Last Leaves Falling

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Essex Farm Note

Week 44, 2014

As the late leaves were falling and the harvest was coming in this week, Mark and I spent many hours discussing the state of the farm at the end of our eleventh season. One thing we wholeheartedly agree on is the quality of our food. We get to eat delicious, abundant, nutritious, clean, natural, whole food, produced with an eye to reducing our impact on the environment, and without synthetic anything. I heard someone say recently that the reason he spends so much care and money on food is that it is the only thing we buy that we actually put into our bodies. Indeed, we are made of it. Sometimes we sit around the dinner table trying to imagine a family who eats better than ours – and by ours I mean all of our members, our extended farm family. We can’t do it. I made a chicken pot pie this week, and pulled pork, squash, polenta, all kinds of potatoes, two gallons of chicken stock, caramelized Brussels sprouts, glazed carrots, bread, a miso dressing for shredded root salad, and all of it came from this land, including the miso, which I made last winter from our own soy beans. The food, I can safely say, is working. The difficult part, as always, is keeping the whole complex machine running without going broke or burning out. Mark is darn close to the latter this fall, after a year of pushing four new enterprises into being while also trying to keep the farm running smoothly. So is our farm crew, having contributed too many hard hours to the cause lately. The good news is that the heavy work of harvest is mostly over, and earlier than usual this year, thanks to two weeks of help from Gilberto and his friends. We still need to get garlic planted, and finish harvesting the carrots, but squash is cleaned and in storage, and so are potatoes. I’m sending a group shout-out here to Mark and our full time crew, plus El Equipo Guatemala, and to our friends who answered the call for part time fall help: Doug, Brent, Peter, Sabrina, Gale and Ed. Thank you for your work.

Mary made great progress in her training this week. The lesson we are working on (still) is that the fastest way to move stock is… slowly. That’s a well worn koan but awfully true. As she gains confidence and maturity, she has stopped barking and moves the herd along at a nice easy walk — at least until she forgets. Barbara said today that she is starting to look awfully grown up. I agree.

We are celebrating the return of scrapple to the share this week. It is a thick porridge made of pork, broth, whole grains and spices that solidifies into a sliceable loaf. Fried to a nice crisp, it is hearty, tasty, and possibly the most perfect breakfast food ever invented. It’s a good sandwich filling, but I like it best with maple syrup and a fried egg. And that is the news for this Halloween! 44th week of 2014.   -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

 

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Mary moving the dairy herd back to pasture.

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Potato sorting. Small potatoes get culled. So do over-large ones, mushy ones, and damaged ones.

 

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IMG_9973 Sorting, and sorted.

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That is one big squash.

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Harvest home.

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Porcine jack-o-lantern.

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Mutual curiosity.

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The last fall grass. Solar panels are in their fall position now.

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Autumn light.

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Essex Farm Note

 Week 43, 2014

I’m back to the farm and the family, at last. It was a good and productive month away. I finished the proposal for my next book, and now have a deal with the same publisher (Scribner) and the same wonderful editors who worked with me on The Dirty Life. After that business was wrapped up I still had three uninterrupted weeks to work on the manuscript, which was a huge gift. This next book doesn’t have a title yet, but it is a sequel to The Dirty Life – about farming, food and family. I’m so grateful to Mark and to everyone in the community who pitched in to keep things running here at home.

Landing on the farm after time away is always a jarring experience, but this time even more so, since I was going from the quiet, contemplative writers’ colony to the non-stop action of this place at harvest season. The whole crew has been stretched pretty thin. We have not yet hired a new dairy manager to replace Kelsey, Luke injured his back, and Mark was busier than usual with the children and household duties. We have some extra muscle on the farm this week for harvest, which makes our tired farmers very happy. Thanks to Gilberto and his friends for being here. So far we have about 6 tons of cabbage cleaned and in the cooler, plus 4 tons of beets, the radishes and turnips. Onions and garlic have been cleaned and stored. Squash and potatoes still need to be cleaned, sorted and stored. We hope to get to that next week.

We had three new heifers born in the dairy herd while I was away. Aubrey had naming rights for all of them, but she ceded two to Miranda, so we now have a pair of calves named Frozen and Fantastic. The third heifer is Betty’s daughter, who is named Barbara, after our own Barbara Kunzi. Barbara had a slow start. She was a very large and vigorous calf when she was born but her sucking reflex was poor, and Shona had to feed her by tube for the first few feedings. She seems to be doing better now.

The sheep were trucked to the field on Middle Road on Tuesday – the leased hundred acres where we usually make our hay. The fall grass looked so good up there, we were temped to try to make a third cutting, but given how late the season is, and what a logistical headache it would have been in the midst of harvest, we decided to graze it instead. The flock seems happy about that. I’m glad they have moved off of Fireman Field, because on Monday morning, driving Jane to school, I saw a large coyote eyeballing them there, before darting across the road in front of my car. We have not yet had any predation in the flock (thanks, I think, to hot electric nets, and frequent moves that keep the coyotes from forming a strategy) and I would like to keep it that way. The lambs born in February are about as big as their mothers now.

It has been a rainy week, but we did not get the 2 inches of rain that was predicted. Whew. We did get a frost, which means we are finally and truly at the end of eggplant and peppers. What a run we had this year. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this raw 43rd week of 2014.      -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Harvest Home

Week 40, 2014

I’m home on a 24 hour visit, halfway through my writing residency at the Blue Mountain Center. The residency is heavenly but I have missed family and farm. I watched the leaves turning and falling around Blue Mountain Lake and knew that harvest must be in full swing. And so it has been. Mark, Scott and Luke tested out a new potato digger this week. Mark borrowed it from Golden Russet Farm across the lake in Vermont. It is larger than our old one, and bounces the dirt off of the potatoes with a different sort of tine, and also has a swiper on it that combs the weeds off to the side of the windrow, which makes it easier to pick up the potatoes. It took four strong horses to pull it, and it was still good heavy work for all of them. Now the potatoes – thirteen tons! – are in, waiting to be sorted and cleaned for storage, and the digger has gone over to Reber Rock Farm so that they can get their harvest in.

The frost that touched us the night before I left two weeks ago was as light as a frost can be, and patchy, and we’ve had no more since then. Some of the eggplant leaves were burned by it, and some of the leaves of the spent sweet corn, but the grasses are still green in the pastures, the flowers are still bright, and best of all, the raspberries are still fat and sweet. Come pick all you want, members, anytime.

Mark says the hens went on egg strike while I was gone. Production plummeted. A drop in production is normal in the fall, as the days get shorter and the weather gets colder, but this was a bigger drop than usual. Mike increased the protein in their ration, and Matt and Mark put lights in the coops, and production has bounced back to a reasonable level.

We have a large haul of broccoli in the share today, and the first fresh heads of cabbage. Some years we use organic sprays against cabbage loopers, but we did not do it this year, so you will find some innocuous green squirmy friends in both of those vegetables. You can soak them off in salty water before cooking, or you can just think of them as a touch of added protein. We really are in cruciferous plenty right now. Besides the broccoli and cabbage we have turnips, kohlrabi, and broccoli raab. I love thinking about how those crops have all evolved from the same family, selected for fat roots (turnip), or stems (kohlrabi) or leaves (cabbage) or flower (broccoli). In the kitchen, I like them best simply steamed, and served with butter.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this glowing 40th week of 2014, in which Mark and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. How can that be?

–Kristin & Mark Kimball