use of these chemicals. 

So-called authorities claim Roundup is safe, ecological, and a moral addition to today’s arsenal of crop protection products. “Science says…” is a ubiquitous claim to authority and truth, a credential held in high esteem (even more so than as seen on television.) Yet, today, humanity throughout the world breathes in Roundup with every breath, and perhaps imbibes it with every sip of water, as revealed in U.S.  Researchers Find Roundup Chemical in Water, Air.  

Read Vital Soil Organisms Being Harmed by Pesticides

Read The Department of Yes: How Pesticide Companies Corrupted the EPA and Poisoned America

How is it possible that we got to this point? Is science so cold and impersonal (objective) that it overrides love? Intuition? Common sense?  

Taking Care of a Farm

(Not a Newtonian process below; it is an experience I had before Roundup was sprayed on nearby land.)

From Farm News, Week 6, 1999:

“As I walked back from his sprayer to my pickup, I looked down at the ground. In some other world, some other dimension, I “saw” a stalk of yellow sweet clover. It stood by itself, about three and a half feet tall. It was in bloom. Its small yellow blossoms gleamed in the sunlight. I admired its lush green foliage, then followed it down to its base, to where it soared from the earth. 

sweet clover, 2021

 I was surprised that the earth did not stop my observation; somehow, I followed the imaginary sweet clover down into the ground. “Imaginary” is not quite the right term, since this sweet clover seemed more real than the Roundup on the ground, more real than the pickup truck at my side. I cascaded down the root structure of this sweet clover plant, into the ground below. I sort of tumbled down it, nuzzling its rootlets (a bit like snorkeling, I guess). I ricocheted down this web of life that the sweet clover had spun into the soil—deeper and deeper. It is hard to clearly remember the subterranean experience. It was outside of my normal frame of reference, a bit like a dream that is so palpable while it is being dreamed, but then it quickly vaporizes from memory.

I experienced a structure as I descended into the earth. It was geometric, a crystalline structure. Where the lines of this structure intersected, something like a light was shimmering. The soil under the sweet clover twinkled. The soil was pulsing with light—rejoicing in a sort of operatic celebration of life. I have no memory of hearing, or touching, or smelling. I only remember the visual part. And joy, I remember something like joy. Whether it was my joy, or the soil’s joy, or a shared joy, I really don’t know. But there was a great joy down there.

And then…I don’t remember. I don’t remember how I ascended from this journey, how I came back into my normal consciousness. I suspect that in those moments of which I have no memory, something occurred that was too fantastic or too horrifying for cognition—those moments are a blank. I am sure I had a much richer experience of this journey than I am sharing here, but most of it is lost to my normal process of thinking and remembering.”

end of 1999 Farm News excerpt

What is the inner training, or at least the inner mood, needed to enter into a right relationship with farming practices? 

Love and devotion are part of the answer.

Warmly,
Farmer John

4

Farmer John Writes: More Than Before

Harvest Week 1, June 28th – July 3rd, 2021

Welcome to our 2021 Season, Our First Week of Deliveries

Thank you for being with us this year, our 32nd year as a Community Supported Agriculture farm. It’s been a challenging spring, but then, all springs are challenging. The variability of the weather this season was hard to navigate. I’ll elaborate just a bit on this variability, so you will get a sense of what your vegetables and herbs went through on their way to your kitchen.

The previous four springs were very wet; this one was very dry. Good enough—we should have been able to get the crops planted in a hurry then…but no, because frosts kept coming, even into late May, frosts that would have destroyed the tomatoes, peppers, melons, cucumbers, eggplant, and basil. A cold, dry spring then, you might surmise. No, an extremely hot, dry spring, then an extremely cold, dry spring, then extremely hot again, now cool again. When it was hot, we had to diligently water our transplants in the field, then water them more. Some days were so hot and windy, we simply could not transplant. The 90+ degree temperatures and 40 to 50 mile per hour winds would wilt the transplants within minutes. And the dust, clogging filters and blanketing radiators, sifting into buildings, irritating the eyes and throat. Want to be a farmer?

Of course, I could make every spring I can remember, which goes back to the mid-fifties, seem wildly unusual. That’s mostly what the farmers around here talked about every year and what the conversations were like at our supper table since I was a tyke in the 50’s—they talked about the unusual weather that spring.

Last Season

The start of last season was a plague of rains, seeming like the year might be a repeat of the previous three soggy seasons. We lost a lot of early crops to weeds, bugs and the weather-induced inability to plant in a timely way. Much of the ground was so waterlogged from the prior seasons’ heavy rains that we could not farm it; water stood in fields where I had never seen it standing in July.

This Season, Our Crops Look Great

This season, although the weather has been adverse, we navigated the drought, the winds, the heat and the frosts without missing a step. We have splendid crops, an astounding bounty of crops.

Lettuce

This Means There’s More for You

This abundance will typically result in our 2021 shareholders receiving more vegetables and herbs in each box. Of course, this will depend on just how you customize your order. If you customize mostly with high value items that don’t take up much box space, such as heirloom tomatoes and garlic, your box might not be brimming with produce. The contents are apportioned to your box based on value, not volume.

You probably won’t always notice the extra fullness, but I suspect you often will. What will make your boxes fuller? Larger bags of baby greens, larger bunches of herbs, and a 10% to 20% reduction in the price we assign to many of the items in your box, compared to last year. This price reduction will result in more volume filling your box, which is valued at $40. For instance, items we typically priced at $5 each last year will often be priced at $4 each this year. (If the math is daunting, just know that your boxes will usually be fuller than before.)

Of course, there are no guarantees of box fullness for the whole season. We can still get hailed out or tornadoed out. But, it’s one of our best starts ever, with everything in the ground that is supposed to be in, fields basically weed and insect free, looking beautiful. A good start to the season usually carries through to the rest of the year.

