Essex Farm Note week 21

Essex Farm Note

Week 21, 2012

It’s avalanche season, work-wise. As long as the weather holds we are all under pressure to get things plowed! composted! planted! weeded! fixed! moved! while simultaneously keeping up with all the quotidian work that the great living machine demands. This avalanche happens every spring, and every spring, the intensity of it takes me by surprise. Corn planting is the most pressing emergency this week. The fields are now just barely dry enough to work, and every day that goes by without seed in the ground is a loss of yield. So now every step must be done at once. Yesterday, Cory and I spread compost on the corn ground in front of Chad, who was using the two-bottom plow. It was a serious mixed-power moment: Cory drove the little red International tractor, I drove Jake and Abby, Chad drove the six-horse hitch, and Mark filled our spreaders with a skid steer. (Meanwhile, Courtney was cultivating the vegetables with Jay and Jack – a platoon of 10 horses, fully employed.) Over the course of the day, several things went wrong, as they always do when the pressure is on. The International has some issues with an intake valve, I snapped the chain on one of the spreaders, and then Cory got mired to the axels in a part of the field that should probably qualify as swamp. Chad tried to pull him out with the six horse hitch, but it was the kind of stuck that required even more horsepower, so Mark pried him out with the skid steer. It was ten o’clock before all the horses were fed and put out and our own dinner eaten, and still it felt like we didn’t get enough done. This is our ninth avalanche season, and exciting as it is, it’s a relief to know it won’t go on forever, and that we have this amazing, dedicated team of farmers to work with.

First chickens in the share today. They are pasture raised, tender young birds. They are one of the most precious things we produce, in terms of labor and inputs, so please savor them, and make use of every part, including using the bones for stock or soup. And the organs! Chicken liver pâté is a big favorite in our house and it’s really easy to make. I’ll share my method with you here but there are many variations. We also have unlimited asparagus in the share today, and the first green garlic. Out in the field, the plants are turning up the volume. Lettuce is just a couple weeks away. Strawberries, too. This is the very last stretch of what I call freezer month, folks – the time to raid your chest freezer for last year’s green things.

Today is the first member farm walk. We are going to stick close to the barnyard and see hundreds of hot chicks. Va va va voom. Meet at the chalkboard at 4pm. Next week, vegetable fields. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this look out below 21st week of 2012.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

 

Kristin’s Theory of Chicken Liver Pâté

 Pâté is EASY. It’s just liver plus butter plus a breadcrumb binder (optional), flavored with onion or garlic and herbs, and fancied up with some kind of alcohol. There are lots of variations on this theme and it is extremely flexible.

Step one: Trim, season well with salt and pepper, and sauté the livers in a little butter until they are no longer pink inside. You want the outside good and brown – adds flavor – so don’t crowd the pan. If you are using breadcrumbs as a binder (which is totally optional) soak them in some kind of alcohol for a while. Cognac is traditional but I’ve used scotch, port, and even rum.

Step two: Remove the livers from the pan, and set aside. Now sauté some fresh herbs (sage, thyme, or rosemary are all good), plus some garlic and/or onion until soft and translucent. Don’t go too crazy with garlic. Onion is better, in my opinion, because it’s less assertive. Green garlic would be delicious, being milder than garlic garlic. Deglaze your pan with the alcohol (see breadcrumb soaking, above) and mix everything (liver, breadcrumbs, onion/herb and deglazings) together.

Step three: Process the liver mixture with butter. You can use an immersion blender or a food processor. Process until the liver is coarsely pureed, then add butter a couple tablespoons at a time. Keep processing until everything is smooth. Taste and add more salt, alcohol, herbs, etc. if needed. Chill until cool and firm.

Presentation is important, because pâté, left to its own devices, will look like a gray-brown mass. It doesn’t take much to liven it up – an attractive bowl, with a sprig of fresh or dried herb, some chopped green onion on top. Spread on crackers or good bread.

AMOUNTS: Again, this is flexible. For a pint of livers I would use about one onion, a fistful of herbs, half a cup of breadcrumbs, a good slosh or three of alcohol, and up to half a pint of butter. One of my favorite variations is to add some toasted walnuts at the end, plus some dried cherries that have been reconstituted in port.

 

Essex Farm Note week 20

 

Essex Farm Note

 

Week 20, 2012

 

 

The thing that makes farming so interesting – and sometimes so heartbreaking – is the unpredictability that is built into natural systems. You really can’t count your chickens before they hatch. As farmers, our impulse is to control as many variables as we can (which is how we end up with CAFOs and GMOs) but the longer I farm the more I think nature is far too chaotic and powerful for our little minds to manage. The best we can do is hold on to her hem, and try not to get squashed when she takes a quick step. On Wednesday, I was building a new sheep pasture with Mark and the girls when the sky turned green and the world got still. We could see lightning in the distance. A bolt hit the hill to our west, and Mark felt the jolt of it in the piece of electric fence he was holding. That’s when we decided to go inside. We watched from the door of the house, and even Miranda was quiet. Wind came first, carrying big drops of rain. Then the rain came in sheets, blurring our view of the swaying elm tree across the driveway. Then the hard sound of hail, bouncing off the greenhouse, off the car, off the roof. As the hail got bigger and harder and fell faster, it felt like what it must feel like to witness an earthquake: thrilled by the force and beauty of the thing, while simultaneously registering the loss. The hailstones grew to the size of marbles, covered every surface, and washed into frozen piles at the edge of the driveway. When it was over, there was that clean, ozone smell that makes you feel the world has been washed, but also a lot of tattered plants, and lodged rye. The young plants in flats outside the greenhouse took a heavy beating, and so did the plants in the field. The good news is that while they are definitely set back, we think most of them will survive. Peas are starting to rebound, and some of the spinach might lift itself out of the mud over the next few dry days, and the asparagus will just keep coming. And we were lucky in that we narrowly missed the worst of it. Our neighbor Ron, just across the street, lost everything in his garden.

