Hungry

Essex Farm Note

Week 7, 2017

Spring comes slowly, and then all at once. We have a thick blanket of new snow on the ground, and yet right now there are chicks chirping next to the woodstove, Mary Lake will be here to shear the ewes in less than two weeks, and we are watching the forecast in earnest, to decide which day to tap the sugar maples.

Late-winter snow is not kind to wild things. Trudging knee-deep through the sugarbush this week, the woods were full of hungry-looking tracks. The rabbits and squirrels had been searching for food. Mary dog raised her hackles and stopped to mark on a trail coyotes had worn across the sugarbush road. The snow is too deep for the coyote to hunt their staple, voles. They’ll be hungry too, and hunger makes them bold. The ewes, heavy with their lambs, are penned close around the barn at Bonebender Farm. A motivated coyote could do a lot of damage in that pen in one night. We’ve never had coyote predation in sheep flock, but other people who raise sheep in the north country say that we’ve just been very lucky, it’s only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, back in the home barnyard, I found a dead and half-eaten hen. She’d been dragged just a couple yards from the net, eaten guts-first. When Brandon checked out the crime scene the next morning, he found what looked like a set of fisher tracks leading from the barn toward the woods around the cabin. Fisher! Carnivorous mustelid, only the size of a housecat, but known for punching well above its weight. Predation is a perennial problem with the hens, year round. Every carnivore in the world likes chicken. During the grazing season, the electric nets protect from foxes, skunks and raccoons, but slinky things like weasel can get through, and nets can’t keep away the flying predators. While the birds are cooped at night, hawks can pick them off during the day, and owls hit at dusk and dawn. If you graze poultry, predation is part of the deal.

I was thinking about all these things this week when I came across a notice in the CCE Sheep & Goat news about three trained, mature, out-of-work Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs, living an hour north of us, in Champlain. Their owner just sold all his stock, and the dogs have lived with and guarded both sheep and chickens. I’m going to meet them this afternoon. If all goes well, we’ll have three big fluffy new employees by the end of the day. I’m hoping we can place two dogs with the sheep and one with the hens. Look for me driving down the Northway in a car stuffed with white fur. In related news, Essex Farm Institute is co-sponsoring Farming with Carnivores, a panel discussion at the Grange this Tuesday at 7:30. It’s the first in a four-part lyceum series, Living and Farming on this Land. This week we welcome conservation biologist Geri Vistein; Abby Sadaukas of Applecreek Farm in Maine; and Willsboro farmers Shaun and Linda Gilliland, who use a combination of tools to protect their stock from predators. Details at thegrangehall.info.

Members, we really want some feedback from you this week to help us plan 2017. Tell us what items you love, what you want more of, and what you would like to see in the share in the future. What could we process at the Hub to make cooking from the share more convenient for you? Which processed items that we’ve offered could you do without? And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white fluffy 7th week of 2017.                                                                                                                              -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Sun on snow!

Farm kid fun in the snow.

Nosey heifer

Aidan, Kirsten, Alex, Anya and Kristin at Reber Rock farm for the Essex Farm Institute Draft Horse Workshop taught by Chad Vogel and Nathan Henderson last weekend.

We have a hot tub full of chicks in the house this week. They’ll party with anyone who’s got scratch.

Kitchen

Essex Farm Note

Week 6, 2017

 

The snow that blanketed the city and much of New England mostly missed us, but we shared in the storm’s high winds and low temperatures. All the animals are fine, and probably enjoying today’s clear skies and bright sun. I am. As you all probably know by now, I love a good cold snap. At night, when Mark and I make our final rounds, we stop at the hose that we leave running next to the West Barn to keep the pipes from freezing, and I crunch at the tube of ice that has formed around the spray during the day. I can measure the depth of winter by how much it resists my foot. But we really are getting close to the great crescendo of spring. Seeding begins very soon. Sugaring is just around the corner. Most alarmingly, our first batch of broiler chicks arrives next week. In a moment of weakness I agreed to let them come into the house and live next to the woodstove for a few days, until we can get the greenhouse rigged with heat lamps and an insulated hover. We are already sheltering ten giant bins of endive in the playroom, so I guess my defenses were down. Also, the girls both voted, emphatically, yes to house chicks. I expect they will be dressing them up in little suits and trying to smuggle them into bed. One day we may have a clear division between the house and the farm, but that day is not today.

