Farm News

6

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

26

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

0

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

0

Farmer John Writes: Still Growing

Extended Season Week 1, November 8th – 14th, 2020

Welcome to Our Extended Season
This week (November 8th – 14th) marks the first week of our Extended Season deliveries. If you are not signed up for an Extended Season share, your deliveries have ended for the season–thank you for being a part of our farm this year.

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

For the Rest of The Season, You Will Receive Your Share Customization Emails on Fridays
As we enter our Extended Season deliveries, your share customization window will be earlier than it was during the main season. From now on, your share customization window will be from sometime on Friday morning until 7 am the following Saturday morning–before the week in which you receive your share.

In other words, if you have been previously receiving your share customization emails on Mondays or Wednesdays, you will now receive your share customization emails on Fridays.

How This Change Helps the Farm
Now that we are in the Extended Season, we anticipate more variable weather and less consistent availability of our field crew and pack volunteers. This requires that we know further in advance what your customization preferences are, so that we can plan accordingly for harvest and packing.

Even though the customization window will be earlier, your delivery dates will remain the same.

Transition
In the Extended Season, our deliveries drop down to about half of what they were in the main season. This somewhat reduces the pressure to harvest, bag, pack, etc. Other pressures increase during this period, such as sleet, snow, cold, wind, etc. Additionally, I can’t keep the whole crew busy full-time during November, so we have a reduced number of crew members during this month.

However, the way weather works, we might need a huge field crew two days per week, because those are nice sunny days, and the rest of the time, no or little field crew, because the weather is too inclement for outdoor work. Matching the available resources to the task is one of the arts of farming. We’ve made it work pretty well this year.

There is more to be thankful for than what I highlight below, such as weather, soil, crew and you…I will note these in future issues of the Extended Season Farm News, since an infinite amount of appreciation will not fit into a finite amount of space.

Thank You to the Extended Season Crops
We have onions, garlic, winter squash, kohlrabi, thyme, potatoes and a bit of popcorn and radishes in storage.

radishes

We have a lot of cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale still in the fields. These crops will sweeten further with each additional frost (unless it’s a really hard frost.) They will also still grow a bit, depending on rain and temperature. We also have a bed of popcorn still in the field.

popcorn

We oddly (given that it’s November) have mizuna for the first part of this week, and baby chard for the second part of Extended Season Week 2. Both of these leafy greens are still happily growing in the fields as of Thursday, November 5th. Dill, too, is still flourishing in the field under a row cover—not sure when it will be available for shares, probably in Week 2 of the Extended Season.

Thank You to our Drivers Who Deliver Your Shares
I like to say, “we are a farm, not a transportation company.” However, we need to get our deliveries to you (except for those of you who pick up at the farm).

Many of you know that we took on doing our own home deliveries this season, to ensure that the produce would be carefully handled, would arrive cooled and would be delivered at somewhat predictable times. Farm employees Alina Jaskowiak and Nathan Hallgren were supported in the endeavor of delivery logistics (routing, etc.) by talented farm friend, pack volunteer, and occasional consultant, Chris Flueckiger. The beginning was daunting, but eventually the home deliveries went quite well, I feel, especially given that it was our first attempt to undertake such a service.

multi-talented Nathan Hallgren

We have been blessed this season to have the driving services of Juan Lomeli, Zdenek Zverina, and Diane Moore. Zdenek and Diane will be finishing the Extended Season deliveries. They show up on time and do the deliveries in good cheer. Having had drivers in the past who didn’t show up, who weren’t careful with your boxes or the trucks, we are blessed to have the cordial, prompt and careful services of Zdenek and Diane, and will warmly welcome them back next year.

Thank You to All who Have Helped to Pack Your Boxes
About 13 to 18 pack volunteers have been showing up here for each of the three weekly packs. Mostly, a volunteer will do one pack per week, so you can imagine that this is a large number of volunteers who help out during an average week. There’s great camaraderie amongst the pack volunteers; each pack is its own festival of sorts. Sometimes a volunteer sweetly brings a gift for the farm or for Haidy and me.

pack volunteers

Don Glasenapp, our charismatic Pack Volunteer Coordinator, does great work making sure that we have enough volunteers. He guides the volunteers in filling the boxes precisely according to the preferences on your customized box label. He also instructs volunteers on food safety and COVID-19 safety protocols. Don is great at keeping people’s spirits up and making sure the pack is a good time for all.

