News, news

Essex Farm Note

Week 37, 2013

This was the first full week of Jane’s first year at public school. She was fine getting on the bus, she had a ball in class, and she loved meeting new friends. She had one concern: lunch. Why did she have to have all the usual home-grown stuff in her lunchbox while her classmates brought those bright and coveted “things from the store” that she hasn’t learned the names of yet? Ah! Because the food in your lunchbox is the center of our family’s culture, I thought. It governs the rhythm of our day and of our year. It is our sustenance, our living, our lifestyle. And because that pork belly and sauerkraut sandwich I made for you totally rocked. Then I tried to get all of that into language she would understand. “Our food,” I said, “is what we do. It is one of the things that makes our family special.” She took that in gravely, and I haven’t heard mention of store-bought things since.

We got a little shout out from the Washington Post this week, in a story on whole-diet CSAs in the DC area. The reporter called us because the farmers she interviewed had mentioned Essex Farm as an inspiration. That feels nice but the exciting part is the fact that there are enough whole-diet CSAs in the greater DC area (three!) to merit a story. We were aware of two of them but three makes it a movement. We mark ten years on this farm on November 1st. I can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring as this concept spreads across the country.

One of our members came to pick up some oats this week only to find a vast amount of salt from the salt bin mixed with the oats in the oats bin. I strongly suspect that someone under the age of ten could not resist the sand-table-like temptation to play with it.

So much news to report, so little time. The baler broke last Friday, as Mark was working on the 19 round bales of precious second cut we had down. Dave Lincoln came over and baled up the rest of it for us. Now we’re waiting for parts and some dry weather so we can keep going. We got the buckwheat spread with compost, and disked down for winter wheat; just as the wheat planting started it began to rain. When the sun dries the fields we’ll try again. Jenny led a crew of late-season weeders through the vegetables, grabbing everything that was close to seed. Cory, Matt and Scott focused on slaughtering pigs. They are a perfect size now, and we’d rather have them in the freezer than eating our dear, dear grain. The beef herd is calving nicely, 11 on the ground so far. The flies have relented in this cooler weather, which means we don’t have to worry quite so much about fly strike. The tomatoes are still producing but it is no longer the red tsunami it has been the last couple weeks. I managed to can (yes, actually can) a case of sauce this week, and put two cases of salsa in the freezer. Hoping to get the year’s worth of cilantro processed this week. I experimented with roasting ears of field corn, but they are a week or two too mature to be enjoyable. I also experimented with boiling the green soybeans for edamame. We missed out on planting our usual variety, Beer Friend, because the seed was backordered this spring. I was hoping the generic field soybeans would be an acceptable substitute, but it turns out variety really does matter. The beans are small and the lining of the pod is tough and it’s impossible to squeeze out the bean without getting a mouthful of pod lining. Huge thanks to Zac Martin who has volunteered this month and will be heading back to Austin soon. Happy birthday to Aubry and to our now three year old (!) Miranda. We will toast both of them tonight at team dinner. We will also toast Jenny and Liam, but perhaps with a tear or two. Today is their last day. We are so grateful for what they brought to this farm. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this farewell! 37th week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Farmers-only tour this Saturday

We are excited to welcome farmers for our annual farmers-only tour at 10am this Saturday. See the events page for all the details. Farmers who are staying over Friday night in order to be here Saturday morning are welcome to pitch a tent on the farm.

The Tomato Jam

Essex Farm Note

Week 36, 2013

 

The topic is abundance again, but today we’ll cover food instead of flies. It is canning season. I feel an urgency in my bones this time of year, a rush and hustle, inherited from our hunger-driven ancestors.  We nearly had a frost last night, my bones say, and the larder is not yet full. Get to it. I know this urge well now and I also know that acting on it can cause some stress. Nobody wants to be up until midnight on a weeknight, trying to finish canning the hundred pounds of tomatoes they hauled home. This only causes tears. I know. And I also know I’m not alone. On Friday afternoons I have been hearing snippets of conversation among members who are delighted but also overwhelmed by the volume of the goodness coming out of the fields this time of year. Those of you who are new to the share don’t want to miss out on anything, and those of you who have been through a few seasons are rushing to get the good stuff put up. I thought I’d share my own system of triage, which I use to prevent harvest season breakdowns. Take what you like from me, and share your own tricks with others, especially the newer members who are going through their first season.