Meanwhile, outside, it was a busy week. The dairy heifers got shots of vitamin A and D, to try to help them fight off the ringworm they’ve got. This fungus comes every winter, and clears up when they hit pasture. It’s generally harmless, but annoying, and leaves them patched and itchy. The reason we’re trying to quell it this year is that it’s hard to tell when they are in heat because they keep scratching the heat detecting stickers we have stuck on their tailheads. On that front, our first AI calves are due next month. I can’t wait to see their well-bred little faces. The sheep flock got new feeders this week, thanks to Jon and Brendon. (The bedding pack has been getting higher, which contributed to a ewe getting her head fatally stuck in the old feeder.) We received two loads of weaned beef calves and young stock from Conroy’s Organics, to join the load that came from South Farm last week. We are going to try grazing purchased young stock this year, instead of keeping brood cows and a bull for breeding our own calves. On paper, it seems to pencil out a little better, and allows us to be flexible, but we’re staying open to the idea of restocking our brood cow herd in the future.

It was a fun week in the farmhouse kitchen. I used Instagram (kristinxkimball) to post what I chose from the share this week, and the meals I made from it. My favorite discoveries was an Oat and Mushroom soup inspired by Louisa Shafia’s The New Persian Kitchen, and roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za’atar, inspired by Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. As our long-time members know, cooking with the share is a learning experience; it takes most people about a year to really get the hang of making a whole week’s worth of seasonal, whole food meals and snacks that are delicious and convenient. This week of posts forced me to articulate some of the strategies that have become automatic. Check it out on Instagram, or on the Dirty Life Facebook page. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this bright cold 6th week of 2017. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

Immigrants

Essex Farm Note

Week 5, 2017

Before farming grounded me I used to travel a lot. My vivid, lasting memories are not the iconic sights or monuments of other countries but their smells and flavors. There was a pungent and complicated home-cooked dinner I ate with a family in Myanmar, where I was the only one who was served, while the rest of the family watched. And the iguana that was my birthday meal on a remote barrier island in Mexico, where I got the claws, in honor of the occasion. There was the simple, stunning revelation of a proper Parisian baguette. The more stamps I gathered in my passport the more interesting food became. We human have the same basic range of flavors to work with and we eat the same narrow selection of cultivated plants and animals, and yet we’ve come up with so many different ways to combine these things, in the same way that given the same tones, we find our own unique ways of building music, in rhythms and harmonies distinct to our own culture, but accessible and pleasurable to others.

One of the many beautiful things about being American is that because we are largely a nation of immigrants, our culinary culture is unconstrained by the traditions that shape and bind the food of older nations. There is no right way to cook American. We are free to draw on all the different traditions that have combined to become us. Last week, when we were in Montreal, we ate at a Syrian restaurant, and it made me happy to watch the girls discover meatballs spiced with coriander and allspice and smothered in tahini sauce, black tea with mint, and baklava, knowing that this new palette of flavors is now a part of them. Back home, in the late winter kitchen, as the range of fresh vegetables becomes more narrow, I start to look to other culinary traditions for inspiration. My best antidote to the winter blues is a well-stocked spice cabinet. This whole, seasonal food we grow and eat is amazingly adaptable to different cuisines. I’m leaning toward Syrian, Persian and Israeli food next week, and will post ideas on Instagram. Follow along or join in with your own internationally-inspired winter farm recipes.