David Crogan, one of the funniest people I know, is in charge of the rather demanding and fastidious job of sorting and labeling boxes. Some of our crew assists David in this process. I estimate this sorting and labeling takes up about 12 to 14 person-hours per pack, or close to 40 hours per week. (To be clear, because several people are helping, the process usually starts around 7 am and ends around 10:30 am on three separate pack days per week.)

During the pack, David audits boxes to make sure they are packed correctly. We have had fewer complaints of missing items or wrong items in the boxes, since we introduced this auditing process this season. We still miss things occasionally, to the chagrin of some of our shareholders. It might seem easy for a volunteer to simply do what the label says; mostly that’s what happens, but sometimes, unfortunately, there will be an oversight.

(Regarding the issue of errors in packing your boxes (or in the rest of life), let’s take comfort in what Rudolf Steiner said in Berlin on Dec 2nd, 1903: “Wisdom can only be gained by making countless mistakes. Goethe states: ‘The human being errs while he strives.’ In the same way that a child learns that it hurts to fall, all the great personalities had to learn through experience when making mistakes. Wisdom can only be gained by making mistakes.”)

Back to Don and David–read an inspiring story from an off-season issue of Farm News from March of this year about these two fabulous supporters of Angelic Organics (and several others): Let There Be Light, Said the Barn to the Farmer.

light-filled barn loft

Keep up with Farm News
Subscribe to Farm News so you won’t miss an issue, even the occasional issues that are published in the off-season, such as the issue above. To subscribe to Farm News, go to Receive Our Vegetables, and fill out the Farm News subscription form in the left-hand column. If you are on a mobile device, scroll down all the way to the bottom of the Receive Our Vegetables page to find the Farm News subscription form.

Warmly,
Farmer John

2

Farmer John Writes: Believe It Or Not

Harvest Week 20, November 3rd – 9th, 2020

End of the Main Season
This week (November 3rd – 9th) is the last week of our main 20-week season. If you are not signed up for an extended season share, this week is your last delivery. If you are unsure about your delivery schedule for the rest of the season, please find your delivery schedule in your membership account at https://www.harvie.farm/member/deliveries.

For those of you who will receive your last delivery this week, thank you for being with us this season.

If You Are Signed up for the Extended Season, Please Also Check Your Delivery Schedule
If you are a shareholder who has an extended season share, we ask that you also review your delivery schedule at  https://www.harvie.farm/member/deliveries.

There was an unfortunate scheduling error in the system where some shareholders with every-other-week shares are not on the same every-other-week schedule for the extended season. We highly encourage all extended season shareholders, and particularly those with every-other-week extended season shares, to review their delivery schedules, and to reschedule their extended season shares as needed.

The sooner you review your extended season delivery schedule and make any necessary delivery changes the better, as we are not able to accommodate late requests for delivery changes.

Please Consider Donating to the Angelic Organics Learning Center
The Angelic Organics Learning Center, which strives to build community, has had, as you can imagine, quite the challenge this year bringing people together under the severely constricted circumstances visited upon them by Covid-19. Haidy’s and my dear friend, Jackie de Batista, fellow farmer and executive director of the Learning Center, and her staff, have struggled valiantly to keep the mission of the Learning Center alive and viable during these times.

You will receive an appeal for the Learning Center’s annual fundraising campaign along with your regular Angelic Organics newsletter in the sleeve of your vegetable box, and you will also receive a separate email appeal from the Learning Center. Please consider helping out the Learning Center with a donation.

Can You Believe the Season is Ending?
Language is a gift from our past, a legacy.  A person with a sensitivity to language who overhears talk at the box store or on the bus might conclude that our culture in general does not value our language as a gift, as a treasure. Using slurs, profanity, and reckless grammar are even a way of fitting in today, of belonging.  Words matter. This bring me to a common saying, “I can’t believe…”

When the first snow falls, I flinch when someone says, “I can’t believe it’s snowing.” What more evidence would a person need to know that it is snowing than to have snowflakes swirling down on them? There are many applications of I can’t believe: “I can’t believe he was fired.”  “I can’t believe the traffic is this bad.” “I can’t believe Halloween is already here.” “I can’t believe my house burned.” But…but…what more will it take to for this person to actually believe that his house is in ashes? To read a declaration from the fire marshal? To watch the fire on the nightly tv news?

