Thanksgiving

Week 46, 2012

I always think of Thanksgiving as our holiday, the farmers’ holiday. But it’s not just ours. People throughout the ages have held harvest home feasts this time of year. The crops are secure, so we celebrate the fact that there is food enough to fill our bellies for the coming winter; spiritually, we give thanks for providence, the mysterious abundance that is never more apparent than it is at the close of the season, after the sun has worked its magic on soil and seed. Whether you think providence is divine or of nature (or both) it is a farmer’s privilege to live and work in close communication with it. Once you see it and feel it it changes you. We gave a talk at the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit this week and one of the students asked us to name our favorite thing about farming. Mark answered that it is simply walking the farm, day after day, witnessing its incessant changes, its responses to our actions. And for me, it’s the same, only I might add that the wonder of it never wears off; I still feel, this time of year, the same warm sense of safety and security that I felt the first time I set foot on Mark’s farm in Pennsylvania. This morning I walked our fields with a moisture tester to see if the corn is dry enough to harvest, and there was that old glow, alive and well amid the dry stalks and bright yellow ears. I carried it with me back to the barnyard, where the root cellars and hay mows are full to bursting. We have had our share of difficulties this year but I have seen enough of the world to know just how deep my gratitude ought to be, even on what we might call a hard year. We live in unprecedented bounty, free from hunger, oppression, and fear. This week I give thanks for that, and for the good earth, for our members, for the people and animals who brought forth the harvest, and for the friends and family and neighbors who surround us. Have a wonderful and delicious Thanksgiving, everyone.

Now the short news. Along with a cornucopia of vegetables, we have fresh lard in the share today. The trick to using it to make insurmountable pie crusts is to make sure it is very cold before you cut it into your flour. I put it in the freezer for a while before using it, and refrigerate the dough after I roll it, so it goes into the oven cold and makes a good flaky crust. Yum. Mark hitched four horses to plow Monument field for garlic yesterday. We had a big crew of volunteers this morning who popped the heads into cloves for seeding, so we hope to get it in the ground in the next few days. Big thanks to Dogwood Bakery who sold us the flour for today’s distribution, as the Westport mill was out this week! And that’s the new for this beautiful 46th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Two umbells and a brassica

Week 45, 2012

 

With temperatures predicted to plunge into the teens, most of the past week’s effort went toward pulling in the crops that would be damaged by such a severe chill. Luke led the team through double-pace harvests in finger-chilling weather. They began on the carrots, but when the forecast came up a few degrees, they decided the carrots would probably make it and moved on to broccoli, chard, turnips, rutabaga, parsnip, and the last of this year’s lettuces. Eating lettuce fresh from the field the second week in November – not too shabby, huh? The only bummer, in my book, is that this year’s crop of Misato Rose radish was not good enough to harvest. The roots were shot through with worms, and looked and tasted poor. Too bad. They are one of my favorite appetizers, sliced thin and sprinkled with a little salt.

The other big event of the week was the quarterly staff meeting, which happened yesterday morning. This seems a good time to call attention to the extraordinary nature of the group of farmers working here. As staff left the year, each remaining person shouldered more and more responsibility, and somehow the spirit and morale of the entire farm rose, even as the size of the team shrank. We now have a particularly optimistic and joyful group that is also smart, gritty, and reliable. Did I mention hard working? Last night, after supper, Mark went out to the office to finish his work for the day, only to find Luke washing vegetables by headlamp, and Cory in the butcher shop, cutting meat. They were both getting a jump on their Friday to-do lists. You really can’t ask for a better team than that. But back to the meeting. The group confirmed two key decisions. One, we’ve restructured the management chart so that Mark is only directly in charge of four people: Jenny, who will manage plants; Gwen, who will captain animals; Amy, who handles distribution and administration; and Steven, our newest farmer, who will be in charge of the physical plant. Everyone else will report to one of those four captains. The other key decision was to commit fully to another year of draft horse power. Everyone agreed to work together to optimize the efficiency of all the farm systems, in order to open time and space for horse work. Mark plowed with Jake and Abby today, and it was a balm to see them in the field. In related news, Jenny has officially begun her teamster training. Yesterday, she ground drove the white pony, Abby Belle – and that is potentially the biggest equine challenge on the farm, so I guess she’s trained now. They both did beautifully.