What news from out there in the fresh, cold air? The days are getting longer. We can feel the light returning. I saw bluebirds in the pear tree, a scarlet tanager in the lilac, and a bald eagle soaring over the pond. The bins of Belgian endive have come up from the basement to the warmth of the kids’ playroom. They will be a treat in a week or two. We bought several young Angus steers and heifers from the Patakis at South Farm. I’ll look forward to seeing how they fill out when they hit grass. Calliope the Jersey cow is recovering from her bout of mastitis. The ewes are starting to look quite round. They’re not due to lamb until April 15, so the roundness must be from the good hay they are eating and thick wool they are wearing. We’re thinking about sugaring, thinking about seeding, thinking about the whole grand range of work that is going to arrive with spring. We four Kimballs are hoping to slip away during school break for a quick winter camping trip before it all begins. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this gray 5th week of 2017.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Travelers

Essex Farm Note

Week 4, 2017

Mark and the girls and I have been on vacation in Montreal this week. Farmers, like hogs, explore the world by tasting it, so we’ve eaten our way through this beautiful city, from poutine in vieux-Montreal to raw oysters in the Jean Talon market, with tastes of many of the international neighborhoods in between. The children have adapted as children do, shedding their farm selves to try on city ones. One is speaking fake French through her nose. The other is navigating the Metro like a boss and keeping her eyes peeled for the next great sushi place. We managed to see a wide range of the city’s sites and museums between feasts, but the flavors of the world are as important as its artifacts, and at their ages, probably more accessible. I love raising our children on a farm but it’s easy to let the farm be the boundary of their experience, and I fight against that. I want to show them that the world is big and mostly friendly, and that there is more than one right way to do things, say things, cook things. We are so lucky to have this wonderful francophone metropolis within close reach. We’re toting a load of Chinese dumplings home for team dinner tonight, to share a bit of the city with the farmers who kept things rolling so well in our absence. Thanks, team, for allowing us this time away.

I can only tell you the news of the farm from a distance. I know that the piglets are doing well, without any more sign of circovirus, but that Calliope the dairy cow is fighting a case of mastitis. Tractor maintenance continues, with some outside help. Ben has been working on the seed cleaner, to get the corn we harvested this year clear of chaff and broken kernels so we can make some hominy for the share. The team at the Hub on the Hill is planning to process and freeze the rest of the winter squash this week. We’re moving forward with a plan for weekly delivery service for Albany and the Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, and Tupper Lake areas. Get in touch if you’d like more information about that.

And that is the short news from Essex Farm for this good 4th week of 2017.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Team Dinner

Essex Farm Note

Week 3, 2017

Friday night team dinner is one of our strongest traditions at Essex Farm, dating back to our second or third year in business. It’s a celebration of the week’s hard work done, and the good food that came from it. Everyone who has worked on the farm during the week is invited. We eat in the farmhouse, after local distribution is wrapped up. Recently I realized I’ve cooked well over 500 team dinners, some of them dead simple, some elaborate, some for 5 people, some for 35. I’ve learned so much as a cook, and gotten so much joy from it. There is nothing as artificially affirming of one’s culinary skills as feeding a table full of hungry farmers. Sometimes, cooking for it is the best part of my week, especially if there is a kid or two underfoot in the kitchen, like there is today. Often, I don’t know what I’m cooking until I start gathering ingredients. Tonight’s dinner was inspired by Hannah, who is here from Oberlin College to work with us for a month, and made a gorgeous challah bread to share with us. I’m making chopped liver, roasted carrot soup, middle-eastern spiced poached chicken with wheat berries, and a kale salad. Maybe we’ll light some Shabbat candles before we eat tonight and send up an invocation for international peace through the beauty of good food.

Mark has been on a bread-baking tear the last couple of weeks. He recently read Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and has been working on Pollan’s no-knead 100% whole wheat sourdough loaves. It’s not an easy feat, but these loaves have been really good and getting even better. Pollan says most commercial whole wheat flour is made from grain that has been wetted before grinding (unlike ours), to make the bran separate more easily, but this is bad, because it sets off a series of enzymatic changes that degrade the flour and make an inferior loaf. Confusingly, you do want those enzymatic changes to happen, but not until just before the loaves are baked. Mark, following Pollan’s advice, has been mixing the whole wheat flour with water about 18 hours in advance, and turning in his sourdough starter the night before an early morning bake. The dough is quite wet, and baked in lidded cast iron pots in a 500 degree oven. The result is a pretty decent crumb for a 100% whole wheat loaf, ridiculously good flavor, and an absolutely top-notch crust. If you’re baking from Essex Farm flour, send us your best pictures and tips so we can pass them along.

