Essex Farm Spring Tour: Sun-Fed Systems

DATE: March 17th, 2012

TIME: 10am to 4:30pm

COST: Free for Essex Farm members. Non-members, $25 per adult, $5 for kids

BRING: Food for potluck, appropriate clothing. See details below.

ADDRESS: 2503 NYS Route 22, Essex, NY, 12936. We are one mile from the Essex-Charlotte Ferry.


NEXT TOUR: June 9th, 2012

We never really know what a tour will entail, because farm and weather conditions are unpredictable. We probably won’t be sugaring, but watch for updates, as that could still change. What we will do for sure is create a day to celebrate the return of the sun to our hemisphere. We’ll do some horse demos, and a work project centered on firewood, and we’ll take a walking tour of the barnyard and pastures.

Please come dressed for the weather and any work you want to do. That means sturdy clothing and probably waterproof footgear. There is a warming hut available but we plan to be outside all day. Also, please bring a potluck dish to share, and your own place setting, including cup, plate, and silverware.

The tour is free for Essex Farm members. Non-members are $25 per adult, $5 for kids. A sliding scale is always available for low income attendees.

Feel free to come for the whole day, or for part of it.






Introduction to the sun-fed systems premise and the firewood share

Firewood work project

We plan to skid some logs with the horses (and maybe the pony!)

Cut and split wood. BYO hatchets, axes, mauls, bow saws, or chainsaws, but ONLY if you have full safety gear and proper training. Anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to work with wood can watch or help set up for lunch


Potluck lunch. We will provide something substantial but everyone should bring a dish to share, and your own utensils.


Walking tour of Essex Farm. The focus: where we are, and where we’re going.


Wrap-up and goodbye, and the great potato giveaway. Please bring bags to carry things home.

Week 8: Farm Note by Mark

Essex Farm Note

Week 8, 2012

Remember the week 6 note where Kristin mentioned Who can catch the most sunlight, and keep it?  Well she’s away this week and that means I’m here to take you into the deep end of the pond regarding that sentence.  Let me warn you in advance, the train of thinking I’ve been on the past few months may be a runaway train.  You might want to step off now before that train crashes.  Ready?

Here we are, eating carrots, popping popcorn, raising kids, raising ourselves, having one of the easiest and most wonderful lives available to hominids since there were hominids (4 million years ago, so I hear). Yet…  what if…   there is an unseen price to it?  What if all those social rights people who make us feel bad about hunger and cleft palates in Africa and all those god-awful scientists who keep telling us the earth is heating up are right?  What if our lives are reducing the quality of life for the other 7 billion people in the world and for our kids and our kids’ kids?  Possible?  Remotely possible?  Well %#$*!

Not that I and others haven’t had these thoughts before, but somehow now after almost a decade of “sustainable” horse farming I am seeing it all fresh again. And I’m getting awful fired up.  Fired up to help myself, my family, my friends and neighbors (near and far) create a life that is easy to conceive of, yet so difficult to achieve.  Sustainable.  Wendell Berry wrote about thinking and acting locally, and I think he’s got it.  Local means the consequences of production are internalized, visible just outside your doorstep. Global means the costs are externalized, and invisible.

In the billion year plan, none of it is a problem.  Geology and most likely biology will wend their way along for a good while, whether the quality of life for hominids improves or declines.  But I want it to get better for us.  Better for me.  Because being rich with good air and good food and good water and good shelter and good brains and good bodies and good family and good friends and good toys is amazing.  Out of control great.  But I want to have those things and not destroy our future, destroy the quality of life for other people. That is so worth fighting for. (Clearly, I haven’t been getting quite enough farm work lately.  Sorry.)

Here’s how I think we do it:  we play some games.  Some Olympic caliber games.  We play who can catch the most sunlight and keep it? All life is fueled by the sun. How can we sustain seven billion people using available sunlight?  Can we do it here on this farm, for 100 people, or 200 people, or 8000 people? This is a game, but we will play it by any means necessary. We capture the sun with plants and we let go of that sun with breath and fire.  All we need to do is make sure we are capturing more sun than we breathe or burn.  Easy.  Let’s do it.

We live on the sun’s savings account: fossil fuel. That’s sunlight in plants that just didn’t get to be breathed or burned when those crazy microbes and plants of the Cambrian and post Cambian eras died and went into the earth. We discover this coal and oil and it makes it so easy to be us.  A barrel of oil can do the work of ten years hard physical labor.  Only one drawback (just kidding, there’s lots of drawbacks): suddenly we’re letting all of that CO2 into the air.

So back to the challenge: who can catch the most sunlight and keep it?  A farm has the ability not only to be carbon neutral – that is, catching as much carbon as we release – but to be a carbon sink, so our net energy capture exceeds our net energy release.  Net energy profit will live in the soil organic matter, which makes for healthier soil, which makes it easier for us to grow more plants and catch more energy.  So we can win the Olympics of Sustainability.  Or at least win a bronze.