Pork is back, to general acclaim. Please remember to treat meat as the precious resource it is, and utilize every single bit of it. The walk in freezer is a smashing success. We’ve unplugged the small freezers now. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this Novembery 45th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Essex Farm Note, week 44

Week 44, 2012

For the non-local readers who follow news from here, we were barely brushed by the tail of Hurricane Sandy. Thanks for all the notes of concern. All animals and buildings are fine. Good thing, too, since we hadn’t thought to add our two new barns to the insurance policy until Monday – at which point, of course, with doom all over the airwaves, they wouldn’t insure a pasteboard doghouse until the storm had passed. Now that the urgency is over, we have two items on the admin to-do list: getting those buildings covered, and investing in a generator that can power the farm’s vital equipment, like milking machines, well pump and freezers.

Speaking of freezers, we have the walk-in up and running. And all my grousing about the green lozenge last week was for naught, as Mark Bimonte convinced us that foaming the inside of the trailer was a better idea after all. We’ll be able to freeze meat faster and store it more efficiently now. The worst news of the week is that just before we made the switch from our chest freezers to the walk-in, one of the small freezers got unplugged by accident, and 80 chickens thawed and had to be thrown out. Failure never rests!

I have one other happy correction to last week’s note. Remember how I said we’d given up on the idea of getting any second cut forage in? Mark had made about three hundred phone calls looking for someone to custom-bale 80 acres into haylage, all to no avail. Then last Friday afternoon, after the note was printed, he got a call back from a young man in Vermont who said he’d bring his equipment over on the last ferry and start baling on Saturday morning. By then the news of the hurricane was all over the radio, so we knew we’d need to work fast. These are the moments on a farm when all hands come together to meet a seemingly impossible goal. I find it stressful and tiring but also exciting and satisfying. Adam Perry came over with his stepson Logan and a mower that blew my little horse-powered mind. It cut and conditioned 12 acres per hour. (By comparison, we mow less than 1 acre per hour with the horses, no conditioning.) The young man from Vermont, Zach, turned out to be very young indeed. He just turned 16 and has been doing custom farm work since he was 13. Farm-raised kids are so cool. While he ran the baler, his friend Andrew moved the 1200 pound bales to the wrapper, at the edge of the field. Jane was mesmerized by that thing, which worked by remote control, and rolled the bales around and around until they were airtight, in layers of white plastic film. The grass will ferment in the plastic for 40 days, at which point it will be cooked and ready for the cows to eat. By the last ferry on Sunday, we had 210 bales lined up in the field, all without anyone lifting so much as one bale of hay with muscles. Thanks to Jenny, Liam, Adam, Andrew, and especially to Zach, who finished the job in time to take his driver’s test on Monday.

Ginger the red cow calved this week, a lovely little heifer. Ginger is Ashlee’s cow so we are waiting to hear what she will be named – G name suggestions, anyone? Ashlee’s other cow, Lila, ripped the end of her teat on pasture on Saturday. The first day it looked scary, but cows have an astounding ability to heal themselves, and by Monday it was almost fine. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this whew! 44th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Essex Farm Note, Week 43

 

Week 43, 2012

While you and I have been ogling the gorgeous carrots and the bodacious cabbages, the dairy cows have been eyeballing the oat/pea cover crop that is growing in Monument and Pine fields. It is so lush and tall now that Jane and her friend Arden played hide-and-seek in it this week. It was definitely a hider’s game: the girls only had to lie down flat to disappear completely. Lucky for the cows, this is the week they get to dig into that luscious stuff. We’ll move them through it very quickly, in 6 hour rotations, so they won’t damage the soil. This year has been a lesson in the benefits of annual forage crops like these for grass-fed dairy. We got a substantial boost in production from the rye/vetch during the early season, another boost from clover during the mid-season slump, and we expect the same from the late oat/pea.

