Hustle

Essex Farm Note

Week 22, 2013

I zipped around the farm by bicycle with Mark yesterday afternoon. This is news because it was his first spin since he broke his leg the first week in February. It was a cautious ride, but enough to qualify as a zip. His leg is sore and weak, but his internal radio is tuned once again to WFRM, all farming, all the time. This is a good thing, considering the season. The drained fields are ready, despite this week’s hard, heavy rain, and the next three days are our window for the biggest planting push of the year. Yesterday, the whole team focused on potatoes, first cutting the oversize Kennebec seed potatoes into golf ball sized pieces, then hauling them to Monument field, where Jenny and Liam had Jake and Abby hooked to the potato planter. Watching Jenny and Liam work together reminded me of our first years, when Mark and I were a team of two. I am not nostalgic for the brutal hours nor the stress of startup, but watching them reminded me there is something precious about working hard together as a couple. It’s a facet of a relationship not many people get to explore. Like taking an arduous trip together, it pulls the shield of romance off of a relationship, and reveals its strengths and weaknesses. My friend Cydni, who grew up on a ranch and married a cowboy, says you should make sure you work a cattle chute together before you say I do. I think you should plant potatoes.

There is a real mix of diesel and horse sweat in the field today. Out the window I see two horses and two tractors at work in Pine Field, cultivating, harrowing, and plowing. In the barnyard, I hear Jonathon Pribble’s skid steer, which we are renting for the week, as we contemplate buying it. Travis used it yesterday to move a mountain of compost, which he is now spreading on the field. Everyone is moving quickly, despite the 90 degree heat. There is the annual feeling in the air that everything must be done right now. Tomorrow is June, and June, to us, is like April to an accountant or December to the elves. Full on, all out hustle.

What else? We took out a $30,000 line of credit with Yankee Farm Credit yesterday. Much as I hate owing, Farm Credit is a great company to work with. They take livestock as collateral!  It was a bad week for chickens. Something got into one of the broiler coops and killed 80 half-grown chicks in one night. All but two were uneaten. Ron Bigelow, who is an expert in these things, says it was a raccoon, or possibly a mink, but either way, it was probably a mama with babies to feed. That’s what makes an animal kill so many at once. Cory spent nights on stake-out duty in the field, but so far, no luck. And the best news for last. We have the greens in the share today. We had our first meal of them last night – butter lettuce and spinach and a little chard – and we ate so much we hardly needed anything else. We can expect another two or three weeks of asparagus. We also have the year’s first fresh chickens in the share today. A common sense food safety reminder: keep chicken cold until ready to cook, and cook it thoroughly. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hot 22nd week of 2013.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Mad transplanting

Essex Farm Note

Week 21, 2013

We are becoming so high tech around here, in an old-fashioned kind of way. We have a large screen TV in the office trailer now, where Mark projects the day’s objectives during morning team meeting. He is using a program called Trello to organize the farm and his brain – no small tasks, those. And we have a splash page up at our future web site, featuring our new marketing poster. Check it out at www.essexfarmcsa.com. Note that we are eagerly seeking new members right now! If you love the share, please tell your friends. We’d like to add 30 more families by the peak of the season. While you’re at it, take a look at the slideshow posted at www.essexfarminstitute.org, which introduces our very exciting new venture. Essex Farm Institute will train farmers to build resilient, diversified farms that are economically viable, socially responsible and environmentally beneficial. Essex Farm Institute is fiscally sponsored by the Open Space Institute, and we aim to enroll our first students in the fall of 2014. Special thanks to Terri Jamison and Ben Stechschulte for the design and photography on both those sites. Let us know what you think, everyone.

Speaking of economic viability, the big debate on the farm this week is whether or not to buy a used skid steer that’s for sale in our neighborhood– a compact, almost petite piece of heavy equipment with a bucket loader on front. We’ve dreamed of one for years. It is very maneuverable, and ideal for turning compost, fixing farm roads, and lifting all sorts of heavy things. It would save us money and time in the long run, but cash flow is tight.

