Essex Farm Note

Week 48, 2014

One of the first-time mama sows farrowed on Monday, and things did not go well. When Matt went to check her he found she had killed the whole litter of seven. He wasn’t sure if she had squashed them by accident, or something darker, but in either case, he had to crawl into the farrowing hut to remove the carcasses, which she had buried under a layer of frozen dirt and straw. As he was pulling them out, one of them moved in his hand, just a little bit. Matt cleaned the dirt out of the tiny mouth and nose so it could breath. Then he tucked it under his arm, brought it up to the greenhouse, and put it under a heat lamp, before going back to his other chores. He didn’t have much hope, he told me, but maybe I and the kids would like to attempt some Thanksgiving week heroics.

When the girls got home from school we went to take a look. The piglet was not much bigger than my hand. He was on his side, not moving, and very cold. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not, but Jane touched his eyeball and found he still had a blinking reflex. There was life in there, but just the tiniest spark.

We brought him into the house and made a warm bed for him on a hot water bottle covered in a towel, set in front of the woodstove. I warned the girls not to get attached, since he was much nearer dead than alive. They took turns holding him in their laps, and Mary the dog licked the side of his face while I heated up some cow colostrum I had in the freezer. I didn’t have a tube small enough to fit down his throat so I filled a dosing syringe, held his head up, and dripped a few drops into his mouth, and then gave him back to the girls while I cooked dinner. Every few minutes we gave him another few drops. By the time dinner was ready, he could hold his head up. The girls named him Pancake, as in, flat as a. By bedtime, he was standing up, and eagerly swallowing the colostrum. At the midnight feeding he was strong enough to bite my thumb hard with his little needle teeth. He got 24 hours in the house, and then he went out to the greenhouse, where he is living in a warm, straw-filled nest among the broiler chicks. Mary has appointed herself pig nanny. She spent the first night lying next to his box in the house. Now she treats him like a puppy, cleaning him up after meals and gently trying to pick him up by the back of his neck when he strays too far from his nest.

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The cold snap last week froze both ponds into the most perfect skating rinks I’ve ever seen.





Then it melted, and snowed, so now we have a layer of mud under a few inches of snow. Tires and hooves really tear up the ground in conditions like these. Luckily, the beef herd is already in the covered barnyard. We hope to get the dairy cows under cover this week. The sheep are still grazing through the snow, but they are not heavy enough to damage the pasture. The garlic has two-inch roots now – hooray – and the insulating layer of snow will help protect it during the damaging freeze/thaw cycles of late fall. We are hoping for a few warm days before winter clamps down on us, so we can get some fence posts planted and hoses up before the ground freezes. And that is the news for this full-bellied 48th week of 2014.   -Kristin & Mark Kimball


Before the snow fell, we walked through the lush cover crop of oats, peas, and tillage radish.


Laying hens, on frozen ground.


The chard is finished for the year.


Still Life With Compost





Essex Farm Note

Week 47, 2014

I just got home from a combination vacation and research trip to Mexico, followed by a few days with Mark in New York City for the Essex Farm Institute. It is intensely refreshing to get away, gain perspective, then return to the farm. My fresh eyes see a million reasons to be grateful here on our chilly little slice of earth. Since today is our Thanksgiving distribution, I thought I would share some of them with you.


First, there is the food. I am so grateful for what we get to eat. We are surrounded by plentiful, seasonal, nutritious, clean, exceptionally delicious food, raised with a keen eye to the environmental, social and economic impact of its production. We are connected to the soil, the weather, and the farmers who produced it. We cook it and eat it with care and reverence. The result is the most satisfying experience I can imagine, and we get to do it three times a day. I am aware that we are more fortunate in this regard than almost any people anywhere, in the history of the world. I feel grateful that this food is the hub around which we have built our lives.

Then there are the people. We have weathered a lot of change and challenge on the farm this year. Some key individuals moved on to their next projects, and several new enterprises took up a terrific amount of our collective bandwidth. Because of that, every member of the Essex Farm team has had to bring his or her best effort and then some. I am so grateful to each person who worked here this year for keeping the big warm machine running, through thick and thin.