Arugula harvest

Box Liner

Last year, due to Covid, we inserted liners in your CSA box. This year, we will continue to use liners, because they keep the boxes clean and they also keep the box contents cooler. If you pick up at a community site and it’s more convenient for you to take the box home with you, fine. Please return it to your site on your next pickup day. Do not return the liner; we cannot re-use it. Perhaps you can use it as a garbage bag; also, it is compostable.

Box Return

Please fold your box flat for return to the farm. Please do not rip the tabs when opening the box or when flattening it. This will make the box unusable. The boxes cost the farm about $2 each, so in one unfortunate ripping motion, presto, the farm has to order a new $2 replacement box. Watch this one minute video on how to flatten your box.

If You Miss the Customization Window

If you first notice your email to customize your box after the customization window has closed, don’t despair–your box will still be customized according to the original preferences you selected when you signed up for a share. You’ll still get more of what you like and less or none of what you don’t like (unless you never entered your original preferences, in which case, you will receive Farmer’s Choice).

We plan to project the crop availability for customization the Wednesday before the upcoming week of deliveries. This schedule is a bit different than last year.

If you receive a share on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, your deadline to customize will be Friday morning, so we can plan our packs accordingly.

If you receive your box later in the week, your customization deadline will be later.

Radishes

In Case You Wonder

Log in to your CSAware membership account to find details about your share: https://angelicorganics.csaware.com/accounts/

Please be Nice to Our Lovely Site Hosts

Our site hosts provide a service to your community. Please respect and appreciate them. 

Note the section in our Shareholder Agreement regarding the treatment of site hosts:

“I will treat my site host with respect.

From a Site Host: “Most [shareholders] are gracious and thankful, but …I…have experienced some disrespectful behavior over the years. We are not farm employees. We gain no real benefit from hosting, except the knowledge that we are assisting in creating  a beautiful relationship.  Indeed, hosting often adds duties to our lives that the shareholders might not be aware of…”

            If disrespectful behavior is reported, that person’s share may be cancelled immediately.”

Problem?

Email email hidden; JavaScript is required if you have a problem with your share. Please don’t post your grievances to social media before our customer service staff, Amanda and Dora, have a chance to resolve them. They want you to be satisfied. Also, please approach them with respect and openness. We work way too hard here to be chastised for doing the best job we can possibly do.

In Case You Missed the Farm Updates so far this Year

We appreciate when you stay current with Farm News. Here are three farm updates I have written in 2021:

The Thaw, My Sister, and Your Share

Roundup and the Snap of the Shank

Cold Spring

Michael Jacobs Will be Doing Your Home Deliveries

We are fortunate to have Michael Jacobs, a local lad, doing your home deliveries this year, in a refrigerated vehicle.

A Way Around the Weather

I suppose I could sidestep bugs, winds, drought, blight—sidestep soil and weather altogether—by growing soilless crops organically. So says a recent landmark organic decision: Court Defers to USDA: Soil is Optional in Organic

A Transportation Challenge

We have harvest tractors, wagons, trailers and carts. We often ponder the best way to get crops from the fields to our barns. And then we have to get the shares delivered to you. Perhaps we should be more inventive: Photographer Documents the Otherworldy ‘Mutant Vehicles’ That Inhabit Burning Man.

How to refrigerate share deliveries?

To a Year of Plenty,
Warmly,
Farmer John

8

Farmer John Writes: Cold Spring

Delivery Delay Due to Late Frosts

I realize that you might be reading this during a heat wave; however, due to extremely cold weather for much of this spring, we need to delay the beginning of CSA share deliveries by two weeks. I alluded to this inclement weather and my uncertainty about the delivery start date in a recent issue of Farm News, Roundup and the Snap of the Shank.

The first delivery week will be the week starting on Sunday, June 27th. If you are signed up for a bi-weekly (every-other-week) share, your first delivery week may be the week starting on Sunday, July 4th.

Shareholders, please see your updated 2021 delivery schedule by logging in to your membership account here: https://angelicorganics.csaware.com/accounts/

potatoes on a cold May morning

The cold this spring has impacted us in two significant ways:

  • The unusually cold weather has slowed down the maturity of the frost hardy crops which we have planted, such as scallions, radishes, turnips, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, chard, cabbage, etc.
  • We had to delay planting the frost sensitive crops, such as peppers, basil, cucumbers, melons and summer squash, by more than 3 weeks. We usually plant these crops between May 5th and mid-May. We are just now planting these crops, due to frequent frosts up until now which would have decimated these crops, even if they were protected by row cover.

An Example of the Cold Weather Late this May

We transplanted all of our tomatoes in mid-May. In the last week of May, my frosty car window was testimony to a very cold morning. 

Fortunately, I suspected this frost might occur, even though no frost was forecast. So, the day prior to the frost, we covered almost all of our tomatoes. Covering the tomatoes requires a lot of row cover and a lot of labor, but I did not want to risk losing our tomato crop. Row cover will keep the crop a few degrees warmer, and in this case, those few degrees of warmth made all the difference.

this tomato plant was one of the few that was not covered

this tomato plant was one of the many that were covered for the frost

Imagine if we had not safeguarded the tomato crop.

Phew

The basil, peppers, and cucumbers, if they had been in the ground before that frost, would likely have been very damaged and perhaps completely lost, even if they had been covered, because they are more sensitive to cold temperatures than tomatoes.

basil protected from frost in our farm shop, late May

Busy Catching Up

Now the threat of frost has abated and we are hastily transplanting. It is a tremendous job to catch up on this delayed transplanting, and all this transplanting work cannot overlap the beginning of the harvest season, or the work would become too chaotic.

transplanting equipment awaits a busy day

I don’t like delaying the start of the season, because it means the season will run two weeks further into cold weather at the end of the season. However, I am delaying it, because we live by what the weather deals us.