Now a few housekeeping items. Please be sure to bring back your glass jars spanking clean. That means without anything stuck to them. We rewash and sanitize all the glass before filling it, but jars with stuff stuck to them slow us way down. The best way to wash them at home is with a cold rinse, then a hot soapy scrub, and a hot rinse. Dishwashers do a good job but not if there is stuck-on stuff around the threads. And before you put lids in the dishwasher be sure to check their threads and rub off any grease pencil marks on top. Otherwise they get cooked on and are difficult to remove. Also, we really need the jars to stay in circulation. Bring them back every week. If you need jars for other uses, we are selling them by the case at a very good price. See Amy at distro. Finally, as veteran members know, milk must be kept cold and clean. We recommend bringing coolers and ice to the farm to keep your milk chilled on the way home. If your milk is going sour too quickly, check your fridge temperature – between 35 and 38 degrees is ideal. Note that the door shelf is the warmest part of the fridge, so don’t store your milk there. Milk can be frozen for longer storage.  And that is the news from Essex Farm for this mad-transplanting 21st week of 2013.  – Kristin & Mark Kimball

Aliens

Essex Farm Note

Week 20, 2013

A quick note today, as the girls and I are off to central New York to pick up a load of seed potatoes – a job that offers a nice excuse to spend the weekend with my parents. Here, asparagus harvest is in full swing. What a strange plant. It is like a priapic alien, prodding its way out of the cold ground before the earthling plants are awake. The stalks we eat are the plants’ first shoots. After a few weeks we stop harvesting and let the plants grow up into their adult selves, which are just as strange but very different from the shoots: enormous frondy things that grow and grow until you think they can’t get any bigger. They bear little poisonous red berries, but their main job is to gather energy underground for next spring. In the kitchen, I love asparagus simply steamed or sautéed in butter. If we have an abundance I like to puree it with olive oil, garlic and herbs and use it as a topping for crostini. I’m also a sucker for asparagus soup, an easy luxury. My simple method is to sauté an onion in butter, add asparagus, salt and pepper, and chicken stock. Simmer until the asparagus is very tender, then hit it with an immersion blender until it is smooth. To finish, stir in cream or yogurt (or the creamy top of a yogurt, mmmm). That plus good bread and voila, you’ve got a meal.

The cows are binging on the lush spring grass. The quality of the milk is at its annual peak. Quantity is up too, by about 30% since they went outside. The biggest gainer is a nervous little cow called Juniper, daughter of June, granddaughter of our original Delia. This winter I would have voted to cull Juniper – she was a poor producer, didn’t hold her condition well, and got horned by other cows. Now I see that all those things were a consequence of her shy nature; when the cows were housed in the covered barnyard eating hay and haylage, she wasn’t assertive enough push her way past other cows to get her belly full of feed. Not that it’s crowded. She’s just very timid. On grass, she has as much chance as the rest of them. One afternoon this week I took Miranda with me to move the herd to fresh pasture. Then we sat and watched Juniper eat, filling her mouth again and again with mouthfuls of succulent clover. I could almost feel the pleasure rising from her. You are welcome to watch the herd graze too, members, but do not go inside their pasture. There is a bull in the herd, and he is the most dangerous animal on the farm.

What else? We decided to put the potatoes to rest today. They are getting soft and sprouty, and those that remain are, well, small potatoes, and not worth the peeling. We will miss them until new potatoes come in July. The Grange is hosting a community supper and a “Get to know the Grange” presentation this coming Tuesday at 6pm. Among other things you will hear about the new community canning center (!), opening soon. Details at www.thegrangehall.org. Brandy (the big Belgian) and Abby Belle (the little white pony) came home this week. They have been at Reber Rock, being trained by Chad and Nathan. Can’t say enough good things about the work they did. Brandy is field-ready. Abby Belle pulls a cart now. The fat pony can move, too. We made it to town yesterday in eight minutes flat. Welcome home, Luke Barns! He has returned from his travels, hooray. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this last frost? 20th week of 2013.   –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Lunch Break. Four horses and Cory. Believe it or not Cory is a normal sized person.