 

1. The freezer is my best friend. I find actual canning time-consuming, messy, and a little nerve wracking on the food safety front. Plus I’m all about efficiency of scale, and always disappointed by how little one can do in one batch on the stove. So most of the produce I put up goes into the chest freezer in our basement. If it is well stacked, the freezer can hold an amazing amount of food, and if the vegetables are already chopped and blanched, you are on your way to a fast and easy meal in winter or early spring. That said, if you have canning questions, our own Barbara Kunzi is a wonderful resource. She’s a certified master canner.

 

2. With one or two annual marathon exceptions, I use the same rule at harvest season I use for cleaning closets: don’t take on more than you can finish in one hour. The last thing you want to do is exhaust yourself. And if you don’t have an hour, don’t fret. There is nothing wrong with simply eating seasonally from the farm. There have been years when I’ve put up exactly nothing, and we still get to spring without going hungry or getting bored in the kitchen.

 

3. Prioritize the items you know you will use and your family will love. For us that would be: tomatoes, raspberries, herbs (especially cilantro, frozen with oil in cubes), salsa, jam. I’d have sweet corn on this list too, if the crows hadn’t gotten it this year.

 

4. Tomatoes are my first priority, because I use a lot of them, and I’d rather avoid the BPA-lined cans from the store. I use three different methods for putting up. The first is called lazy mama style. It is lightning fast. Simply core and halve the tomatoes. Put them on the stove in a big pot with a little water or tomato juice in the bottom so they don’t burn. Cook only until the tomatoes begin to break down. Then use a good immersion blender turned up to 10 and zap the heck out of the whole pot. This cuts the tomato skins into tiny bits that you (almost) won’t notice when you cook. Ladle into wide-mouthed pints and freeze. I did fifty-six pints last weekend in about forty minutes, including clean-up. The disadvantage to this method, of course, is that you are freezing a lot of water – it takes up freezer space, and uses a lot of jars. But you can reuse the jars indefinitely (BUY YOUR OWN JARS! DO NOT USE THE DAIRY JARS!!) and I find it pretty space-efficient to stack them in their boxes in the freezer. I have more freezer space than I have time, in any case. And this method yields a very fresh-tasting product. Use as-is in cooked dishes that call for fresh tomatoes, or cook them down further when you use them to make sauce.

 

Our neighbor Ron uses a modified version of lazy mama style. He does what I do but lets them go a bit longer on the stove, just until the solids begin to separate from the very watery liquid. Then he presses down on the solids with a strainer and takes out most of the very watery liquid, maybe a quarter of the entire volume. Then blend and freeze.

 

My second method for tomatoes is kind of the opposite of the first in that there is very little water being stored, but it’s a bit more time- and energy-intensive up front. This is for the little plum Juliette tomatoes we have in the share. Halve them, put them on a baking sheet cut side up, drizzle with a little olive oil, and cook them in a low oven until they are shriveled and partly dried. (You could do this in a dehydrator, too, but I tend to want bigger volumes than is practical in the dehydrator.) Then freeze them in zip-lock bags. These are so sweet our children eat them like popsicles. I keep them handy in the kitchen freezer and use them in dishes that want a more concentrated tomato flavor or a pop of color.