Interesting that other delayed starts of the season have typically been due to excessive rains. This season is one of the driest springs I remember, which normally would allow us to get the crops planted in a timely way. Although rain has been sparse, cold has been very plentiful.

We’ll have lovely crops for you soon.

Warmly (in spite of the cold weather),
Farmer John

28

Farmer John Writes: Roundup and the Snap of the Shank

Spring Greetings

It’s time to offer an update on the farm. 

The Season so Far

The season so far has been extremely cold, interspersed with 40 to 50 mile-an-hour gales of hot winds. We have a lot of crops in the ground, some plantings of which were delayed by the incessant frosts.

Will we start deliveries on the week of June 14th as planned? I’m not sure yet. I’ll determine that this coming week. For those of you who are 2021 shareholders, you will soon receive a notice of when we will start the season.

Is this an uncharacteristic season?
Every season is uncharacteristic.

Your CSA Share

We still have CSA shares available. Go to Receive Our Vegetables to learn more and to join our farm.

If you are signed up for a 2021 CSA share, you can log in to your membership account here to see your membership details. (Note: if you are signed up for home delivery, we will be in touch with you soon about your delivery day. We are currently planning our home delivery routes.)

Which Era Is This?

In some ways, Angelic Organics seems like a throwback to an earlier age. We rely heavily on hand labor, fix most of our own equipment, and do our own remodeling and building. This is not for sentimental reasons; it is not due to a yearning for an earlier or more authentic “golden” period of agriculture. It is simply a necessity for the kind of farming we do here. I will enumerate some of the recent hands-on projects on the farm that facilitate more efficient and more dynamic farming.

Carpentry Shop

We now have a heated carpentry shop. We achieved this by remodeling a storage shed into a facility for carpentry. Previously, our array of woodworking power tools, nails, and screws was housed in our repair shop for machinery. Now we have a designated space where we can work on woodworking projects.

power tools

lumber and wood fastener storage

Blacksmithery

We created a small, outdoor blacksmithery. We often need to bend, straighten, or flatten steel. Fifty years ago, I bought a broken railroad car coupler to eventually install as a giant anvil on the farm. A few weeks ago, I finally achieved this goal, along with embedding heavy-duty pallet forks in the concrete for additional bending and shaping of steel, and installing a tire changer. (Interesting to intend something 50 years earlier and then to finally achieve it.)

Victor prepares the railroad car coupler for its role as a farm anvil

our blacksmithery

Water Diversion

Our greenhouse was improperly sited when it was built 25 years ago. It was located on a slight slope that allowed water to stream through the greenhouse when we received heavy rains. With well pipe embedded in concrete, we created two wings that now divert water away from the greenhouse. I headed up this concrete project, since there was no one else on the farm who had experience with it; my experience was limited to some rather crude cement projects I had supervised 25 or 30 years ago, plus helping to pour barnyard cement in my childhood. 

The driver of the cement truck said, “It’s the best cement work I have ever seen amateurs do.” I think that was a compliment.

Wings of pipe and concrete divert rain water (crushed rock drive in foreground)

we even added a floor drain (notice aluminum grate in foreground) for water that gets past our diversionary water wings. Also, note our new irrigation system misting a bench of transplants

The Greenhouse Project

I wrote about our extensive greenhouse project in a Farm News winter update: The Thaw, My Sister and Your Share. It is now complete except for a couple of controllers that have yet to arrive. The overall aim of the greenhouse project was to make the greenhouse work less hands-on, via automatic watering, so that Nathan, the greenhouse manager, could apply himself in more strategic hands-on ways elsewhere on the farm. This has worked out very well to have Nathan’s expertise available to apply to other farm needs.

Earth

There is an earthliness to these projects above, a groundedness. Much of the population of the U.S. used to live according to these influences–with  a deep connection to seasons, to earth, to matter, to the sequence by which a project would be completed. To go from no carpentry shop to a carpentry shop, from no blacksmithery to a blacksmithery, from a greenhouse that floods to one that does not—these are projects bound up in how the earth works, how materials behave, how one thing needs to follow another. (There was even a time when movies didn’t let you skip ahead. You just sat there and watched the whole movie.)

Most people in this country today can’t do the work needed to run this farm. Most people don’t know how to handle a hoe, a shovel, a rake, a harvest knife. What has been foregone that we now have a culture that for the most part does not lean into the work? Does this matter, other than that it makes it hard to get the work done here? 

There is a lot of yearning today to save the planet, but in what way is the planet being engaged? Through graphs, charts, concepts? The earth is not a graph, a chart, or a concept. The earth is a living being that needs to be leaned into to be known.

The Snap of the Shank

In the 30’s my mother taught in a one-room school across the road from my farm (where my wife Haidy and I now live.) My neighbor, who had my mother for a teacher, said, “After school was out, she would run lickety-split down that quarter mile driveway to your farm so she could pick a load of corn before supper.” I imagined my mother snapping those corn shanks to separate the ears from the stalks—snap, toss…crack, toss…ears flying through the air, ears landing thunk in the wagon, thunk with an occasional rasp of the husk. 

Today, a corn combine will harvest in a few seconds about what my mother harvested in an hour. That harvesting machine will not only harvest the ears, but also husk the ears and separate the kernels from the cobs. Did my mother gain something by hand harvesting the corn–feeling the snap and hearing the crack–that the operator of a combine will not? My mother was the first to forego tedious hand labor through technology in order to get more done. She was not sentimental about hard, repetitive hand work. Yet, I wonder how it informed her on a deep level, the rhythm, the smells, and the sounds. I wonder how it made her a citizen of the planet in a way that perhaps the operator of the combine does not experience.

this machine does in a few seconds what my mother used to do in an hour

Roundup

I understand why farmers use the herbicide Roundup, to make life easier, to make farming more productive and maybe more profitable. However, it has separated farmers more from the material engagement with the earth (besides the alleged health and environmental issues associated with Roundup. Check out Vital Soil Organisms Being Harmed by Pesticides.)