It is time to send thanks to Emily Schmitt, who has lovingly, heroically cared for Jane and Miranda five mornings a week while simultaneously getting more done around the house and farm than I do without kids. She and family are off to their jobs at camp. We will miss them! And please say hello and welcome to Natalie Kawecki, who is going to take over Emily’s duties for the summer. Natalie comes from a dairy farm family in northern New York and has spent the last few years training in and teaching eurythmy. (That’s a form of dance and movement based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy – the same place biodynamic farming comes from.) Natalie is going to be living with us until September, so come by and meet her.

We are going to start a weekly farm walk for members on Fridays at 4pm, so you can see how all the different farm systems work, ask questions, and pet cute animals. I will lead it unless there is pressing work in the field. Next week, we’ll look at chicks in the brooder house. Meet at the chalkboard. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this dramatic 20th week of 2012. -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Essex Farm Note week 19

Essex Farm Note

Week 19, 2012

 

All the ag rags are leading with news of the weather. Unusual Weather Patterns Leave Farmers Scratching Their Heads, reads front page of the Farm Bureau organ, Grassroots. This was New York’s second warmest winter on record, and the warmest March in North America since 1895. The fruit trees blossomed early, and then a late-April freeze whacked them all, leading to a request from legislators to declare the weather a natural disaster, to get federal aid. I agree with the disaster part. The natural part, not so much. But back to here and now. The beauty of extreme diversification is that our chips are spread all over the table. The late freeze was unfortunate, but not a dealbreaker. The first blooms on the Early Glow strawberries got nipped, but we’ll still get a crop. The asparagus that was up and out of the ground got knocked down, but it will keep coming. (We have our first taste of that in the share today, and in a few weeks we should have enough for all members to take as much as you want.) Pasture is coming slowly, and dairy cows are grateful for the beautiful 18” tall rye/vetch cover crop they are grazing in Monument Field, to supplement the grass. The dairy crew is moving the herd three times a day, so that they don’t wreck the slightly-too-wet soil. And isn’t May milk the most beautiful of the year? Milk production leapt by 30% as soon as we moved the dairy herd outside. The cream is deep yellow, and the taste of it makes me want to live on milk alone. Rhubarb got a little bit drowned, but we should have some in the share in the next few weeks. This week, the weather report calls for warmth and sun, so it’s going to be “sun’s out, guns out” week – the moment everyone peels off their winter layers to reveal those beautiful farmer biceps. Some say it’s a sight as good as lambs cavorting in the spring grass. If you don’t want to miss it, or if you want to grow a pair of those biceps yourself, come over and volunteer with us. We can use all the help we can get during weekdays right now, and I promise you’ll have more fun here than you would at the gym. Call Amy in the farm office to arrange a time.

Now the short news. The pair of Canada geese that nested at the edge of the pond hatched out five goslings. I love watching them co-parent their little brood, one grown-up goose in front, one behind. Barbara took some of the wool from our sheep and washed, carded, spun and knitted it into a beautiful scarf for me. I’m wearing it right now. We have new horse stalls underway in West Barn. Next farm tour is scheduled for June 9th. And I’m teaching a creative writing workshop at Black Kettle Farm on Tuesday, May 22nd, from 6pm to 8:30pm. We’ll do some writing exercises, discuss goals, and talk about how to reconcile the creative force with productivity. The workshop will focus on writing but I think anyone who works creatively (for business or pleasure) will find it useful. Way back in my old life in New York City, I used to teach workshops for a living and I am really looking forward to this, so please come. All levels and genres are welcome, no experience necessary. Adults only, $10 per person, to benefit Lakeside School. Reserve a place by calling Lakeside at 518-963-7384 or info@lakesideschoolinessex.org. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hurry up grass! 19th week of 2012.

Mark and Miranda check to see if the oats have germinated. Yep.

Is it spring yet?

No more frost, please. The strawberries are blooming.

The rows look like this, with winter-killed oats between them:

The cold, wet weather has slowed everything down. But slow growth is better than no growth. Here are the peas:

And the cows are delighted to be eating the beautiful rye/vetch mix. Milk production has skyrocketed. I love May milk.

Farm Hack

Thanks to everyone who came to the Farm Hack event here on Sunday, and to the organizers, Young Farmers Coalition, and to Severine and the Whallonsburg Grange and all the volunteers who put it together. Here are the farm hackers in the field:

 

The purpose of Farm Hack is to bring brainy brains together to help strengthen sustainable  agriculture. Mark fell madly in love with Dorn Cox of Tuckaway Farm in Lee, New Hampshire. Dorn is working on producing food and fuel with a positive energy and carbon balance, using both draft horses and biodiesel. His work on organic no-till methods is particularly interesting to us. Check out his non-profit, Green Start. I see a trip to Lee in our family’s near future.