Homecoming

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Essex Farm Note

Week 44, 2016

I just got back to the farm after 15 days in New York City, where I was holed up in my sister’s apartment, working on the new book. Mark and the girls came to get me on Wednesday, in the big van loaded with our city members’ shares, plus a donation of 150 carving pumpkins, birch leaves, and corn stalks, destined for Trinity Church, in Harlem, where they were having a Halloween party for the neighborhood children. Fifteen days is enough to clean the dirt from my hands, feel like a city person again. I took the A train from Canal to 125th Street, and met the van full of pumpkins. I sensed the first sizzle of reentry then, the frisson of textures: hard angles meeting organic curves.

Driving north last night, we ran into a crazy snowstorm. The visibility went to zero, there were cars off the road, pieces of bumper on the shoulder, shattered glass. We crawled along for hours, tense, at forty. When we got to the Westport exit, the snow suddenly stopped, and then we were home. Cold, dark house, happy dogs. The old, organic farm smells. The old, different farm challenges. Reentry is tricky, when the worlds are so different. I’m in the decompression chamber now, waiting to stabilize. I haven’t ventured out yet this rainy morning, but so far, all the reports sound good. Flops the sow had 11 piglets last week, and 10 survived, which is an excellent litter. Now that all have farrowed, they will move outside together. Yesterday, Anya and the veg team got the rest of the garlic planted for next year: 8 600’ rows, in good old Monument field. Cameron, Megan, and Aidan have been busy in the butcher shop with fall slaughter. They have beef hanging, and pork and lamb almost ready to go. Jon has been spreading finished compost on the pastures. Ben plowed the field along Middle Road, which was fallow this year; we will decide later if we should plant it to corn next spring, or wheat, or possibly seed it down to permanent pasture. Alex , Morgan and Barbara have been running the dairy so smoothly in my absence. I can’t wait to see how much the calves have grown. We are preparing to shift to winter mode, with cows in the covered barnyard, and calves across the way, in the East Barn run-in.

There’s barely time to adjust before we’re off again. Mark and I will be in Boston most of next week, speaking at Babson College. The main event, on Tuesday November 1st, is free and open to the public. I’ll read from the new book-in-progress, and we’ll talk on what we’re calling Organics 3.0 – how can a farm balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability, and how do we move the needle on what’s considered sustainable? Next Friday, Mark and I are speaking again, at the annual Youth Climate Summit at the Wild Center in Saranac Lake, always a highlight of our year. Then, on November 12th, I’m going to be back in Boston at the MIT Media Lab, for a panel discussion hosted by Food + Future. I’m a bit daunted by this schedule but also happy to chime in with a farmer’s voice on issues around food and sustainability.

And that is the news from Essex Farm for this homecoming 44th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Catching up

Here are some pictures to go along with the big bunch of farm notes I just posted. I hadn’t realized I was *that* far behind. Here’s to a good harvest for all.

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Blue Hubbard

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The year’s last watermelon, found among the pumpkins.

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Calliope, with her newborn heifer calf, Calamity Jane.

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Mary in a mind meld with one of the new heifer calves.

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Sunflower

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Buckwheat in full bloom. If there were sound in this picture, you’d hear the buzz of very happy bees.

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Solar powered cows.

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Evening rounds. Last check of the farm store.

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Phil, Morgan and Anya coming in on Tuesday morning with the harvest for delivery to New York City on Wednesday. The packed van leaves at 2am.

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Farmhouse, dawn.

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The grapest grapes of all time. Such a treat.

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Frost coming. Running through the oats while the grownups harvest.

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Last call for peppers.

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Dairy cows on a misty morning.

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Moonrise, morning chores.

 

Roots, bones, beans

Essex Farm Note

Week 41, 2016

Warm days, cold nights, dew so heavy at dawn you could drink it. The leaves are putting on a colorful show, despite the dry conditions. Now the kitchen is full of hearty ingredients: roots, bones, beans. I’m baking a Blue Hubbard squash in the oven right now, for team dinner. We grew the smallest Blue Hubbard cultivar, but the larger specimens are still family-sized affairs. This one is the size of a soccer ball, the color of slate, and I wasn’t brave enough to cleave it with a knife, so I baked it whole. When it’s soft and cool I’ll cut it into slices, scoop out the seeds, and serve it with browned butter and rosemary. Earlier, I made a big batch of beef broth. I’ve been thinking lately that this modern first world habit of eating only muscles, drained of all their blood, is one of our stranger human anomalies. The broth that comes from this pot full of bones will gel when cool to something I could bounce on the table. It will feed us all week, adding flavor and nutrients to most of our meals. Some of it will go into the black bean chili that I’m serving with the squash tonight. If I have time, I’m going to make a giant skillet of corn bread, big enough to feed a table full of hungry farmers, with leftovers for tomorrow’s post-tour potluck lunch.