 

My third method, new this year, is cherry tomato jam. I don’t do a lot of  it because we don’t need a bunch of sugar in the house, but the tomatoes are so easy to harvest and the jam is fast and simple to make. For every pound of sungolds, I use a cup of sugar, half brown and half white. (I might try less sugar next time.) Cook until the jam gels on a cool plate, and refrigerate or freeze in jars. A quick internet search will yield a dozen interesting variations on this idea, using ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, lemons, or savory items for cherry tomato chutney. Note: both Juliette and sungolds tomatoes are now pick your own, with no limits on how many you can take.

 

Outside of the kitchen, the whole crew is hard at it, making second cut hay, getting the last weeds from the ground, harvesting, harvesting, harvesting. If the urge to put up food were not sign enough, the farm is telling us it’s fall. First leaves are turning. This year’s pullets are starting to lay. The dew is heavy and the mornings cold. The pony is getting her winter fur, and it’s time to put the ram in with the ewes. Another season is beginning to set. Send warm thoughts to hold off frost as the corn ripens, please. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this back-to-school 36th week of 2013. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

 

-Kristin and Mark Kimball

Diptera

Essex Farm Note

Week 35, 2013

It is the season of abundance. We could talk about the tomatoes, we could talk about the raspberries, but we’re going to talk about the flies. We are thick with them, as we are this time every year. We have house flies, swarming around the office and around the door to our house, causing me to yell, reflexively, “Close the door, please!” every time a child comes or goes. We have the cruel green-headed flies, that irritate the horses. We have stable flies and face flies and the curious little horn flies that colonize the cows’ backs in flocks and always perch facing in the same direction. All abundant. So it was the perfect week to host a Cooperative Extension lecture focused on fly control. Ken Wise of NYS Integrated Pest Management led a walk through the pastures. He explained that the green-headed biting flies – including horse flies and deer flies – will buzz a pasture, looking for a dark anomalous shape. Then they will fly low around the anomaly, pull up to bite, and fly back out. Pesticides are not very effective on them, because they don’t spend much time on the host, and because they, like most types of flies, have developed strong resistance to the chemicals in the conventional arsenal. Traps that exploit fly vulnerabilities are more effective. The green-headed fly trap Ken showed the group was a dark anomalous shape that caught the flies in a tray of soapy water. The stable fly traps use that fly’s favorite color – blue – to attract and entrap them. On large farms, face flies and horn flies are vacuumed from the animals as they come in to milk. Ken emphasized that flies breed in damp organic material like old round bales, cool compost, and fresh manure. But they are very mobile animals, so local control of breeding areas does not necessarily mean we’d see our fly populations plunge.

Mark and Amy and I were busy this week working on numbers. It’s a tight, tight year, friends, thanks mostly to those weeks of rain that are being pushed from memory by the current glorious weather — for everyone, that is but us. There is no way to make up for corn that was not planted except with cold hard cash. Please make sure your payments come in on time and if you can pay early, we would surely appreciate it.

The second cut hay is about ready to bale. It is not a heavy stand but it has good feed value right now. We are readying the equipment, and trying to decide if we should make dry hay or wrap it for haylage. I’m voting for haylage, though it’s more expensive to make, because it would better preserve the precious leafy clover, which is high in protein, and will keep the cows in good milk. Speaking of milk, it is time to stop milking some of our herd, so they can get ready to have their calves. That means milk will be limited from now until freshening, which begins later in the fall.

It’s raspberry picking time. Members may come and pick any time now but please be mindful of taking too much. The patch is producing about 20 quarts a week right now, and we have 80 families. Finally, a huge thank you to Malcolm Drenttel for his excellent work this month. He’s returning to Connecticut tomorrow for his senior year of high school. Best of luck to you, Malcolm. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this high harvest 35th week of 2013.  -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Nature Will Find a Way

Essex Farm Note

Week 34, 2013

A storm rolled through yesterday afternoon and dropped just enough rain to water in the transplants: fall lettuce and the overwintering scallions. The weather for the second half of the summer has been docile, as though it’s obeying our wishes, after all those weeks of cursed rain. Now the thing to wish for is a long, warm Indian summer and a very late frost, to let the corn kernels fatten, the soybean pods fill, and the root crops come to full maturity.