Then we have terms like incredible and unbelievable, which also are used in inverted ways. “The show was incredible,” meaning what, that it was a great show or that the show had no credibility? “We were going 100 miles per hour. It was unbelievable,” meaning what, that the person was actually going 100 mph or she believed the speedometer was faulty?

Think of all the half-truths that people believe, and total falsehoods that people believe, but when a fact is as clear as day, a person might say “I can’t believe it.”

This is the last week of the main 2020 season. Can you believe it?

the lettuce is ending

High Stakes on Your Farm
A killing frost descended on the farm early last week.

What does that even mean, a killing frost? It sounds so decisive, so final, but really, a frost is often quite nuanced in the damage it does. The damage will depend on how low the temperature gets, how long the temperature stays in that low range, how much humidity is in the air, how wet the soil is, whether there is a wind, the elevation of the field, and the sensitivity of the crop variety to frost. Regarding just this last consideration–of crop specific frost sensitivity–there are allegedly some varieties of cabbage that will survive a fairly hard frost, and some that will succumb to a light frost—allegedly. The internet is loaded with so many half-truths and outright falsehoods, sometimes I can’t believe it.

Usually, the best place to keep the crops is right where they have been growing, in the field. But that’s only up to a certain point. Kale, most cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, turnips, and arugula will endure hard frosts, depending. Notice the word depending. These are your crops. I am the steward, but I regard these crops as yours.

The way your farmer navigates frost danger is to get as many possibly-frost-vulnerable crops out of the fields and into safe storage before the frost arrives. I often don’t know exactly what a frost will kill, but I do know that the weather won’t kill anything in storage.

Of course, getting a lot of crops into storage before a frost can be daunting. We need enough storage containers, and enough storage space, and enough crew to do the job. We have a lot of storage containers and we have a lot of storage space. What about the crew?

the work starts here: lifting, bunching, cleaning, storing, packing, delivering…

The Crew
We have a great crew this season. They demonstrate believable willingness, credible skill, and enthusiasm. The crew has quite predictable hours, from around sunup on weekday mornings until 4 pm, with 40 minutes for lunch. Often they work on Saturday mornings. Very seldom, only when we are in great need do they work on Saturday afternoons. This past weekend (October 24 and 25), due to the forecasted frost, our crew worked right through the whole weekend—a full day on Saturday and a full day on Sunday. I didn’t want to ask them to do this, but, again, I am a steward of your crops–all of us here are stewards of your crops. The crew worked cheerfully and energetically on both weekend days.

Between Saturday and Sunday, they harvested tremendous volumes of head lettuce, loose leaf lettuce, pac choi, broccoli, kohlrabi, leeks, radishes, turnips, and arugula.

Weekend Harvest

A Moment
At 7 am Saturday morning, our greenhouse and dock manager Nathan confronted me. “I’ve been here since 4 in the morning. I could have been washing crates, getting things ready for the big day. Why didn’t you tell me to wash crates?”

“Well, you seldom wash crates; other people wash the crates, plus I am managing so much that I often overlook things that need to be done. Sorry.”

Later, I approached Nathan and said, “You chastised me for not giving you cold, wet work to do before the sun comes up. I think that’s pretty good, to criticize your boss for not telling you to do uncomfortable things that will help the farm.”

Farmstead at dawn when the work starts

Our Shareholders
Some of our shareholders have generously treated the crew to meals this season. This has been such a wonderful acknowledgment of the hard workers here on the farm—much appreciated by all of us.

We also deeply appreciate those of you who have chosen to not take discounts on share prices, or to take smaller discounts than the largest one offered. It’s a tough thing to keep a farm going, and money helps tremendously in that endeavor. Of course, we appreciate everyone who chooses to be a part of our farm. This year, there has been more shareholder engagement with our farm than ever before and we have been more appreciated than ever.