We’ve decided to make the leap from multiple small freezers to one big walk-in, thanks to the advice and expertise of our member Mark Bimonte. This should be better both for direct energy usage and overall energy efficiency. With more freezer room, we can slaughter more animals in the fall, and winter fewer of them, which will give us a big savings in feed and labor, and simplify many of our systems. Now here is the bad news, which Mark was careful to break to me very gently. The freezer is going to occupy half the dairy/egg trailer, and in order to seal it up properly, we have to spray it with a big thick layer of insulating foam, which Mark says is lime green. It is not practical to spray the foam on the inside, so it will have to go on the outside, which means we’re going to have a lime-green house-sized lozenge on the farm. I’m hoping it’s not actually lime green, but more an Adirondack green, and that the beauty of the rest of the farm will outshine the lozenge.

The mild weather has made for good extended grazing, though we have almost given up on the idea of getting any second cut hay in. If we don’t make any, we’ll need to buy 300 to 500 bales of excellent quality high-protein hay for the dairy cows; everyone else can get by with the first cut we made. We hear there may be a big storm coming, so we’re buttoning down the hatches this weekend. If it does hit us, our first thoughts will go to the broiler chicks in the field. They chill easily this time of year if they can’t get dry. In vegetable news, it is farmers vs. 20,000 lbs. of carrots right now, which feels like heavy odds. Cory and Amy are in Vegas this week but we’re bolstered by the addition of Kelsie Meehan, who has joined the full time team. She grew up in Connecticut, graduated from Williams, and has a bunch of good farm and food experience under her belt. We are so glad she’s signed on with us; please help us make her warmly welcome. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this frankenstormy 43rd week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Essex Farm Note, week 42

Week 42, 2012

I had the note prettily written by dawn today, but at some point in the chaos of a two-child, no-school morning, Miranda got hold of the paper I had written it on, and though I’ve searched all her hidey holes, it’s gone, and I suspect she might have actually eaten it. So here is the ten minute version instead, from memory. Ahem. Mark picked up a new boar this week. He is a two-year-old registered Berkshire, black with white points on his face, tail and feet. He is extremely sweet and cuddly. Do not cuddle him, however, unless you are a sow. He has tusks. My Farm Knowledge book from 1919 suggests that introducing a boar to sows is as delicate as a blind first date. “At this critical time do not bring in to the young and inexperienced boar an old ugly sow… but rather a gilt or sow of about the boar’s age… Above all, never let the boar run with the sows and mate with any and all sows, repeatedly, or his vitality will be injured and his pigs suffer as a result.” We put him in with seven brood sows, all of them older than he is and heavier by a few hundred pounds; one old gal has crooked yellow teeth and certainly qualifies as ugly. Maybe some soft lighting, a little Al Green playing softly in the background? The boar’s registered name sounds sexy enough, in a Camaro and satin sheets kind of way: Black Diamond. (Oooh, Mom, says Jane, that’s so fancy!) You can check him out east of the east barn, next to the dairy calves. Speaking of calves, we have another one. Wonder, our big black three-teated cow, gave birth to a large, vivacious heifer calf this week. We’ve named her Willa. She’s already bigger than her older half-sister, Feneke. Sadly, Little Red gave birth to stillborn twin bull calves a little over a week ago, and she’s been struggling since then with a case of mastitis. Red is a favorite of mine, for her sweet disposition, and I’m hoping she’ll bounce back.

The crew was even busier than usual this week, working on fall harvest projects. Mark wanted to take advantage of the few days of dry weather to get the potatoes in. He hitched Jake and Abby on Wednesday, and drove them out past all the construction projects, slipping on the muddy roads. Once in the field, they got through the best rows, but the digger wouldn’t work in the weediest sections. We borrowed the tractor-drawn digger from Adam and Melody at Juniper Hill yesterday, and got more done. Mark says there are 4-6 tons dug now, a quarter of what we usually bring in. On the other hand, we’ve got a true bumper crop of squash. Our most excellent crew used every sunny moment this week to get them cleaned and in the cellar. I have to crawl over them to get to the washing machine. Members, they won’t hold forever, so consider freezing a bunch now. I think the easiest way to do it is to peel, then cube the butternuts, blanch and freeze. Butternut makes the best “pumpkin” pie. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this rain-rain-on-the-windowpane 42nd week of 2012.

-Kristin and Mark Kimball