Does this separation matter? Does it have cultural consequences in how humans relate to the earth? Roundup turns most plants that are not gmo-designed into death, a deathscape. Often an ashen, gray pallor comes over the plants as they are dying. I don’t like weeds either. I don’t like paying the crew as much as $100,000 per year to kill our weeds in a more material way. But, my question is, besides the environmental differences between using chemicals or hoes to rid a crop of weeds, is there moral and cultural value in leaning into the hoe? 

Roundup and weed kill—no need to hoe (not our field)

Of course, Roundup makes food cheaper, makes life easier for farmers and cheaper for consumers. Roundup and other agricultural technologies have liberated farmers from backbreaking work that allows them to…well…often to work more land and, as a consequence, to push fellow farmers off the land. In general, because there are not so many resources tied up in food production today, people are more free to read, make art, spend more time with their families, binge watch movies, have more opinions, dance, knit, draw, and tweet. But does it matter that these people are often not able to do physical work, that they can’t power a labor intensive farm such as ours? 

Additions to Our Crew

This year, I am hiring nine workers from Mexico through the government’s H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program. These are people who have grown up doing hand labor from an early age. Many of them know well the rustle of the corn and the snap of the shank.  They are mostly family and friends of one of my most stellar workers from Mexico and his wife.

A staggering amount of bureaucratic hurdles had to be navigated to make this program happen, but we persevered and finally received authorization to hire temporary workers from outside of the U.S.

hand harvesting corn–the way it was on farms

While giving the new workers a tour of their temporary home on the farm, we stopped in front of the framed print above, which is hanging in their living room. I asked if they had ever harvested corn that way. One of them had done it with a horse and a wagon (or maybe it was a mule and a wagon—I wasn’t sure.) The others had no mule, horse or wagon to help; they said they harvested the corn into bags on their backs and carried it out of the fields. 

The workers will be housed for free on the farm and will be paid up to ten times as much here as they would get paid for similar work in Mexico. 

my childhood home, where the H-2A workers will live–the colors are a tribute to my love for Mexico

What’s it Take to Power a Farm?

Everyone who works at the farm needs to be stellar to keep the energy flowing, to keep the morale up and to get the work done. H-2A workers are legendary for getting the work done. 

I am most excited that we will now be adding a stellar work force to our already existing team of stellar employees for this hands-on, labor intensive farm.

Plus, our friends who have arrived from below the border will receive enough compensation for their labor to make a big difference in their lives and their families’ lives back home. 

Be assured that all of us at Angelic Organics will be leaning into the work this season–will be in full service to the earth–so that you may reap the life-giving benefits of fresh, organic food from a farm that you know. 

Warmly,
Farmer John

10

Farmer John Writes: The Thaw, My Sister, and Your Share

It’s time for an update from Angelic Organics–maybe past time, but my stellar year-round crew of four and I have been so busy since the last season ended, I haven’t found time to properly stay in touch with you. The narrow winter window on this farm is fully filled with machinery repair, building maintenance and upgrades, research, and planning the next season. The recent thaw has put us into overdrive. The melting snow and mud hasten us to prepare for another season of growing healthy, abundant vegetables and herbs for our shareholders.

As the Snow Thaws, Shares are Available

Speaking of time, if you haven’t signed up for a 2021 CSA share yet and you plan to, I suggest that you sign up now at CSAWare, because I am not sure how soon we will sell out of 2021 shares. (If you are not familiar with our CSA program, please visit Receive Our Vegetables to learn more before signing up for a share.)

The Passing of my Sister, Mary Jane

Also, speaking of time, my older sister Mary Jane Lewis passed away this winter. Mary Jane grew up on this farm. She was a real farm girl. She helped with chores, drove tractors, and showed cattle at the fair. 

Mary Jane with her 4-H calf

Mary Jane was a lot of fun and the source of great childhood excitement and adventure. 

 

Mary Jane reading Annie Oakley

She went on to teach school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, for 35 years, and touched the lives of many of her students. My wife Haidy and Mary Jane also formed a warm friendship in the last several years.

Here is Mary Jane’s obituary.

My sister Carol Krupke and I will miss our spunky sister Mary Jane.

Mary Jane, Carol and Future Farmer John on the farm with our dog Pal

The Greenhouse

I will share with you the main winter project here this year–an upgrade of our greenhouse where we start all of our seedlings. We built the greenhouse in the mid-90’s. Overall, it has served the farm quite well, though it is now a bit undersized for all the growing that we do. In assessing its needs this winter, quite a long list of tasks emerged.

Water Wandering Long Before the Greenhouse was Built

Going back a few decades before the greenhouse was built, we had issues with water from rain or melting snow coming down the hill from the south and making its way into our buildings. I wouldn’t call it flooding exactly, but it was still a problem, especially in spring. So, in 1973, I had a deep ditch/waterway carved into the hill just south of the farmstead and had it wrap around to the west and head towards the Mississippi—better there than through our barns. This helped considerably to keep water away from the farmstead, but not enough. Rain and melting snow still make their way into the east end of the greenhouse, along with some mud they pick up along the way, and then run the length of the greenhouse and out the other end. This has been a problem since we built the greenhouse. (Yes, I could have sited the greenhouse better, but I don’t do everything right.)