I Can’t Believe the Work is Winding Down
The reason I can’t believe the work is winding down here is because it isn’t. I have almost no discretionary time from March until when the season ends, so when I have discretionary time, I finally I focus on major machinery repairs and upgrades, infrastructure improvements, and systems enhancements. I’m about as busy in the off-season as I am in the growing season; I’m just busy with different things.

Haidy, office manager; Nathan, greenhouse manager; Victor, machinery manager; and Pollo (Eduardo), facilities manager, are year-round employees. (Victor and Pollo have not yet admitted that they are managers, but that’s what they do, so that’s what they are.) The winter offers them a bit more job flexibility, but overall, we stay busy with the farm, so it will run well during the growing season.

The memory of the busyness of the growing season stays with me vividly during the winter, and I indelibly know that certain important things here will never get done unless we do them in the off-season. It’s like having a light switch with two positions, on and on. We like to be ready when the next season starts.

Next Season
Speaking of next season, you can sign up for your 2021 CSA share at https://angelicorganics.csaware.com/store/. We’d love to grow your vegetables and herbs again in 2021.

Keep up with Farm News
Subscribe to Farm News so you won’t miss an issue, even the occasional issues that are published in the off-season. To subscribe to Farm News, go to Receive Our Vegetables, and fill out the Farm News subscription form in the left hand column. If you are on a mobile device, scroll down all the way to the bottom of the Receive Our Vegetables page to find the Farm News subscription form.

Warmly,
Farmer John

11

Farmer John Writes: The Most Important Thing is Not a Thing

Harvest Week 19, October 27th – November 2nd, 2020

For Some Shareholders, this is Last Week of Deliveries
If you receive an every-other-week share of vegetables, and you receive a share this week, and you are not signed up for the extended season, this is your last week for receiving a share this season. Thank you for being a part of our farm this year.

If you are unsure about when your final delivery of the season will be, please find your remaining delivery dates at https://www.harvie.farm/member/deliveries.

Greens Galore
There is still a preponderance of greens going into your boxes. Last week’s issue of Farm News, A Bountiful Crop Report, detailed why there are so many greens. I could say “it’s not my fault!” but it sort of is my fault, if it is a fault, because I severely underestimated how many greens our fields could produce this fall. I was so wrong.

I encourage you to just revel that this fall, almost all yield surprises, especially with the greens, have been to the upside. This is very uncommon for farms to have dramatic harvest overage, so please enjoy your abundant greens, knowing that a hard frost will eventually wipe them out.

I keep saying “better that the shareholders get these greens than a frost.”

Frost
Last weekend, we prepared mightily for a hard frost that didn’t materialize. However, according to the forecast, it could have materialized, and we are committed to protecting your crops until the end of the delivery season. Not only were we leery of a hard frost, but rain was forecast for the next several days, and harvesting carrots from mud and planting garlic into mud is near-impossible.

I made the very unusual request of our workers that they work the whole day on Saturday. Many of the workers were game. (Generally, the ones who were immediate yeses are the ones who grew up on farms. They know firsthand the hardship that weather can deal a farm, that a farm can deal its farmer.)

Wow, did we fly through the work that Saturday (Oct 17). We harvested nearly 2000 bunches of carrots and planted 14,000 cloves of garlic for your next year’s garlic crop. The soil conditions were perfect. The crew also covered many beds of crops in case the hard frosts were to materialize. It was a triumphant day. The following day, Sunday, it rained all day.

some of Saturday’s carrot harvest

planting garlic into an ideal seedbed

2021 Shares Are Available
It’s hard to know what 2021 will bring us. If you want to be part of our farm for another year, which will entitle you to some of the garlic being planted in the accompanying photo, you can sign up at https://angelicorganics.csaware.com/store/.

Brussels Sprouts Tops
Mostly—not unanimously but mostly—the Brussels sprouts tops are a hit with our shareholders. A few examples:

“Hate to burst your bubble, but the brussels sprout tops are awful.”

“The Brussels Sprouts tops were outstanding.”

“Dear @angelicorganics: I’d never tried #brusselsgreens, the big leaves from the top of Brussels sprouts, but I trust you completely. You didn’t let me down: I blanched them and then sautéed them with mushrooms and olive oil and garlic salt, and then I sprinkled chopped walnuts on top, and then I snorted them up my nose because they were so outrageously good that eating them took too long.”

