Fat

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Essex Farm Note

Week 35, 2014

This is a fat time of the year. The hens, in a new pasture today, are hunting through tall and fragrant clover for the crickets and grasshoppers that pop up in a cloud whenever you take a step these days. The hens are uncharacteristically still, half buried in grass, until they dart their beaks forward and spear a fat insect. Then they do it all over again. In their focused contentment they remind me of fishermen in an absurdly well-stocked pond. And that grass! Graziers talk about the summer slump – the lean time in July or August when the early season grasses are gone, but the fall grasses have not yet kicked in. The slump was not too severe this year, thanks to the well-timed rains, but what slump there was is certainly over now. All the animals are on beautiful grass and clover, and eating with dedicated purpose, because they can feel the winter coming too.

IMG_9586 IMG_9596            We are making more second cut hay this week. Fifty large round bales came in yesterday, and another fifty should come in today. We are lucky to get it. Mark took Jane camping for three days during this window of good weather, and as usual, the farm knew he was gone, and turned on us. The baler broke while all the hay was down, and Corey, who is so good in the shop, was called away from the farm unexpectedly. Scott and I spent a tense day moving from plan A to plan B to plan C, and still didn’t get the hay made until Mark was back and the farm was satisfied that we’d suffered enough.

Cheers to Matt Daly, who searched the whole region for a beef bull this week, and finally succeeded. I think it took fifty phone calls. Bulls are in tight supply this year. Beef prices are high, maybe due to the drought in the southwest, which caused many ranchers to reduce their herds last year. Whatever the cause, it was a frustration, and we were in a hurry, as we are trying to move our calving time back toward spring, so we can calve on good grass and not have to fight the blowflies that were such a scourge during calving this summer.

The vegetable fields are crazy with food right now. I can’t write about it without sounding hyperbolic, so just go look for yourselves. We have some cantaloupe melons in the share today, and glossy eggplants, and the finest sweet peppers I’ve ever seen. The raspberries are booming now, and will be until frost. Thanks to Carl, Caryn, Chris and Nicole, who were here from Rhode Island this week as Essex Farm Institute visitors. They all worked hard, and we enjoyed getting to know them; I think their children (five of them between the two families) get the prize for best behaved, most charming set of farmers under the age of seven, ever.

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This is Kelsie Meehan’s last week. Kelsie has been our main dairy farmer, managing everything from cow care to the milkhouse – a full time job and then some. She has given it her whole heart, as well as most of her waking hours, and has improved so many of our systems. I can’t quite believe she is leaving yet, because I don’t want to, but I am happy to report she’s off on a great adventure to New Zealand, to see how farming works on that green and grassy island. We send her with lots of love and gratitude for what she has accomplished here. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fat 35th week of 2014.   –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Lunches

 

Essex Farm Note

Week 34, 2014

School starts in two weeks, and it’s time to impose some order on the household. The girls are subject to earlier and more consistent bedtimes now, and we’re picking up the routines that keep chaos to a manageable level. In the kitchen, I’ve been thinking about what works for us during the school year. I can handle a dinner party for twenty without much anxiety, but packing two lunches before school often fills me with dread. As our members know, feeding the family with whole farm food means you don’t do the traditional American lunchbox stuff – no packages of chips, no PB&J, no bologna. If you haven’t thought ahead, you are doomed. When the bus is honking at the end of the driveway you will find no joy in raw dried beans or a half-frozen package of beef cheeks. Here are a few of my strategies for making whole farm food portable and appetizing.

1. It’s all about the packaging. When Jane started kindergarten I bought her a stainless steel Japanese style lunchbox – cool-looking, but limiting, and it leaked. This year I invested in a larger style of lunchbox that is insulated, plus lots of small liquid-proof containers, so I can send a variety of things like stew, dip, and yogurt.

2. Permaculture people have this concept called stacking, which means getting multiple functions out of every element of a design. That’s my goal in the kitchen. If I am boiling potatoes for dinner, for example, I always quadruple what I need so that I will have potatoes in the refrigerator for the week; they will be repurposed for lunch as home fries, fritters, or potato pancakes.