Alas, we can’t do it by ourselves, and there’s more to it than growing food.  It involves every last one of us.  From how we move from place to place to how we cook our polenta.  It may involve bringing your urine and manure to the farm in buckets (be brave, people, be brave).  It may involve a horse and wagon bringing firewood to your door.  It may involve…

Alright, here’s the news.  Snow coming, and a taste of winter cold.  Rob and Jenny and Sabrina and I got in a last ice skate today before the flakes fell.  Barbara and Rob and Jenny and Ashley and Courtney and Asa and Ryan and Jori and Steve and Anna and Gus all rocked the farm world this week, from slaughter to egg wash to milking to chores.  And they made me laugh a lot.  We keep making improvements to the winter animal housing, and the beef are looking a bit more at ease with each improvement.  Ryan serviced the Ford 6600 and the JD 4030.  Jenny and I measured all the horses for new improved harnesses and collars.  Don built a great staircase into the trailer.  And that is the news from Essex Farm for this by-any-means-necessary 8th week of 2012.                                              -Mark & Kristin Kimball


Essex Farm Note week 7

I was away, so this week’s note is from Mark…

Essex Farm Note

Week 7, 2012

If Kristin were writing this note this week all we would hear about would be sheep and sheep dogs. Since we first started farming here eight and a half years ago she has constantly entreated me to bring on the sheep. My response has almost always been snarky “…so that we can feed the coyotes?” “…because growing up lambs for meat is much cheaper than raising beef?” or more of a knife to her heart, “…so you can justify a livestock guardian dog?” Other farmers have given us their input, such as the 4S: sick sheep seldom survive, and the frequent stories of parasite problems.  It just doesn’t make sense for the farm to offer lamb or mutton in the share.  Therefore when Kristin first realized that her birthday present last week was 6 ewes and 4 lambs she almost squealed with joy.  “Really?”  “Really, Mark?”  “SHEEP?”  “Really?”  And here they are.

If you go to the house to pick up your milk you can’t miss the newest addition to our menagerie.  Spend a minute by the cobbed together fence next to the garage and you’ll likely see the biggest lamb standing on top of his mother, like a helicopter poised to lift off of a carrier.  Wait a bit longer and the other sheep might line up alongside the first ewe in a weak defensive huddle.  The lamb might hop from one back to the next, unmoved by strange visitors from outside the fence.  If you wait a bit more you’ll notice that one of the bred ewes has a very different type of udder.   Could it be?  Of course, testicles.  So we may have some gamey ram snack in the warming hut in the next few weeks.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this home-alone 7th week of 2012.                                               –Kristin & Mark Kimball


Canadian Organic Growers Conference, Toronto

I’m on my way back to Essex from the Canadian Organic Growers Conference in Toronto. Thanks to Tanmayo and all the volunteers who put together a great conference. I met loads of new friends, including Gavin Dandy, who runs a farmer training program at Everdale farm here in Ontario. I’m sure we’ll be checking in with him as we develop this Essex Farm Academy idea. I also met two graduates of the Everdale farmer training program, Angie Koch, who is embarking on her fifth year on 4.5 acres of CSA vegetables at Fertile Ground CSA, and Erica Lemieux of City Seed Farms, a (get this) bicycle powered farm run out of other people’s backyards in Toronto. She’s an inspiring example of the farm-where-you-are idea.

Last night, 80 of us attended the premier of SEEDS, a documentary play by Annabel Soutar, about the court battle between Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto over the ownership of genetically modified organisms — over the nature and ownership, really, of life. Torontonians, if you have any interest in the subject, go. If you don’t, go anyway. The play is crafted from court transcripts and transcripts of interviews that Annabel Soutar conducted with a score of the people involved on all sides of the story. As a memoirist, I found her process fascinating. She works at the intersection of journalism and art, and isn’t afraid to address the slippery nature of truth. I wish SEEDS a wide audience and a long run.

Essex Farm Note week 6

Essex Farm Note

Week 6, 2012

 Mark and I just got back from our annual retreat to Montreal. We were wearing our town clothes and I thought we were looking pretty good, but not good enough for all the attention we were drawing on the street. Then I saw that Mark had his knit hat on inside out, and it was all covered with bits of straw. He was also carrying a big duffle bag with a broken strap, and wearing international orange gloves. Man, I thought, I can’t take him anywhere! Then, while pointing at his hat, I realized the cuff of my own glove was speckled with chaff and seeds. And these were my good gloves, the ones I don’t farm in unless I can’t find the other pair. I am a legitimate hayseed, I thought. This did not dampen my enjoyment of the city. We walked all over town, ate Chinese dumplings, went ice skating in Parc La Fountain, and meanwhile fulfilled the purpose of our trip: talking about where the farm is, and where it is going. We decided the focus this year will be on improving the share, and acquiring the infrastructure needed to do that. We reaffirmed our commitment to draft horse power, and the goal of having a fossil fuel free farm in five years. And then there is Essex Farm Academy. Mark came back from PASA last week captivated by the idea of creating an elite training school for new farmers. His vision is to raise enough money to fully fund the education of 15 to 20 exceptional, motivated students per year, and turn them into skilled, productive, horse-powered farmers through a combination of practical and theoretical training. I don’t know exactly where this idea is going yet, but his enthusiasm is contagious.