What else? At managers’ meeting, we greenlighted Ben’s idea of raising a batch of 150 turkeys for the share this year. Turkeys are touchy in the brooder and there’s no guarantee it will be successful but I’m looking forward to trying. Mark’s talking about frost-seeding some legumes into the established pastures. The tractors are undergoing their winter overhaul. Kirsten and her crew pruned the raspberries, which makes me lust for fresh red fruit. The Belgian endive is sprouting, so we have that deep-winter treat to look forward to in the next six weeks. Safe travels to the farmers who are going to Washington this weekend to exercise their First Amendment rights, and thanks to the tight crew that is sticking around to keep the animals fed and milked while they are away. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this gray 3rd week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram at essexfarmcsa and kristinxkimball, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Aidan and Matt having a pre-dawn coffee in the butcher shop.

Roo! Isn’t he beautiful?

The woolies. Hopefully, most of them are pregnant.

Not a bad crumb!

Gilbert the boar has been working hard this week, courting sows.

All-team meeting on Monday. Nearly as fun as it looks.

 

Transfigured

Essex Farm Note

Week 2, 2017

The seasons of the year can be read as an equation that comes out even in the end. Addition and subtraction. Positive and negative. Sun and shadow. Objects and their absence. We farm in the north country. Here, summer is for gaining and winter is for spending. In the summer we fill the barns with hay. As winter trundles on the bales become empty space. They disappear but they are not gone. Matter trades places with energy, which is neither created nor destroyed, but in farming, it is so beautifully transfigured: A burning star in space becomes grass becomes hay becomes the beating of a heart. It becomes milk, roots, bones, flesh. It becomes us. It becomes this thought, a spark we are sharing between us. Now.

We have house guests this week, staying on the hoosier cabinet next to the dining room table. Two flats of germinated lettuce seed, planted in blocks of last year’s potting soil. It’s not worth heating the greenhouse to keep them alive, so we’re sharing our warm space with them for now. One flat has added organic fertilizer, and the other does not. We’re using them to test the old potting soil’s fertility, and also, perhaps, our limits. How early can we use this splendid new greenhouse of ours, if the winter stays mild? Would a late January Hail Mary planting of lettuce survive? Which is another way of asking that most pressing question, how soon can we all eat fresh greens in spring?

There was a lot of movement in animal world this week. We sold off 350 round bales of hay, which meant we could rearrange the lower covered barnyard to give dairy heifers and beef cattle more space. In the upper covered barnyard, we weaned most of the piglets. The timing of weaning is a balancing act between the benefits to the nursing offspring and the cost to the lactating mamas. Any mother who has nursed a child can probably relate to that. Producing milk is hard work, and there’s wear and tear on the mama equipment. Imagine nursing twelve 30lb babies with sharp teeth and enormous appetites. This time, the piglets were way beyond the minimum age and size for weaning, but the sows held their weight well. Now the sows are in with Buddy the fat and friendly boar, who came over from Vermont, and has been renamed Gilbert. Ben just texted me a picture of him in the act of breeding Flops, with the caption “Your boar works.” Looks like we can expect piglets again in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Pig gestation time is the only one I never forget.

We’ve been working on our marketing and communications this winter. The essexfarmcsa.com website has been renovated, thanks to loads of help from Gwen Jamison and Alex Bates. We still have some editing to do there, but it looks five hundred percent better already, and the farm store finally has an order page, hooray. I still need to get my own site and blog cleaned up, and that’s the goal for next month. Meanwhile, we’re posting regularly on Instagram, so please follow us there at essexfarmcsa (farm) or at kristinxkimball (me). And that is the news from Essex Farm for this blue-sky thawed-out 2nd week of 2017.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Aidan on her way to butcher a pig.

A real blue sky day. The new greenhouse finally got boards on the end walls.

My right hand girl.

There’s still some mache in the greenhouse.

Who needs Florida? We have greenhouses.

Alex Prediger took this shot the morning that the whole farm was a skating rink. Just before it all turned to mud.