And then there are our members. Our members are our reason for being and our means for doing it. One of the changes we have witnessed  this year is the expansion of choices for local food in our region, which has tightened the market considerably. We are excited to explore ways to make the market big enough for all our local farmers to have a sustainable piece of it. As we do so, we are extremely grateful to those who continue to support us, and who make this farm possible. We are grateful that they support a form of agriculture that is reaching for true sustainability. Eleven years ago, nobody thought it would be possible to find enough support in our little town for such a radical undertaking, and every week since then, our members have proved them wrong. Thank you so very much.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this thanks-giving 47th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


Blustery and bright



Essex Farm Note

Week 45, 2014

Mark and I scrambled to pull in the last few peppers and a bucket full of cilantro by headlamp the night before the predicted freeze this week. It turned out to be a false alarm. The clouds rolled in and held the cold back, so we got only another small nip of frost instead of a hard freeze. It has been a remarkably mild fall but we may be reaching the end now, with snow and cold predicted. We’ll tuck the memory of these last bright days into our hearts to hold us through the winter.

Most of the heavy fall work is finished now. Carrots are in, and they are giants this year. Low germination and heavy deer pressure made spacing between plants very wide. Luckily this variety stays tender and sweet, even when it grows to large proportions. Thanks to the team from Middlebury College who came on Saturday to help dig them. On Wednesday, the home crew got next year’s garlic planted. Half of it went into a section of the field that we left fallow this summer, to reduce the weed pressure. The other half went into a plowed-up section of cover crop. The cover crop was made up of peas, oats, and tillage radish, to add nitrogen, carbon, and air space to the soil. It was beautiful to see it turned with the plow and a team of horses, and find the white roots of the tillage radish grown deep into the topsoil. I can’t wait to see which planting does better come spring. The only crops left to harvest are cold-loving celeriac and the winter leeks. Now we look forward to getting animals settled into their winter quarters. The beef and dairy cows are on pasture, but getting some hay each day to supplement the scanty selection. They will come to the covered barnyard by the end of the month.  The last batch of broiler chicks is in the greenhouse now, hooray. Every fall we look forward to the end of chicken season. We love raising them but they are seriously labor intensive, and it’s good to have a few months between the last birds of November and the first chicks that arrive at the end of March.

There seems to be a mild curse on the entities that provide traction around here this week. The John Deere tractor blew some crucial (and to me, incomprehensible) part of its engine block, requiring a $4,000 repair. The Ford tractor needed a new tire, and a rebuilt rim. Then Amos, one of our painted draft geldings, turned up lame in the pasture. Mark brought him up to the barn this morning, and says he doesn’t think it is serious, but we will keep a close eye on him.

Don Hollingsworth is heading west of Canton today to pick up a ram for us. We and the ewes thank you, Don. Big hugs to Lexi and Justin who worked here this week. Justin got put on lard duty on Wednesday, and was still stirring at dark.

Mark and the girls and I attended the annual Election Night Dinner at the Whallonsburgh Grange Hall on Tuesday night. This is one of my favorite local traditions. There is something goodhearted about sitting down to eat together after voting, as if to say, we may or may not agree on what is best for our town and our nation, but that will not get in the way of fellowship over a good turkey dinner. The turkeys came from our friends at Reber Rock Farm, and all the trimmings from us and other neighbor farms. Thanks to the Grange Crew for making it happen.

It was a big week in the farmhouse kitchen. Miranda brought in a bag of field corn and wanted to make something with it. She and Jane and I made tortillas from scratch, which became the basis of tacos with our own chorizo, shredded vegetables, sour cream, and our lazy-farmer version of salsa: a jar of our canned tomatoes, a splash of cider vinegar, diced onion, salt and cilantro. We saved a little bit of the masa (dough) from the tortillas for making chocolate atole the next morning. Atole is a warming, filling Mexican drink, thickened with the ground nixtamalized corn. There are a million versions of it but I make it with milk, a square of good baking chocolate and a generous splash of maple syrup. There is no liking atole — it is a love it or hate it kind of a deal. In our family, we love it, especially on a cold gray November morning. Finally, the leftover tortillas got cut into triangles, fried in lard and tossed with salt for an extra-special tortilla chip snack. I ended the week wanting to dive deeper into Mexican cuisine, and feeling awed and grateful, once again, that whole, seasonal farm food lends itself so well to many different ethnic cuisines. With a well-stocked spice cabinet, it is impossible to be bored in our kitchen.

I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow (to Mexico!) so there will be no post next Friday, but I’ll post again when I’m back on the 21st. Happy fall eating, everyone. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this blustery 45th week of 2014.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball


End of eggplants.


I find dead vegetables beautiful. Is that weird?


Carrot harvest. Thanks to the team from Middlebury College!


A happy cover crop of oats, peas and tillage radish.