Even if they are a bit behind, the fields are as beautiful as they’ve ever been.

The whole team harvested tomatoes this week until their hands and forearms were black with resin, and there is much more to come. The plants seem to be outpacing the early blight that climbs slowly up the vines each year. Fall arugula is coming on. I can’t wait for that peppery green treat. We have some cantaloupe melons coming in, though I haven’t yet had one that was truly sweet. Jenny and Matt led a much-needed assault against weeds this week. The big weeds got pulled by hand, and hauled to the compost pile. Two teams of horses – Jake and Abby, and the old warriors, Jay and Jack – were hitched to the cultivators, to take care of the smaller weeds. We also used the one-horse cultivator again, to get the weeds between the wide-set hills of potatoes. Speaking of potatoes, we dug up a few Kennebecs on Wednesday to see how they are doing. You will remember that last year we planted a lot of acreage to potatoes but the field was low in fertility and the weeds got ahead of us, which left us with lots and lots of very small potatoes. As a farmer and as a cook, I hate small potatoes – too much work on both ends. This year, we planted much less land to potatoes but put them in drained ground, and invested them with a lot of compost plus bought-in organic fertilizer, and kept the weeds well under control. I think you will all be pleased with the results, members. The sample potatoes were big as my two fists put together.

We have baby news. Matt found two surprise litters of piglets in the field last Saturday morning, born without a hitch, on pasture, where their mamas had made neat little nests. Those sows were not supposed to have been bred, but we can trace this event to a day roughly four months ago when the boar broke through the fence and spent a brief but apparently productive few hours with his ladyfriends. On the other side of the farm, we’re keeping an eye on the beef herd, where the cows are due to start calving any minute. And Dr. Goldwasser was here to check the dairy herd for pregnancy. Out of twenty cows and heifers, only three were not bred: Alma, Juniper, and Stevie. Alma had a diagnosable problem, a persistent corpus luteum that has since corrected itself. Stevie is a young first-calf cow who will probably get another chance with the bull this winter. Juniper is a small and timid cow who is a big producer on grass, but has a hard time keeping up her condition and production during the winter, when she tends to get pushed away from the feed. If we could get her bred she might be a good candidate for nurse cow to feed two or three calves, and she’d be happier housed away from the rest of the herd. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this Happy 6th Birthday Jane! 34th week of 2013. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                                                                                                                 -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Big Harvests

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2013

We are at the center of the bounty right now. My sister Kelly is visiting from New York City and this morning she and I loaded Miranda and Jane on the pony and walked out to Monument field to do some weeding. The sun was high and the shadows were sharp and Kelly made me see the fields like a newcomer does. It’s incredible, what the ground gives us, and I hope I never get so used to it as to be blind to it. We walked past the pond, where the blue heron has established her summer camp, fishing for frogs and minnows. Then Mailbox Field, where the cherry tomatoes and zucchini and green beans and field corn are up on their soapboxes, declaiming the peak of the season. Then Pine Field, full of greens, corn, carrots, the now-mature onions, rows of fodder beets, and the flowers in full bloom. We tied the pony in the linden row — the grassy, shady lane between fields that always makes me feel like I’m on a very fancy estate. We really meant to weed, but instead we played hide and seek in the corn and greeted a parade of visitors and grazed the fat, ripe raspberries until before we knew it, it was time to come in to make lunch. Luckily for you, members, while we played, the rest of the team was hard at it, harvesting for today’s distribution, pulling weeds, and preparing the ground for next year. Travis and Matt disked up the better half of the clover field in Superjoy, to be used for field crops. The other, heavier half will be reseeded to a good pasture mix, to replace the red clover, which gave us nothing but trouble this year. It caused bloat in the dairy herd, and then during the rainy weeks, a fungus took hold, producing a toxin called slaframine that causes the livestock to drool uncontrollably. Goodbye and good riddance to you, red clover.