We talked about two other big ideas that Mark brought home from PASA. One is the realization, via our friend Kenneth Moulder of Green Mountain College, that 30% of the energy that goes into food is spent in the kitchens of the eaters, on storage and preparation. With so much focus on food miles, it seems we’ve forgotten about the last steps to the table. Mark and I talked about building a wood-fired community bread oven, or doing larger-scale, more energy-efficient canning here. Let us know if you have other ideas about how to conserve energy in the kitchen.

Mark came up with the last big idea while trying to distill his many thoughts into a sentence for a workshop he was giving. It’s his answer to the question, what is it we are trying to do? He puts it in the form of a challenge to farmers everywhere, because he really likes a competition. It is: Who can catch the most sunlight, and keep it?  We’ll explore what that means in another note. For now, the short news, which is, as it often is, all about testicles. David Goldwasser came by on Wednesday to castrate 20 bulls in the beef herd. They have been moved from the metal barn to Valley Field pasture. Meanwhile we got an infusion of testosterone in the form of a Jersey bull, Spencer, who was bred by Jack Lazor of Butterworks farm, and is here on loan from Misty Brook Farm. His job is to impregnate the dairy cows we missed with artificial insemination. While he seems like a nice enough fellow, we never trust a bull. Jerseys are known for deadly tempers. The sooner he has done his job and leaves, the better I’ll feel. Members, please stay far from the dairy pasture until Spencer goes back home. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this is-it-really-February? 6th week of 2012.


Maybe some of you will enjoy these pictures from the NOFA NY conference. Mark and I gave a workshop called Radical Makeover: Pimp your Farmstand. Or something like that. Styling by our lovely butcheress, Courtney.


Essex Farm Note week 5

Mark is away this week, giving workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s annual winter conference. He’s also catching up with friends from his days of farming in State College. Yesterday, he spent the morning in the Stoltzfus family’s butcher shop. They are the Amish friends who originally inspired him to try farming with horses. He’s famous (infamous?) among the Stoltzfus relatives for making their kids laugh so hard and get so riled up that they made themselves sick. This was at a Stoltzfus family reunion he somehow got invited to, and I think it involved a unicycle, a skunk puppet and some juggling balls. He will be back on Sunday, full of stories.

Robert Cushman took his oath of enlistment on Monday, has shouldered all the daily livestock chores, and is starting to learn basic slaughter skills from Courtney. We are so glad he’s here. We are also rejoicing in the impending arrival of the great and powerful Lindsay Willemain, who came for a trial week, won us all over, and will return for good in mid-March. It’s wonderful to watch this group of farmers coalesce into a strong team. If you’re wondering who does what around here, this is the setup: Jenny manages the milkhouse and distribution. Barbara supports the dairy team, and prepares the eggs and grains for distribution. Courtney is butcher extraordinaire, currently on overdrive, getting multiple pigs in the freezer. Ashlee manages the dairy herd, and is improving some existing systems. Ryan Weidenback has been invaluable this winter, handling vegetable washing for distribution, plus special ops and infrastructure fixes that he has put his formidable mind and skills to. Everyone pitches in on projects outside their own area when needed, but that’s the basic layout.

This weirdly warm weather has been a real blessing in the feed department. In cold weather, animals need more calories just to keep warm. We’ve saved tons on feed because of all these mild stretches. We still have fourteen weeks until grass but only four to eight before warm weather is more or less guaranteed. For now, the hay is holding out really well. The dairy herd is also more comfortable this winter, because we cleared out the north half of the west barn to make a nighttime loafing area for them. One of the cows, Mary, has gotten herself stuck in the gutter not once, but twice. Must be something about where and how she likes to rest. Ashlee is working on guards for the gutter, and meanwhile, we’re leaving the barn open so cows can choose to sleep outdoors or in, in the hope that a less crowded loafing area will help Mary make better choices. In short news, Abby Belle, the white pony, is doing well with her training. She pulled a log and a sled this week. I’ve also been doing a little work with Brandy, the green Belgian mare. It’s hilarious to go from the Lilliputian Abby Belle to hulking Brandy, only to discover that training the giantess is oh so much easier. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this Markless 5th week of 2012.