Two of the three sisters.

Fresh

Essex Farm Note

Week 1, 2017

The new year has come skating in on a fresh cold wind. January feels fast and light, unburdened by the year that came before it, and full of so much potential. It’s a good time to refocus our farm goals, and to share them with our members. They are so simple! And so eternally challenging – which is how we know we’re on the right track. Here they are: We want to grow the best full diet on the planet for ourselves and our members, and we want to build soil that is capable of doing it.

What is good food, what is a good diet? Ask thirty people, get thirty answers. But one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that a good diet is a whole foods diet, based on unprocessed or minimally foods, with an emphasis on plants. Good food is also nutritionally dense and delicious. It comes from healthy plants and animals that are well-grown, well-harvested, well-prepared, and well-enjoyed. Go one step deeper, and you get to the farmer’s level. In other words, the dirt. All of it –taste, quality, nutrition, and ultimately, the wellbeing of the people who eat it – rests first on the quality of the soil.

So what makes for healthy soil? From an organic farmer’s perspective, good soil has high microbial diversity and high microbial activity. It has a balance of readily available macro- and mirconutrients. But perhaps most importantly, it contains a high percentage of organic matter, a.k.a. carbon. How do we put carbon into the soil? We use the energy of the sun to pull it from the air, make it into plants, and then lock it up, underground. Mark calls carbon capture (via cover cropping, strategic tillage, and good grazing management) the farmer’s chief objective, because it does so many beneficial things all at once. Carbon capture increases plant yield and nutrition; reduces erosion and improves water quality; makes plants better able to resist pest and disease pressure without chemicals; and increases resilience in both floods and droughts. Moreover, not for nothing, keeping carbon underground helps mitigate climate change. So here’s to capturing and keeping more carbon in the dirt for 2017, and using it to grow wonderful food.

I’m out of town this week so Mark has been managing the farm, house and kids while tackling some longstanding administrative tasks, like reevaluating our farm’s insurance policies, getting 2016 tax prep onto the runway, and looking into some mysterious thing called a retirement account – all so exciting it gives me shivers. Meanwhile, we had four students visiting from Swarthmore and Oberlin, and they have bulled their way through some big bad projects, like sorting all the winter squash, and trimming the outer leaves from every single head of cabbage. Jon picked up our new boar, Buddy, and the animal team vaccinated all the newborn piglets, which hopefully puts an end to our adventure with circovirus. We are waving farewell to Megan Moody, who is off to bike the California coast. Have a great safe trip, Megan, and thank you for all your good work. Finally, we are happy to be back on Instagram for the new year, at essexfarmcsa. (I also post at kristinxkimball.) Look for new posts there, nearly every day. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fresh 1st week of 2017.     –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Cold morning, but the Scotties don’t mind. That’s what all that hair is for. Photo by Brandon Jaquish

A big bale for the big horses. Photo by Brandon Jaquish.

New day in a new year. Looking pretty good so far. Photo by Brandon Jaquish

The bird’s eye view of the dairy herd in the covered barnyard. Photo by Morgan Looney.

We know you’re there, strawberries, nestled under thick straw until spring.

Exaltation

Essex Farm Note

Week 53, 2016

On Christmas Eve Ron came to say the horses were out, thundering down Route 22, headed for town. As Mark and I were pulling on our boots the phone started ringing with more eye witness reports. But by the time we got to the road the herd had disappeared. It is a hard crew to miss: seven drafts, a spotted pony, and the cheeky little mini. Ron, good neighbor that he is, drove all the way to the ferry to make sure they had not gotten by us. By then Mark and I had picked up their trail across the road from Monument Field. The land there is brushy, with some trails mowed through it. We followed their hoofprints as fast as we could, hauling halters and lead ropes. The trees were good cover, so we heard them before we saw them, the pounding sound of a herd on the run. And then there they were, across a gully, along a little ridge. Their manes were flying, and their winter fur was damp with sweat. The ground shook with their exaltation. They looked so wild and free on their holiday toot, maybe even worth the price of our adrenalin. Barbara came out from the milkhouse to help us. Ron directed traffic. They turned around, and ran back across the road into the field of green rye, and put their heads down and grazed, blowing. We got three halters on three horses and that was just enough to turn anarchy into order. Mark led Abby and Cub in front, I brought up the rear with steady old Jay, and the rest of the horses walked in between. Soon they were back to their pasture and their very steady winter life of good hay but little excitement.