Water Wondering

For the past couple of decades, I have imagined how we could get the ground water to stop coming into the greenhouse. We now have a solution to this problem, which will require concrete, a trough, a sump pit and a sump pump (and probably a bit more). This will be somewhat transformational for the greenhouse and for the people who work there.

a mud-run through the greenhouse; we’re going to stop it

Weeds and Wood

In our detailed assessment of the greenhouse, we determined that the porous weed barrier covering the floor was so degraded that it had to be replaced. We also decided that the wooden walkways were unacceptably dangerous, due to rotting boards, so we resolved to replace the wooden walkways. 

new weed barrier on floor and reconfiguration of bench layout

Whatnot

Putting attention on a place/project/person can reveal all sorts of additional heretofore unnoticed or barely noticed wants and needs. You might find the following considerations a bit circuitous, but a farm project, like one’s life, involves many considerations, some of which relate to one another, and some of which might at first seem extraneous and un-related, but are nevertheless integral. 

If Not Watering, then What?

Nathan Hallgren, our greenhouse manager, has in prior years been spending maybe 3 hours a day watering the greenhouse. This goes on for several months into about the middle of the growing season. He does a good job, but those 3 hours each day can be applied more productively in other areas of the farm, since he has myriad skills in the areas of IT, administration and research. For example, Nathan can fill out a daunting mandatory government form (we get dozens per year) in about the same amount of time that it takes me to read it through the first time and then sit there wondering what it was all about. Should Nathan be filling out these forms for me, or directing his watering wand at our seedlings for 3 hours per day, even though it can be automated, while I stare blankly at the required forms? 

There’s also the issue that I arrange for a substitute greenhouse waterer on Sundays, so Nathan doesn’t have to drive out to the farm to water the seedlings. I don’t have time to do this watering, as it would conflict with my relentless weekend farm work. Weekend watering performance has been uneven here, to put it gently. There is too much at stake to assume that the substitute waterer will water properly or even remember to water. It is painful to face wilted seedlings that on a Sunday afternoon that are supposed to end up on your table because a volunteer neglected to water.

As a consequence of Nathan’s broad skill set and the weekend watering demand, we need an automatic watering system for our greenhouse. We consulted with the most helpful and congenial Carl Duewer of All-American Associates on this watering/irrigation project. (I purchased the original structure from Carl 25 years ago.) Setting up a watering system for a greenhouse might seem easy, but it’s complicated. How wide will the benches be? How high? Spaced how far apart? How many irrigation zones are wanted? How high will the tallest plant be above the flat? Do we want to mist the plants or drench them? Will each nozzle have a shut-off valve? How much water pressure is there? How much water volume? Then there’s the iron.

What’s Iron Got to Do With It?

We realized that we have to install an iron filtration system so that the iron in our water won’t plug up the nozzles, which would result in Nathan hand watering and my struggling with numerous government forms instead of managing the farm. The iron filter salesman pointed out that our water volume was too low for the iron filtration system to work. (We currently have two iron filtration systems on the farm, but they only handle residential needs and do not include the greenhouse. They stopped working when the water volume dropped this winter.)

A few years back, we had put in a new well pump. I knew that our current water volume should have been adequate to power our current iron filtration systems and any new one we added. I had the guys from Bloyer Well and Pump come out to do an inspection. They said there was something wrong with our pump or something was wrong with the water line from the pump to the ground level. 

pulling the pump; photo from the farm office window

Pumping Iron

I’ll slightly digress here, and explain why our water has so much iron in it. In the 90’s, the health department didn’t like that we had a shallow well, which provided delicious clear water, and they demanded that we put in a deep well, which provided rusty-looking water with iron in it. (Pretty much all the deep wells in this region have excessive iron in their water.) Some of you might remember back when this drama of drilling the new well occurred. It’s a much longer story than that, but I won’t elaborate. The well is now over 300 feet deep, and our pump sits 160 feet down in that well.

The well technicians pulled the pump last week and found that that there was a sizable hole in the pipe leading up from the well, probably caused by the excess iron. Water had likely been spewing from this hole for a long time, causing the water pressure and volume to drop. (The electric bill this winter was very large, and now I know why—because the well pump was running continuously.) I suspect that the county thinks they solved a big problem by making us drill a deep well for thousands of dollars. It has cost the farm several more thousands of dollars since then in ruined pumps, plugged nozzles, iron filtration systems, and an enormous electric bill for unwittingly continually pumping water through an underground pipe ruined by iron. There has also been the never-ending task of scrubbing away iron deposits.

galvanized pipe caked with iron; notice the large split due to iron buildup in the perpendicular pipe near the coupling

 

these guys are stellar—Bloyer Well has been taking care of our water needs for 40 years

I had the well technicians install a new pump and a new pipe from the pump to the wellhead. 

Prior to installation the water pressure was 30 psi; now it averages 60 psi. Prior to installation, the volume was maybe 12 gallons per minute; now it is close to 50 gallons per minute. The water pressure and volume are again adequate to power the iron filtration system. (This is the water used for residential needs, washing your vegetables, drip irrigation, and the greenhouse.)

Where Were We?

Remember, this is a greenhouse upgrade. So far, we have had to put in a new well pump, new water line to the ground surface, new weed barrier on the greenhouse floor. We have also done a major re-configuration of the layout of our greenhouse benches. We have ordered the components for the automatic watering system.

We still have to build boardwalks, install the components for the greenhouse irrigation system and get the new iron filtration system installed. There’s more.

Sprung Springs

I should also mention that the springs in the thermostats in the environmental control panel are worn out. The thermostats are not at all accurate, which means we can’t properly control the important functions of air flow and temperature control. We have to install a new temperature control panel.

our wonky control panel

Posted Roads and The Thaw—Good Lines to Use about Your Share Purchase

And then there’s the concrete work. We can’t do that project yet, because the roads are posted due to the seasonal thaw, which makes the paved roads less durable. The cement truck can’t come out here until sometime in April, when the roads are no longer posted. In April, we are often too busy getting into the fields to pour concrete, but sometimes, I get something in my head about something that needs to be done and I get single-minded about it and it gets done.

