Rrrrrrrinnng! It’s your phone. You don’t recognize the number of who’s calling.


“Hi! My name is Jo. Is this [insert your name here]?”


“You work at [insert the name of your employer] as a [insert your job description], correct?

“Yes, um….”

“I have no idea how to do your job, but I’ve always been interested in taking that on myself. Could you please tell me exactly what you do, in every detail, and give me all your time-saving tips?”

Wouldn’t that be the weirdest conversation? In essence, it’s the call I received from a “good old boy from San Antonio” as he described himself. After the good old boy confirmed he was indeed speaking with someone from Angel Valley Farm, he continued to explain how he knew absolutely nothing about farming so he was calling to find out how we do things — what kind of fertilizer to use, how to prepare rows for planting, which varieties to grow that are proven best for disease and insect resistance.

Initially I was struck dumb, until I realized he was wanting me to spoon-feed him all this information right then and there, on the phone that very minute. Instead, my mind racing, I suggested a couple gardening books. He told me he already had a Rodale book on farming. I confirmed that was a darned fine place to start and cut the call short.

Now, I’m fully aware farming isn’t rocket science. It’s not brain surgery. Farmers don’t need to have a degree, nor must they pass a centralized test to obtain a license. Yet there’s a whole lot more to farming than can be explained over the telephone.

Besides, it’s a matter of experience. Of each individual’s trial and error. Every farm has it’s own personality traits — its soil structure, water quality and microclimate. No farmer works his or her land exactly like the farm across town.

Only a day or two after the call from San Antonio, I received an email from woman asking basically the same thing. She’d been searching out websites of organic farms, it seems, and found ours. Like the good old boy, she admitted to knowing very little about what we do, and went on to say that she’d like to “sit down with you and get your advice on the best growing techniques, and have you answer some specific questions I have.” No mention was made of compensating us for our time, of course. No offer even of home-baked cookies, say, or a nice six-pack of beer.

It was easy to get out of this one. I just told her that at this time of year, we don’t have much opportunity to “sit down” at all.

Who says we want to give away all our secrets anyway? It’s like when you ask to copy the recipe for which a cook is most renowned. Chances are, the cook might accidentally leave out the one crucial ingredient that makes the dish uniquely their own.

These are Farmer John’s ingredients.

Every time he prepares a bed for planting, he (or someone else here at the farm) sprinkles a combination of these ingredients along the row.

One pass with the spader, and the amendments are incorporated into the soil.

Drip tape is laid,

and planting can begin.

Confused by the photos? I’ll bet. These were mostly taken at different times, in different rows. Nevertheless, the concept is the same.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m not giving out the exact fertilizer recipe.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re happy to answer general gardening questions at the farm stands and such. Anyone who’s been the recipient of a gardening inquiry to Farmer John — or simply an innocent bystander of the exchange — has seen firsthand how freely he shares his knowledge. John loves to talk farming, a testament to his passion for it.

In fact, at dinner Saturday night John admitted to me that he’d been kind of a “chatterbox” at the stand that day. “How unusual!” I replied, grinning.

Too bad for the good old boy that he called here on a Tuesday morning and got me. If he’d waited until Saturday evening, maybe John would have picked up instead. Had that happened, they might still be on the phone right now.

* * *

Goodies abound for the farm stand this week! Here’s what we’ll have with us this Wednesday:

More bunches of sweet carrots; pink and purple radishes; green onions; green garlic; young leeks; bunches of chard; bunches of purple beets and golden beets; heads of Summer Crisp lettuce; Romaine; Red Butterhead lettuce; bunches of purple kohlrabi; lettuce mix; Euro salad mix; spinach; and escarole. (We’re in a battle to the death with aphids as they try to ruin our Dinosaur kale. Should we win, we’ll have some of that too…)

Jo Dwyer
Angel Valley Organic Farm
Farm stands:
Saturdays 9:00-1:00 in Jonestown on FM 1431 at the blinking yellow light; and
Wednesdays 10:00-2:00 in NW Austin at the Asian American Center, 11713 Jollyville Road (1-1/2 blocks north of the intersection of Jollyville and Duval)