I’m sad to report that Penelope the cat was killed this morning. We think she jumped up on the warm engine block of an idling truck before dawn and was run over when the truck drove off. She was a terrible cat, and we really loved her. I know a lot of members feel the same way; some probably have scars from her claws and teeth to remember her by. Her classic move was to rub against your legs, begging to be petted, and then turn on you with a hiss. But she was strangely endearing, and a five star mouser. We’ll miss her fierce presence.

Here’s a quick rundown of the wins and losses for 2016. The hay crop was excellent; the first cut has 12% protein, and the second cut tested at 16% — the best we have ever made. Thanks to Ben for leading the hay making this year, and to everyone who worked long days to bring it in. Our corn crop was also great, thanks to our new field; what we have stored in the bin should be enough to bring us right around to next year’s crop. Pigs must be chucked into the loss column, with hard farrowing in the spring and this dastardly circovirus to close out the year, and so must broiler chickens, due to poor growth at the end of the fall. Vegetable yields were somewhat reduced due to drought, and weed control was poor in some places, but the quality of the produce was excellent, and I think members were universally pleased. Sheep were definitely a win, with good gains over the grazing season. The dairy was a big win, too, with lots of improvements in herd health and management. The biggest wins were on the human side: a wonderful management team, and a great crew, and our faithful members, who make our green world spin. All of us at the farm wish all of you a happy, healthy and joyful New Year. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white 53rd week of 2016. –Kristin & Mark Kimball

This crayfish got halfway out of the pond and then decided to just chill for the rest of the winter. He could be our new goalie.

The last greens from the greenhouse. Known as mache in French, rapunzel in German, and plain old corn salad in plain old English.

Mary on Christmas Day duty.

Solstice

Essex Farm Note

Week 52, 2016

The sun gets up late these days, his energy so low he’s barely able to lift himself over the horizon before retiring for the night. We humans should take note: even a great fiery star needs a season of rest. I embrace this time of year, not in spite of the dark, but because of it. The cold is clean and strong; it removes the resistance of mud, the obstacle of water. The fires – candles, wood stove, bonfires – work their hypnotic magic on us, drawing us closer in. I take a lot of solitary walks, all around the farm, or through the snowy woods. The wind rouses a quiet animal in me that is keen and wary. There are things you think when you are alone outside in winter that you would never think in company, nor when the soil is warm and the plants are growing. And that’s the heart of what I love about winter: it’s the pause – the frozen lacuna – which, if you can bear to dwell in it, will reveal a path inward, and further inward, to your own true self.

The farmers are scattered far and wide this week, celebrating the holiday with their families. Thanks to Barbara, Anya, Jon, Ben, and Brandon for keeping the farm rolling here, and to Megan Moody for handling NYC deliveries while Phil is in California. Mark and I are milking over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to it; they say that animals can talk on Christmas Eve, and I know that Christmas milk has a magical power that transforms it into flan, hot cocoa, and hot milk punch, which is my new favorite drink: a lighter, bourbon-infused alternative to eggnog.

We have our work cut out for us for the rest of the winter. This week, the focus was on cleanup and organization. Mark, Jon and Brandon collected the broiler coops from the field and stacked them in the barn at Bonebender. Next up is pig slaughter. There are still 30 pigs in the field that are well-grown and ready to go to the freezer; we will hurry to get them butchered as soon as possible in January, because the longer we feed them the more they cost. I’m looking forward to tasting the difference between the purebred Tamworth pork and our usual Berkshire crosses. When butchering is finished we’ll turn to equipment repair and the 2017 field plan. Then it will be time for sugaring, followed closely by seeding in the greenhouse, which brings us around again to the high cool sun of early spring.