Will we still have shares available, once those postings are lifted? I suggest that during this rite of spring–the thaw and the posting of the roads–it’s a good time to consider buying a farm share at CSAWare, if you haven’t already signed up for 2021.

Then you can have conversations like this:

“When did you purchase your share?”

“Oh, back when the roads were posted.”

or

“When did you purchase your share?”

“During the big thaw.”

Those are answers that will make you feel close to the workings of the earth.

Soon

the beginning is coming soon

A Small but Big Matter

All of these improvements qualify more or less as an infrastructure upgrade of one building out of our twelve farm buildings. It’s not an upgrade of the actual seeding or growing of the transplants; the upgrade simply facilitates the growing of the transplants. It supports the mission of the greenhouse–seedling production–and seedling production is just a subset of growing. We set all the greenhouse transplants out in our fields, and do direct seeding of many other crops directly into the fields, so the fields are where most of our growing takes place. The greenhouse infrastructure is a subset of the greenhouse production which is a subset of growing. 

Yet, this greenhouse infrastructure project will cost the farm upwards of $30,000. In the grand scope of running the farm, it is a small project, but it will still cost a lot of money.

Farming is interesting, no?

Happy Spring, Coming Soon,
Farmer John

8

Farmer John Writes: Is It Time?

Extended Season Week 4, November 29th – December 5th, 2020

Now
This week (November 29th – December 5th) is the final week of our four-week Extended Season, and the final week of our 2020 deliveries.

Brussels Sprouts Bonanza
We closely monitor crops here as the season nears an end, because we don’t want to run out, but we also don’t want to have a lot left over after deliveries are done. For the final week, we have more Brussels sprouts left than what we anticipated. If you customize your final share with Brussels sprouts, you’ll probably receive a generous portion.

However, many of the remaining sprouts are small, so you might receive a lot of sprouts, but small sprouts, although the warm fall has made some of the sprouts that were formerly small size up a bit. Or, you might receive a wide range of stalk sizes and sprout sizes.

Sweet sprouts

If you like Brussels sprouts, I suggest customizing your final box with them. Our sprouts have been through several frosts, which sweetens them. And, you will probably receive more sprouts than we apportioned in the past, since there are so many sprouts that we need to give for this last week of deliveries.

If you love our Brussels sprouts so much that you plan to fashion one into a holiday ornament, I suggest that you consider instead a non-perishable sprout.

(Speaking of surplus, I suspect that our final cabbage harvest will be more than we formerly anticipated. If you customize your share with cabbage, you may receive more than a normal amount.)

Gift a CSA Share this Holiday Season
On the topic of holidays, perhaps you have someone in your life to whom you would like to gift a 2021 CSA share from our farm. Soon, we will be rolling out our new gift share program which will let you purchase a CSA share as a gift for your loved one. Watch for an upcoming email about our new gift shares.

If you haven’t given yourself the gift of a 2021 share yet, check out Receive Our Vegetables.

The Off-Season
For those of you who read Farm News, you know that we stay very busy on the farm throughout the “off-season.”

For those who don’t read Farm News, they will ask about my winter vacation plans, and in general what I do with all that time off, as though farming is simply doing the work with crops, not mindful that it is also the huge task of preparing to do the upcoming work.

The winter and the fall are the times when much of the trajectory of the upcoming growing season is formed. In other words, a growing season is probably going to be much more successful if we enter into it well prepared.

What is Already Done for Next Season?
This fall, we were jubilantly successful in getting next year’s vegetable fields laid out in beds, spread with compost, and seeded to fertility-building peas in August, the ideal time for accomplishing such. We also installed tiles for field drainage in our low land, another big investment in crop production. We migrated our CSA management platform to CSAware for the 2021 season.

What Else Will be Done for Next Season?
Now we begin work on our buildings. All such work is on hold during the busy growing season, but during the winter, we have the luxury of time to work on the building interiors. Also, we usually have winter days warm enough so we can do exterior work on the buildings.

We will also work steadfastly on the farm machinery in our heated shop. We have over 100 machines on the farm for growing your vegetables and herbs. Imagine all the belts, bearings, shafts, chains, roll pins, gear boxes, rollers, tires, drapers, hoses, wires, clevises, pumps, bushings, gaskets, o-rings, motors, engines, and drive trains that need to be inspected, adjusted, repaired, or replaced. Many of the machines are accompanied by manuals that provide thorough guidance for maintenance. Of course, there are numerous other machines for which there are no manuals, and there are numerous situations in general that a manual is not going to resolve, such as a bent shaft or how to remove a stripped bolt.

You might wonder just how we manage all of this disparate machinery maintenance. We manage it by my machinery motto, “The equipment is always ready for use.”  That’s a pretty simple standard. Does the truck start? Does it run smoothly? Do the brakes work? Do the wagon tires hold air? Is the water valve on the planter fixed? When the time comes in which we need a wagon, a tractor, a planter, is it ready to go? If yes, we succeeded; if not, we failed.

This truck is not ready for use

Time
As I often mention in Farm News, everything has to be done on time on this farm–has to. Otherwise, we won’t have adequate crops to put in your share. It’s that simple.

A lot of people are dreamy and high-brow about a farm such as ours, considering it primarily organic, sustainable, carbon friendly, etc. Seldom do I ever hear anyone mention one of the farm’s most fundamental guiding principles: doing things on time.

Our Biggest Deterrent to Food Waste Is Timeliness
One of the most discreet yet most major impacts on food waste is not what happens to the crop upstream after it is harvested; it’s what happens to the crop before it goes into the ground and then while it is growing. Did it go in on time or not?  And once it is planted, did it get weeded, trellised, and harvested at the right time? A late planted crop wastes food in a significant way through lower yields, and a crop that is not tended in a timely way will also yield less.