Pumpkin Pies
A shareholder left a gracious message recently 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 pumpkins in her box if it wasn’t too late to ask. I called her back and said it was too late, that her box had already gone out for delivery.

“I sure want pie pumpkins because I want to make pumpkin pies,” she said earnestly. “I’ve been a shareholder for years.”

(Dear reader: I think you know that we are in a continual flurry of work at the farm and that to manually customize orders after the deadline for customizing has passed is pretty much beyond our capabilities.)

I said, “it’s important to make those pies.” I added, “Where do you live?,” knowing that for this lovely person my heart was wanting to violate our firm policies regarding the share customization deadlines.

“Evanston.”

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

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

“A pumpkin pie, really? I’ll check my schedule. Whoops, that would be a half-a-day round trip, and I’m busy today. I’ll bet you already know that I’m busy. I’m really sorry. I really want you to have your pumpkins.”

The Most Important Thing
A young technician came out to the farm to do some work on a tractor.

“Nice place you have here,” he said.

“I’ll give you a tour when you are done fixing the tractor,” I offered.

Most people have a story, whether they know it or not, whether they will share it or not. Something about the charismatic way he talked intrigued me.

Being sometimes blunt, I said, “what’s your story?”

Wrench in hand, he stood up from his tractor repair position and said, “I used to be terrified of everyone, would never answer the door. I white-knuckle-panicked clenching the steering wheel driving to school, imagining having to deal with people. I hid out from the world at all costs, numbed myself until it seemed my brain was dead. When I was about 20 years old, I took a look at myself and realized I had it all wrong. Other people are the main thing in life, I realized. I was worrying about all sorts of trivial things, like they were the important things in life. But, everything else is the small stuff. The main thing in life is other human beings.”

“How did this come about?”

“It just came to me, over about a month’s time, when I was 20 or so. I went from being an introvert to being an extrovert. I came to life.”

A Good Tractor Driver is Hard to Find
A former intern from a large, Biodynamic German farm, Dottenfelderhof, told me that the annual budget for damages done to farm equipment by people in training to become farmers is over $20,000. In other words, a person learning to run farm equipment is likely to cost the farm a lot of money, over $20,000 per year in repairs.

It might seem implausible, but very few people have a knack for running a tractor, even a small tractor, even when carefully and persistently trained. They’ll either putt-putt to the barns with a tractor and wagon, taking up 12 precious minutes for a trip that should take 7 minutes, or they will bounce across the fields, jarring equipment into disrepair.

Unless a person grows up on a farm, that person probably won’t be a good tractor operator. There are rare exceptions, when a person just has a knack for running a tractor. Farm resident Alizé Jireh is such an exception.

Alizé operates our Fordson tractor with grace. She intuitively knows when to go slow, when to speed up, when to shift gears; Alize has tractor aptitude. I also determined last Saturday that the carrot is probably her spirit vegetable. I have never seen carrots make a person so happy.

Alizé transports her spirit vegetable with uncanny tractor aptitude

Warmly,
Farmer John

12

Farmer John Writes: A Bountiful Crop Report

Harvest Week 18, October 20th – 26th, 2020

Fall Crops
In this Week’s Farm News, I will update you on the fall crops. Overall, the crops look the best that they have ever looked at this time in October. Of course, frost is flickering its way onto our fields some mornings, bringing extra challenges to our harvest priorities.

There is guesswork involved in properly bringing the season to a close. Are there enough crops? Too many crops? This year, I believe we will be ending on a bountiful note.

Brussels Sprouts
We topped the Brussels sprouts stalks over the last several weeks to encourage sprout development. The sprouts are filling out nicely on many of the stalks; some of the stalks are filling out more slowly. Hopefully, while temperatures still hover mostly above freezing, many more sprouts will fill out to a good size. After some good frosts, the sprouts will sweeten and proceed to convert some of our shareholder holdouts to sprouts lovers.

The last three falls, due to the extremely wet weather, the Brussels sprouts have been very disappointing. This fall, we are encouraged by a more promising harvest. I will also note that the Brussels sprouts tops themselves seem increasingly popular with our shareholders.