3. Farm staples. I keep homemade bread on hand, either fresh or in the freezer, plus something spreadable, like a bean hummus, egg salad, or pâté, because sandwiches are the easiest thing to pack. I also make large batches of farm granola (oats mixed with maple syrup, melted lard, and salt, toasted in a slow oven, plus raisins, nuts, or shredded coconut if I have it) so I can fall back on yogurt, maple syrup and granola. My third lunch staple is dip. My kids are pretty vegetable friendly but even they eschew plain old carrot sticks after a while. Add a yogurt or sour cream-based dip, though, and they will eat any raw veg I put in there.

4. Frozen meals. Every time I make a stew or a hearty soup, I make extra, and freeze it in pint or half pint jars, ready to be defrosted and packed on demand.

If you have farm-food lunchbox strategies, email them to me and I will share them.

Now the short news. We are spraying vegetable oil on the dairy cow pastures this week, to prevent bloat on the rich clover they are eating. So far, so good. We got 27 round bales of straw made, from the wheat we grew. Straw for bedding will be almost as valuable as feed to us in the winter. It rained more than we would like this week. We expected a tenth of an inch and we got an inch. Now the ground is too wet to cut hay. We are hoping for another good dry window before the second cut becomes much more mature. Fall crops are delighted with the rain, though, and are thriving. Summer crops will still be coming in for some time. The second planting of sweet corn is ripe now, and tomatoes are booming. Farewell to Isabelle Cochran, as she returns to Smith for her senior year! Her intelligence, tenacity, and curiosity made her a credit to the Institute. We are so lucky to have shared the summer with her. And that is the news for this wetter-than-we-though-it would-be 34th week of 2014.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Busy

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Three cheers for second cut hay

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2014

 

August is a transition month, when the focus shifts from growing to harvest. We worry less about weeds now – the frost will take care of them before they go to seed – and more about getting crops in ahead of the inevitable blights and funguses that take hold as the days get shorter and the nights grow cool. We had a window of warm clear weather this week, with a heavy rain and a stretch of cool wet days predicted at the end of it. The whole crew worked long hours to bring in onions, wheat, and the precious second cut of hay.

Second cut hay – taken from the fields that have already been cut once – is the good stuff, with more leaf and less stem, more protein. It carries our grass-fed dairy cows through the winter. There is an inverse relationship between quality and quantity, and we have to strike a balance when deciding when to cut. Do we want more hay or better hay? In our climate, we usually don’t get to choose. We make hay while the sun is shining or not at all. With a four day window, we made sixty acres of the hundred acre field on Middle Road, which is about two miles from the home farm. We put two tractors and six horses to it – the tractors for mowing and baling, the horses for tedding and raking. It would have taken too long to walk the horses to and from the field at the beginning and end of the day, so we set up a temporary pasture at Dillon and Kelly’s house, across from the hay field. I think the horses liked camping out. It was good to see diesel working in conjunction with draft horse power – and three beginning teamsters doing important work. It was, as always, a nail biter in the end, with all eyes on the weather radar. We made 116 round bales; the last few came in a little sooner and wetter than we would have liked, ideally, but nature rarely lets us get exactly what we want.

As the hay crew was racing through hay harvest, the vegetable crew was pulling in the year’s onion harvest. The onions were suffering, in some sections, from a blight that would make them more difficult to store. We wanted to get them in before the rain came and made it worse. It was a huge project for a small crew, and seemed almost impossible at mid-day. But in the afternoon we got a few pairs of fresh hands, and they were all safely in the loft of the east barn by dark.

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Meanwhile, the wheat in the field was at 17% moisture – too wet to harvest, technically, but with rain coming and the weeds growing up to meet the heads, we had to. Jeff Benway came over with his combine. When all but a quarter acre was harvested, the combine blew a hydraulic line. It was another nail biter, but they got it fixed and all three tons of wheat in the grain bin a day before the rain, which gave us enough time, with the blower on, to lower the moisture from 17% to a safe 10%. Whew. Everyone worked so hard, but it wouldn’t have come together without Corey Lincoln, who practically lived in the machine shop. Things only break when you are using them – which is when you need them– and as things broke, Corey fixed them. Thanks, Corey. We’re so glad you’re here.