Now the short news, for this penultimate Friday of the year. The front pond has been a smooth fast playground this week. The girls are always hoping for some company on the ice, so please come by with your skates, a stick, and a puck. All are welcome. We had a rare difficult birth for Frieda, one of the dairy cows. Her calf came nose first, with its legs back, instead of in the proper hooves-first diver’s position. The calf didn’t make it but thanks to Ben and Alex’s good work Frieda is fine, and milking. In pig world, we’ve been dealing with swine circovirus, which causes sudden death in healthy-seeming piglets that are nearing weaning weight. It’s a new one for us, and a baddie. Luckily, there’s an effective vaccine for it, which will put a stop to losses, and the virus is harmless to humans and other animals. The forecast this week calls for gentle winter temperatures, which is exactly what we wished for for Christmas this year. Happy holidays, everyone! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this merry 52nd week of 2016.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Curious jersey calves. They are growing so fast.

Cabbage trimmings, ready to go to sheep and pigs.

The rink!

If you’ve ever wondered why they are called STRAWberries, well, now you know. They’re underneath that layer of golden straw, resting, until spring.

The kale soldiers are still standing at attention in the frozen field.

A frosty-whiskered day.

Myrtle! This group of gilts was really affectionate and gentle. Not many pigs would allow a six year old to cuddle her newborn piglets.

Hard Cold Happy

The solar panels are aimed to catch the flat winter light.

Essex Farm Note

Week 51, 2016

The cold came, making tarmac out of fields that were mud only a week ago. Yesterday, Derek and Mark Wrisley drove their combine across Newfield, eating 10-foot swaths of corn and leaving stubble in their wake. By the end of the day they’d put 80 tons of shell corn in our bin. It’s the most we’ve ever grown, enough corn to feed all of us – humans and animals – for the next year. At about $500 per ton for organic corn, it was a $40,000 harvest, and it makes the monthly payment on the drainage we put into that field a more cheerful check to write. Our yields in Newfield should improve as we continue to use cover crops and compost to build fertility and organic matter on its silt soil.

The below-zero temperatures today have called halt to greenhouse production for the year. Kirsten harvested the rest of the lettuce, chard, and spinach yesterday. The tomato vines, no longer producing, died a natural death almost as soon as she turned off their propane life-support system. The new greenhouse gave us an extra six weeks of greens production this fall, and should bring greens to us several weeks earlier than usual next spring. We will also have frozen spinach available this winter, thanks to a good harvest and the crew at the Hub on the Hill.

I bit into a poor-tasting carrot last night, which reminded me to remind you all to store your refrigerated carrots in air-tight ziplock bags – a detail we overlooked at our house this week. The crisper isn’t good enough. Carrots go from sweet and delicious to orange-colored cardboard when they are stored with brassicas (like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi) or with fruits. On the farm, after harvest, we keep them in their own separate refrigerated trailer, and distribute them each week from a cooler without other vegetables in it. Once they are in your home refrigerator, you have to remain vigilant about segregating them. Just a day or two with incompatible neighbors will ruin their taste.

The sheep moved from the field to the barn at Bonebender this week. The rams have been with the ewes for two cycles. One more and we will pull them. Ben had another double-base AI hit, with two more cows testing positive for pregnancy. The piglets in the covered barnyard are snugged together in pods under a thick blanket of straw, invisible and inaudible until one of the sows steps on them. We are waiting for another litter of piglets, and also another dairy calf, and hoping they come in a few days, when it’s not so very cold. So far, the chill has been a clean hard benevolent presence. No frostbite, no frozen waterlines, no broken drainpipes. I’m grateful for our good wood stove, and for warm layers, which allow us to work and play in the cold instead of hiding from it. The girls have been outside, skating, from the minute they get home from school until I call them in for dinner. When the wind rose on Wednesday evening, Mark built a bonfire at the edge of the pond. My favorite moment of the week was playing hockey with them, after dark, in a mix of fire- and full moon light.

This is Taylor LaFleur’s last week with us. Thanks, Taylor, for your good work, good company and fabulous cooking – we will miss all three! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hard cold happy week of 2016.

Snow, rye, and wind erosion.

Horses and ponies in their thick winter fur

The tip of the piglet pile