Brussels sprouts of suitable size

Cabbage
We have lots of beautiful fall cabbage coming soon—lots.

Broccoli
The fabulous broccoli crop has mostly been harvested. We’ll still harvest a few remaining heads of broccoli, and likely many broccoli side shoots.

Baby Greens
I noted in a former issue of Farm News that due to the intense weed pressure earlier in the season, I compensated by seeding many extra beds of baby greens for fall harvest, anticipating that many of those seedings would be overwhelmed with weeds. I figured that at least a few beds would escape the vast weed pressure of the early season.

Surprise. We have bed after bed after bed of beautiful, mostly weed-free baby lettuce, arugula, and pea shoots. Just as surprisingly, this fall, after harvesting many of these beds, the greens have been re-growing to make for a second harvest, sometimes even a third harvest. I’ve tried in the past to get multiple cuttings from baby greens, and have seldom succeeded. For those of you who love baby greens, this fall is a bonanza. For those of you who prefer fewer baby greens, well, a hard frost will knock them out eventually.

loose-leaf baby lettuce (seems to be outgrowing its baby status)

Head Lettuce
We have an astounding amount of head lettuce. We are getting it to shareholders as fast as possible before we get a hard frost.

Radishes and Turnips
I seeded more fall radishes than ever before, following the same logic as with the baby greens—that some (perhaps all) of the beds would succumb to weeds. Not so. We have lots of mostly weed-free radishes this fall–turnips, too.

radish riot

Leeks
The leeks are slow this fall. I think we planted them too late. One variety is now about medium-sized; the other variety is petite. Leeks are frost hardy, so I still expect them to size up a bit, though not to their potential stature.

Pac Choi
We have bountiful pac choi to offer this week.

pac choi

Kohlrabi
The kohlrabi crop is so-so. It encountered early drought hardship. Additionally, I decided to experiment with an inter-seeding of alfalfa and clover sown into it, thinking that the legumes would nourish the crops. This might have been the case, if the alfalfa and clover hadn’t sprung up so fast. Besides nourishing the kohlrabi, it competed with it. It was an ecological experiment with a disappointing outcome. We will still be offering plenty of kohlrabi this fall.

Kale
We are holding back on kale a bit, since it will endure hard frosts, whereas some of the other leafy greens will not, so we are harvesting these other greens earlier.

Daikon Radishes
The first seeding of daikon radishes died. I suspect that the fragile sprouts were emerging just when we were experiencing a bit of drought, and they withered. We re-seeded them later than they should have been seeded to get a good fall crop; however, they are growing crazily fast. We might get a crop of Daikon radishes, not sure yet. We will have Daikon greens for sure.

Popcorn
We have the biggest ears of popcorn we have ever grown. We’ll be offering them soon.

popcorn

Squash, Onions, Potatoes
We still have ample amounts of squash and onions in cozy storage. The potato crop was not stellar this year, but we still have many bins of potatoes in storage. All of these crops will be offered to shareholders on and off through the end of the season.

Garlic
The crew is now sorting out garlic for seed for the planting of our 2021 garlic crop, and separating it into cloves. Once this is completed, we will know how much garlic we can still offer to our shareholders this fall.

By the time you read this, hopefully our 2021 garlic crop will be planted. In order to get a good garlic crop, it has to be planted in the fall, then germinate and go through a cold cycle in the winter. Last year, due to flooding, we could not get our garlic planted until December 30th (the only time we have ever been able to do any field work here in the month of December.)

We were extremely fortunate to get a garlic crop this year; if we had missed that rare window in late December, we would have had no garlic crop. The quality of this season’s garlic is not pristine; many of the bulbs are not as large as usual, nor as symmetrical, but still, it’s fabulous-tasting garlic, and the crop was bountiful enough, especially in light of the challenges of getting it in the ground last year.

columns of German White Porcelain Garlic, one of our signature crops

Carrots
The carrot saga of this season is…I suppose I could call it bewildering. 