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And that is the news from Essex Farm for this busy 33rd week of 2014. Don’t forget the picnic today and the tour here tomorrow, plus the County Fair in Westport this weekend. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                             –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Every day ends with a walk around the farm, to make note of what needs to be done the next day. This week we celebrated the hay harvest. The garlic is hanging to dry in the foreground.

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Good night, barn.

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Good night, store.

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Good night, fields.

 

 

Surprise

IMG_9348Essex Farm Note

Week 32, 2014

Farming is many things, but it is never dull. This morning, Mike came in from animal chores to tell me that he’d found a newborn lamb in the flock. None of the ewes is supposed to even be pregnant, let alone ready to lamb. So I just squinted at him, thinking, thinking. I have seen my share of unplanned breedings on this farm, so I know that the force of life is like a light, and given the slightest crack, it will shine through. I have heard of animals getting bred through a fence, and I have watched an ambitious young bull use a hill to his advantage. But in this case, I really couldn’t imagine how it might have happened. We didn’t even have a ram in mid-March, when the breeding must have taken place, and as for this year’s ram lambs, even if we’d missed a testicle during castration, the oldest would only have been four weeks old. Immaculate conception? Then I looked at my calendar, and realized that the new mother was one of the ewe lambs I bought this past spring, and they arrived here the last day of March – apparently two weeks pregnant. So it wasn’t a miracle, just some clever boy sheep who figured out how to get to the young ladies, and it wasn’t my fault! With that settled, Jane and Miranda and I went out to see the new baby. She was on her feet, a bit bothered by flies, but strong and ready to nurse. Several of the other ewes from that group have big udders, so it looks like we’re going to learn a lot about summer lambing in the next week or two.

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Ah, summer. Sweet corn, tomatoes, green beans, and new potatoes. Who needs anything else? I don’t believe the vegetables have ever looked this good. Mark and I took our regular pre-harvest farm walk last night, after the kids were in bed. The winter squash plants have completely blanketed their 60” rows, and the jack-o-lantern pumpkins (new this year!) are already impressively sized. Get ready for canning, because the flow of tomatoes is about to become a juicy red tsunami. The sweet corn is filling out, and is sweet enough to enjoy raw in the field. Too bad we don’t have as much as we’d hoped, due to poor germination compounded by aggressive cultivation. A section of the onions has some kind of wilt, carried in by thrips. They aren’t likely to store well, so we’ll be harvesting them soon and using them up first.

We say goodbye to Isabelle Smith today. She’s returning to North Carolina for her senior year of high school. Some farmers are good and some farmers are fun but Isabelle is both and then some. We are so lucky to have had her here, and hope to have her back again next summer. Thank you for your good work and your good company, Isabelle.

We have two upcoming events to remind you about. Next Friday, August 15th, is another Picnic in the Field. Griddles will grill burgers, which will go on Jori’s homemade buns, accompanied by a variety of salads and side dishes. We’re shifting to more dinner-ish hours this time, serving from 5:00pm to 7:30pm. $6/plate members, $12/plate guests; it’s open to the public, so please spread the word and bring your friends. The next day, Saturday, August 16th, is our summer farm tour, at 10:00. All the details are on the events page. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this surprising 32nd week of 2014.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Young lettuce, plus some nice looking winterbore kale. I can wait for winter but I can’t wait for that winterbore.

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The onions have some serious issues, at least in this section. Thanks a lot, thrips.

 

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Fall raspberries look very promising.

Consider the Egg

IMG_9204Essex Farm Note

Week 31, 2014

Consider the egg. All magic, it is. Forged from grass, worms, insects and grain in the mysterious depths of the hen, it appears like a gem in the nest box each day, cased in a flawless shell that is at once fragile and strong. You have to put a hen-warm egg against your lips to fully appreciate its particular texture. And inside that perfect packaging lurks its slightly creepy embryonic truth. It is an animal nut, not life but the rich seed of life. It holds the instructions for feather and nail, beak and brain, scratch and cluck, lacking only a little more magic to make it so – the heat of maternal love.