In a certain way, how we manage time at the farm is a strategic component in our fertility program, in that taking care of crops in a timely way will lead to more production–and less waste due to the impact of lower yields from being late. Raising bountiful crops requires good soil fertility and good time management.

Rare November cilantro harvest

Food Production is on My Watch
My phone has a clock, but my phone is usually in my pocket. It is not a great tool for regularly tracking the minutes, so I wear a wrist watch—always easily accessible. Last week, the band on my wrist watch broke, and I immediately wondered how I can keep work on an even keel until it is repaired. I imagine fishing for my phone in my shirt pocket under my vest and coat–not checking it frequently enough. My always-ready wrist watch helps to fill your box, helps to reduce food waste. Fear not for the upcoming season; the watch band is already repaired.

Years ago, my friend Valdawn gave me a wristwatch, The Valdawn Old MacDonald Watch. (The watch was manufactured by her father, and named after his vegetarian daughter, Valdawn, who loves pigs.)

When my regular watch recently lost power, I considered wearing my Old MacDonald Watch. The watch has an odd feature, though: it has a button protruding from its side, which, when bumped even slightly, causes it to play the song Old MacDonald Had a Farm–the whole first stanza. I could be at the bank at a teller’s window, at a funeral, in a group meditation–whenever I bumped that button, Old MacDonald Had a Farm dinged out relentlessly. It couldn’t be stopped.

It played the whole first stanza of this song, which is pretty lengthy at a funeral: Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Is it Time?
I suppose one can take this lesson of time and apply it more broadly to life. What are the impacts in general of not being ready; of not getting the job done in time; not getting to the meeting in time; not catching the bus, the plane? Does life yield less than it could because of how time is managed?

I have shared this story in Farm News before and will now share it again—the impact of not inviting Andy Warhol for dinner in time: No Dinner for Andy.

Time is on Our Side
Haidy and I will celebrate our 10th Wedding anniversary this December fourth. Our marriage has been a wondrous journey through the timelessness of love.

From a Shareholder

Haidy,

I remember reading Farmer John’s newsletters about you when you and he first got together, and being so happy for him, because his writing showed he was so happy to have found you.

~ Paula

Thank You
Thank you for being with us this year–our 31st season as a Community Supported Agriculture farm.

Thanks to those of you who ventured to join us for the first time this year. And thanks to those of you who faithfully stayed with us after enduring the last few years of farming challenges due to excessive rains.

This was a most glorious and rewarding growing season for us. We hope that your CSA experience with us has been equally glorious and rewarding.

Warmly,
Farmer John

1

Farmer John Writes: What is the Farm to You?

Extended Season Week 3, November 22nd – 28th, 2020

The Season is Winding Down
This is the third week of our four-week extended season. If you have a two-week extended season share, and you receive a delivery this week, this is probably your last delivery of the season. We hope that your CSA experience this year has been a marvelous journey.

If you are unsure about your delivery schedule for the rest of the season, please find your delivery schedule in your membership account at www.harvie.farm/member/deliveries.

Brussels Sprouts
This is our best year for Brussels sprouts in many years. Still, it is not as good as I would like. Some of the stalks are graced by many large sprouts; some of the stalks are graced by large sprouts at the bottom and smaller sprouts at the top; some of the whole stalks are populated mostly by small sprouts. The stalks are much longer than what will fit into your box, so we cut them into two pieces, or, in the case of extra tall stalks, three pieces.

When we put Brussels sprouts into your box, we try to select them judiciously. If you customize your box with one Brussels sprouts order, you ideally receive one partial stalk laden with sprouts or two partial stalks with sparser sprouts or sometimes even three partial stalks with meager sprouts. It’s a packing task of approximation, and we do our best to equalize the Brussels sprouts “unit” or “measure” while packing.

It’s mid-November and the Brussels spouts are still growing

I’ll add here that organic Brussels sprouts are quite expensive at the store, because they are expensive to grow. They are about $5 per pound at Whole Foods, or you can order them through Etsy at $60 for four pounds (In case you just gasped, shipping is included in that price.) It takes about 16 to 20 nicely-sized sprouts to make a pound. If you get a lucky stalk in your box, it might sport 30 sizable sprouts—that would be the jackpot.

Our Fabulous Site Hosts
We have over 40 delivery sites throughout Chicagoland and local to our farm. These sites are hosted by people who want to support their communities and Angelic Organics Farm.

Many of our site hosts go to great lengths to ensure that shareholders receive their shares. Some contact shareholders who neglect to pick up their shares to arrange for an alternate pickup time. This year, site hosts have followed practices to minimize the risk of Covid-19 at their sites. Often, site hosts will clean up after an un-tidy shareholder.

We at the farm wince when we hear about occasional rudeness towards our site hosts or disrespect towards their sites.

We hugely appreciate our site hosts for the contributions they make to your community and to our farm. As the season winds down, please acknowledge them. Pull out the stops; shower them with praise and adoration and gifts. If you are more subtle than that, a nice note of thanks will do.

Our Stellar Crew
On our farm, with all the emphasis on hand labor, a primary focus is on the field crew. As I have noted in previous issues of Farm News, the field crew this year has been stellar. I meet with them early in the morning and right after lunch to assign the day’s tasks. They head to the washing and grading area or to the fields according to their work assignments.

Every work day is different. Every day, there is a different set of considerations based on crops, weather, labor availability, etc. This is the art of managing a diversified vegetable farm—improvisation. What the plan is before the meeting might change during the meeting based on crew feedback, or a sudden change in the weather forecast, or a buried memory of some urgent task that suddenly surfaces.

We grow over 40 types of vegetables and herbs (and within those categories, hundreds of different varieties.) Imagine the array of tasks—harvesting, bunching, washing, counting, bagging, thinning, weeding, trellising, trimming, thinning, transplanting, etc. Imagine that the directive for bunching or grading a crop one day might not apply to that crop three days later because there is more of it, or less of it, or there is sudden bug damage or blight degradation. Imagine grading standards that acknowledge that most shareholders will not mind a blemish on their cucumber or tomato, but a few will object strenuously.