We planted a whole field to fall carrots last June, and they succumbed to weeds. For those of you who did not follow Farm News updates early in the season, we spent many tens of thousands of dollars more on weeding than ever before, and still completely lost many fields to weeds, including this carrot field. This organic farm had enjoyed a diminishing amount of pressure from weeds over a couple of decades, until the flooding started in 2017 and persisted for most of three years, allowing weeds to run rampant. I decided to seed our fall carrots in another field. This second attempt at a carrot crop was very successful, yielding many bunches of beautiful fall carrots.

(A shareholder wrote us that our fall carrots were so big they were only fit for a horse, and used that assessment as partial grounds for cancelling her share. Another observer wrote that our carrots couldn’t possibly be organic, they were so big. Hard to please everyone, no?)

I kept tilling the persistent weeds in this first carrot field that had been lost to the weeds, and, finally, about mid-summer, I decided to take a chance by seeding that first failed field to carrots again. Not only did it seem likely that the weeds would triumph once more, it was too late for getting a crop of fall carrots. Well, too late if we were to have a normal fall. It certainly didn’t seem responsible to anticipate a lovely, warm fall; however, a lovely warm fall is what we have been blessed with. Those late-seeded carrots are making a crop—not a crop of big, long chunky carrots (suitable for horses only?), but a crop of lean, lovely carrots.

Two weeks ago, these late carrots were about as thin as pencils. A week later, the biggest ones were about as thick as a little finger. Recently, some of them have achieved the status of tender, medium-sized carrots (with petite siblings in tow.) Your end-of-season, somewhat dainty carrots will be delightfully succulent and aromatic. Imagine, when you are enjoying them, that in a normal season, you would not have received them at all.

Farmer John cultivates carrots

Summary
I don’t believe I have ever before written such an encouraging crop report at this time of the year. Of course, weather can play some havoc with the remaining crops. However, we are well-positioned with a stellar crew, good harvest equipment and ample amounts of frost-protecting row covers to likely usher us towards a satisfying, perhaps even a joyous, outcome.

2021 Shares Are Available
It’s hard to know what 2021 will bring us. If you want to be part of our farm for another year, you can sign up at https://angelicorganics.csaware.com/store/.

One More Farm Product to Report On
I suppose that as much as crops are products of the farm, and the farm is a product of me, Farmer John, I, myself, am a product of the farm. I realize that the term product is rather commodifying, but for the sake of relational writing, I will, in this section, regard myself as an additional product to the list of products above. As with the other products, what is the condition of your farmer, you might wonder?

You probably know about HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), a federal law to protect sensitive patient health information from being disclosed. Regarding the crops further above, I can write anything about them that I want. They do not benefit from HIPAA federal protection that would prevent such disclosure. Is this fair to them?

As far as my own health is concerned, every time I see a medical professional, they assure me that my medical information is strenuously protected by HIPAA and then they shove a form at me promising they will vigorously uphold the HIPAA act. I usually object, and say that I don’t care at all if the world knows my health details—so what?—and add (somewhat facetiously) that I will only consent to being evaluated and treated at their clinic if a report on my health is made fully available to the public on social media, I then proceed to highlight the irony that in this age of supposed privacy, hardly anything about our lives is private— the model of car we drive; the value of the home we live in; who we winked at in high school German class; our culinary preferences at age 3… it hardly even matters if the information is true. My little verbal disturbance usually doesn’t go down well with the clinic, because most clinics are really proud of how they protect their patients’ information. (Okay, sometimes a clinic’s receptionist at least seems amused.)

Ironically, reports of death are not protected by HIPAA. Death seems like sensitive health information that might be eligible for protection, no? Yet, once someone dies, the news can be spread far and wide of that person’s ultimate health issue.

Anyway, since, as is true of my crops, I am not obligated by HIPAA to safeguard my own health information, I will inform you that my most recent health checkup had me pass in flying colors—pulse, blood pressure, blood analysis. At 71, I feel more fit and resilient than I did 10, even 20 years ago—seems kind of odd to me, but it’s a good report nevertheless. (Please don’t submit this report to HIPAA—I might be breaking one of their rules here.)

My reassuring health report doesn’t mean I plan to farm for another 64 years. I am training in some of my stellar crew members to take on more of the farming responsibility, so that I can at least free up my weekends and my evenings from the workload of farming.

Me with a Fordson about the same age, both in pretty good shape

Warmly,
As Frost Approaches,
Farmer John