In the kitchen, the egg is a nearly instant and entirely scalable protein that can serve one person or a pack of famished farmers. This time of year, I love eggs most at lunch or dinner, soft boiled on toast with a green salad, or poached on top of a mess of sautéed rainbow chard, or hard boiled in a curry. Then there is mayonnaise, which is the base of our family’s favorite buttermilk ranch dressing. If you don’t yet make your own mayonnaise, or if you’ve done it by hand in the past with a whisk, you might be surprised at how easy it is with an immersion blender.

Immersion Blender Mayonnaise

 Put an egg yolk in the bottom of a pint jar, being careful not to break it. Add a hefty pinch of salt, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and about ¾ of a cup of oil for a small egg yolk, a cup for a large egg yolk. (My local favorite is Reber Rock’s sunflower oil, but you can use any fairly neutral vegetable oil.) Put the immersion blender over the egg at the bottom of the jar and hit it for about fifteen seconds without lifting or moving the blender. When you see the mayonnaise forming in the bottom of the jar you can slowly lift the blender to incorporate the rest of the oil. You can also blend in garlic or herbs or mustard or whatever else you like in mayonnaise. Adjust salt and seasonings, and that’s all there is to it. 

Five-Mile Dressing

 That’s what I’m calling this kid-friendly version of Ranch, since, thanks to the farmers at Reber Rock, all the ingredients except the salt, pepper and vinegar come from the neighborhood.

Using the same pint jar with your freshly made mayonnaise in it, add buttermilk to roughly equal the volume of mayonnaise, plus a tablespoon or two of sour cream (more for thicker dressing or dip, less for a thinner version), a splash of maple syrup, a small clove of garlic, and a very generous handful of whatever fresh herbs you have in the kitchen. Basil is good, and so is cilantro, or a mix of several. Chives are always a good addition. Buzz it all together with the immersion blender and then adjust salt, pepper, and acid by adding a little more vinegar or a squeeze of lemon or lime if you have it. It keeps for a week or so in the fridge. You can use it on green salads, as a dip for crudités, or any other way you’d use Ranch dressing. 

Peeling hard boiled eggs used to be one of the small frustrations of my life. As our members know, fresh eggs are impossible to peel. The shell sticks to the egg and comes off, if at all, in microscopic chips that leave you with a bad temper and a mangled egg. I used to try to sequester a dozen or two in the back of the fridge to let them age for a couple of weeks, but they would inevitable get mixed up with the freshies, resulting in more frustration. All that is over now, and it can be for you too. The secret to easy-to-peel farm fresh eggs is to steam them, not boil them. Add refrigerator-cold eggs to a pot containing half an inch of rapidly boiling water. Cover the pot, and let them steam. For soft boiled eggs, steam them for 6 ½ minutes, then run cold water over them for 30 seconds. For hard boiled, steam them for 12 minutes, then cool them in cold water. Roll the hard boiled eggs over a hard surface to crack the shell all over, then peel with a spoon. This is all to say that the pullets are not pullets anymore, but hens. They have tripled their daily feed consumption and are laying like mad.

We are deep in summer bounty in the vegetable world, too. We are living on ripe tomatoes, lots of cucumbers, herbs, green beans, lettuce and zucchini, plus the sweetest sweet onions ever. The new red potatoes are just around the corner. Corn is still a week away, but this rain should hustle it along. Deer have been taking more than their fair share of the fall beets and next year’s strawberries, but otherwise, we don’t have much to complain about. We are still struggling with fly strike in the newborn beef calves. Matt, Shona, Corey, Isabel and Mike have spent a lot of hours with calves and maggots again this week. Thanks, gang! I wish there were a little more space between that last sentence and this next one, but so it goes. Our next picnic will be on August 15th, catered by Griddles. We will extend hours a little later this time, and serve until 7:30. It is open to the public, $6/plate for members, $12/plate for guests.  And that is the news from Essex Farm for this summery 31st week of 2014.      -Kristin & Mark Kimball

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Happiest pigs on the planet

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Well-weeded onions, thanks to a one-two punch of hand/hoe work plus the horse-drawn finger weeder.

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And well-weeded carrots, too.

Winter squash, just starting to set fruit

Winter squash, just starting to set fruit

Georgia O'Keeffe meets Essex Farm: Moonrise over the Compost Pile

Georgia O’Keeffe meets Essex Farm: Moonrise over the Compost Pile