We’ve begun the season of Big Harvests now. Garlic a few weeks ago, and now, as I type, the onions. This is an important crop for us, as everyone would like onions in the kitchen all year round. They looked fine, but we might have doubled our yield with the application of more compost or organic fertilizer. Now we have to turn our attention to the weeds in those rows. The next big harvest will probably be potatoes, with the reds coming in a week or two.

In other vegetable news, the green beans have faltered. The tomatoes are promising. The cucumbers could go either way. We have plenty of kale available, red Russian or lacinato. You can have a bushel for freezing anytime, members. We have fresh chickens in the share, and pork too. We do not have beef right now, and since we’ve pared our herd to brood cows over the last year, we will not have much of it until we can buy some in from local grass-fed producers.

The next few weeks will be focused on making second cut hay, if the weather cooperates. Essex Field will come in first. It was grazed this summer, not hayed, so there will be some old forage mixed in with the good new stuff, but on a year like this, we take what we can get, and are thankful. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this glorious 33rd week of 2013.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Little Pigs

Essex Farm Note

Week 32, 2013

I’m on my way back from giving a talk in Michigan, so today’s news comes via Mark. The weather seems to be trying to make up for its poor behavior earlier in the season. We got a very well-timed eight-tenths of an inch of rain last night, which watered in the oat/pea mix that was just planted in Chad Field. It will help move the grass along toward some nice second cut hay, and it gladdens the buckwheat strips in Fifty Acre Field. If you have never seen buckwheat, members, it might be worth the long walk to see it. It’s a vigorous grower, and good for weed control because it tends to outcompete all the other plants. The bees love it when it flowers, and it gives a dark color and distinctive, molasses-like flavor to their honey.

Speaking of the bees, they need all the help they can get this summer. Sam Comfort of Anarchy Apiaries came to check our hives a couple weeks ago. He usually gives us glowing reports on the health of the Essex Farm bees, but this time, there was something really wrong. He saw a lot of dead bees, and some live but twitching ones. A bit of investigation revealed that we’d inadvertently poisoned them by using wasp spray on a nest of yellow jackets in the machine shop. The hives are not particularly close to the machine shop, but as Sam says, that poison is strong stuff. Lesson learned, and all but one hive should recover.

Mark says the corn is 8 feet tall and tasseled now. I can’t wait to see it. The girls love to explore the corn canyons this time of year, running along the rows with the green plants towering above them. They find all kinds of life in there, from giant black and yellow garden spiders to huitlacoche, a crazy-looking corn fungus that we love to eat sautéed in butter with a little bit of onion, cilantro and a squirt of lime.

The whole crew raced the rain to bring in straw from the harvested rye and wheat fields. Travis had to fix a fairly constant stream of broken machinery to make it happen. Things only break when you’re using them, of course, and so, naturally, that’s when you most need them. Thank you, Travis, for your skill and patience. Two more volunteers joined the crew while I was gone. Annelies was with us last summer, and is here for a sort of working reunion after spending most of this summer in India. Michael Hanchett is a newcomer who arrived on Monday and gave us a week of hard work. The two of them joined forces with Malcolm to bust out two major projects: bringing in all of the summer carrots, and hauling the weeds out of the corn in Monument field. Meanwhile, Liam used Jake and the one-horse cultivator to get the weeds between the rows of potatoes.

In the share today, we have the first two pigs from the litters born in February. They were fed on grain, pasture, and skim milk, and these two finished at 290 pounds, which is really good. I’ll take this occasion to remind members that meat is the most precious thing we produce. Please savor it and use it sparingly, especially now, as grain is scarce and expensive. Finally, a loving farewell to Luke Barns, whose last day is today. He’s off to the University of Vermont to start his first year. We will miss his dogged work ethic but even more, his good company. Good luck to you Luke! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this watered 32nd week of 2013.                                                 -Kristin & Mark Kimball