Labor is the single biggest cost on our farm, so it is easy to focus on the field crew and the physical work they do.

It Takes a Village, of Sorts
However, much more than the field crew is needed to make the farm function properly. It takes a village, of sorts. Think of the many things beyond the field labor that need to be done: building maintenance, building construction, machinery maintenance, machinery operation, hiring, training, food safety protocols, packing, delivery, seeding, mechanical weeding, bookkeeping, inventory management, customer service, marketing, fertility management, irrigation, greenhouse management, planning, organizing, procurement, designing, research, writing this newsletter, etc.

Fall peas build fertility for next year’s sweet corn

When You Picture Your Farm
I wonder what sort of picture you hold when you picture your farm. Is it fields, crops, buildings, a tractor, a barn, sky, trees, workers?

Is it a panorama, a metamorphosis? Is it your box contents, the food you prepare from your share? What is the farm to you? What is your picture of it?

Warmly,
Farmer John

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Farmer John Writes: Do Things Work Out?

Extended Season Week 2, November 15th – 21st, 2020

We Have Many Kind and Lovely Shareholders
In last week’s Farm News, Still Growing, I acknowledged the contributions to the farm made by our pack volunteers, our delivery drivers, and the crops themselves. This week, I am expressing appreciation for our many wonderful shareholders.

Some come out to the farm all the way from Chicago and suburbs to help pack shares.

Some shareholders buy lunch for our crew:

“Hey, I was wondering if there might be a local restaurant or something to bless the farm crew one week? I’d like to cover lunch for the crew somehow. Could you help me do this?”

Some send gifts of money to support the farm in whatever way we feel is appropriate.

Some send funny notes.

In reply to our apology for a late delivery, a shareholder wrote, “Was Nevada counting the vegetables?”

Some of you send notes of appreciation:

“And this entire season has nourished our souls and our bodies because it reminds us the world is beautiful (not a divisive catastrophe.)”

“Many, many thanks to the hands that conceived, planted, tended, harvested, and packed these delicious foods for our table. Every single hand. Especially in the cold. THANK YOU!”

Your kids sometimes send the most adorable notes:

Some Want to Take Care of a Fellow Shareholder
In Farm News, Week 19, The Most Important Thing is Not a Thing, I wrote about Mara, a shareholder who has been with us for many years, who “left a gracious message…that she didn’t understand how to use our Harvie system to customize, had eye problems and was going to soon have an operation on her eyes, and could she please have pie pumpkins in her box if it wasn’t too late to ask.”

She wanted to make pumpkin pies. I called her back and said it was too late, that her box had already gone out for delivery.

I said, “I’d love to get in the car and bring you your pumpkins today.”

Mara said, “You bring me those pumpkins and I’ll bake you a pumpkin pie.”

As much as I wanted to get pie pumpkins to Mara, I was unable to make it happen.

My wife Haidy pointed out that I just let the story about Mara hang there, with no closure. If you regularly read Farm News, you know that I usually close my stories with a satisfying ending; however, at the time I was writing about this pie pumpkin request, I was more interested in imparting a story with no ending.

Often, that’s the way stories go; they just stop—no closure, no tidy bow—they just stop.

Of course, you can make the case that a story about an unrequited request can be, in a certain way, complete; it highlights a yearning. It’s simply about the yearning.

When I was talking with this shareholder about her pumpkin need, I was flooded with yearning, yearning to personally take care of the needs of all of our shareholders, to sit at your kitchen tables, to hear your stories, to meet your families and friends, to be in continual, rejuvenating shareholder loveliness. Being on the call with Mara poignantly reminded me of what is possible with other human beings.

What I did not add in a subsequent edition of Farm News was that I had later arranged for Mara to receive her pie pumpkins. (This is a good place to note that we have far more shareholder requests than we can possibly fulfill. The request from Mara got through to me at a special moment.)

Shareholder Mara Writes
“And thank you so much Farmer John for helping me last week! My Box was fantastic! Everything! The pie pumpkins, the butternut squash, the leeks, and all that wonderful wonderful broccoli! I love you! But how do I change my preferences so I don’t have to bug you every minute even though I sure like to bug you haha!

In this moment of struggle and solidarity:
Venceremos!”

Although Mara’s pumpkin request was taken care of earlier, you only had the story of her not receiving her pumpkins until now. Like me, some of our shareholders yearned for this lovely person to receive her pie pumpkins and to be able to make her pumpkin pies. Some of you offered to help:

A Shareholder Writes
“I read about the lady not getting her pumpkins to bake you a pie and have a solution….we would love to take some to the lady so she can make the pie for you!”

Another Shareholder Writes
“I still have one of my 3 pumpkins left and am willing to share either the frozen cooked pumpkin or the whole pumpkin left with the shareholder in Evanston who wanted one to make pies…You are welcome to share my email address with them if there is still a need.”

Do Things Work Out?
Many people like to say, “Things always work out.”

I like to say, “Things sometimes work out. Sometimes they don’t.”

After my first talk with Mara, when I told her it was too late for her to receive pie pumpkins in her box, I resolved to get pie pumpkins to her in her next delivery. In the meantime, we were going to give pie pumpkins in an upcoming pack. This was our only remaining batch of pie pumpkins; there were a few hundred.

I thought we would have many pumpkins left after that pack, from which I could freely choose pumpkins for Mara.

“Nathan, how many pie pumpkins were left over after that pack?”

“Two.”

Those are the two pie pumpkins that went into Mara’s box.

That worked out twofold: Mara got her pumpkins and her story now has closure.

Warmly,
Farmer John