Carrots, beets, leeks and Brussels sprouts are all in now, and stored. We had a really good Brussels sprout harvest this year. They will keep in our coolers for several weeks but if you want them for late winter eating, take a load now, and blanch and freeze them, or ask Jenny for a large amount for next week. This year’s cauliflower is the best I’ve ever eaten. The girls and I made a meal of it one night this week, tossed with salt, lemon juice and olive oil, and roasted in a 400 degree oven until the edges turned brown. If you have some latent summery food cravings, fear not, the three greenhouses are planted with lettuce, for late fall greens. And there are still some sweet, fat raspberries on the canes for anyone who wants to pick. Look low, under the leaves. They are worth the hunt.

The last batch of chicks left the brooder for the pasture this week. I always sigh with relief when we turn the hot brooder lights off for the year, with the barn still intact. Thanks to Charlotte for being the champion of chickens these last two seasons. She’s brought wonderful care and focus to the birds. Speaking of things that Charlotte loves, four of the five sows have had their litters in the west barn. All are well, and thriving, with litter sizes ranging from 7 to 13. In another week or so, we’ll integrate the piglets, and put them, with their mothers, onto pasture. We’re patiently waiting for Wonder to calve, and hoping for another heifer.

Our final farm tour is tomorrow, leaving the barnyard at 10 sharp. The focus of this tour will be the harvest, and no one will leave empty handed. Suggested donation is $25 per adult, free for members. Please help us spread the word. If you want to stay for the potluck lunch, bring a dish to share and your own place setting. Next weekend, Essex Farm Institute is sponsoring a farmer’s farm walk at Ben Wever Farm. Shaun and Linda Gilliland will discuss carbon-positive rotational grazing of beef, hogs, lamb, chicken and hens. Details at essexfarminstitute.org. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this golden 41st week of 2016.                                              -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Harvest Home

Essex Farm Note

Week 40, 2016

It was a harvest week, one of the busiest of the year. A frost or freeze was predicted for dawn on Monday, so most of the crew kindly came over on Sunday to bring in the bumper crop of sweet and hot peppers from the field called Superjoy, which lies in a frost-vulnerable dip below the sugarbush hill. It was a beautiful day and a fun harvest, and there is a big haul of peppers in the share this week to show for it. (Did you know peppers are one of the vegetables you can freeze without blanching? Take plenty.) Of course, the frost was light enough to leave them unscathed after all the hustle to bring them in. The raspberries in Monument Field made it through the night, too. 25 pounds of them went to the Hub on the Hill for flash freezing this week, and will show up in the share this winter. On a roll, The Hub processed fermented hot pepper sauce from our big cayenne harvest, and turned 500 pounds of concord grapes that our crew harvested at Lewis Family Farm into juice and jam for all of us. Hooray, Hub, and thanks to Jori and her crew for all the hard work this week.

Everyone stayed late last night to get the carrot harvest in. The yield was lower than we’d hoped, mostly because of lack of rain, but the carrots are delicious, and fear not, there are plenty for members for the year, just not quite enough for wholesale. Potatoes are in, too. The dry bean harvest was complicated by a heavy load of weeds, but they home, and drying in the sun. This is a pretty mottled red baking variety called Kind of the Early. Members, we hope you’ll take some to cook this week, but note that they aren’t yet dry enough to keep unrefrigerated; take enough for one week, and keep them in the refrigerator. They cook a bit faster than fully dry beans. Pie pumpkins and carving pumpkins are in, available for members and for retail sale at the farm store. In short, pumpkins everywhere.

There were also many hours of ancillary fall vegetable work not directly related to what you are eating this week, but essential to what you will be eating next year: specifically, compost spreading (multiple tons) and cover crop planting (rye). We have to feed the soil so the soil will feed us. Speaking of compost, we got eight dump truck loads of gravel and rock this week, to make the drip trenches around the existing barns, part 1a of the grand, grant-funded new composting barn project. The drip trenches will reduce barnyard mud and hence, runoff.

Say hi to Morgan Looney, who has joined us from his home in Georgia, and is working on the dairy and vegetable teams. We are so glad he’s here. We’re also happy to note that Alex is taking over from me as dairy team leader, as I prepare to push through an intense month of writing. I’m going to miss my daily work with the cows but feel wonderful about leaving them in Alex’s capable hands. Finally, Mark will be leading our last farm tour of the year next Saturday, October 8th. Tours are always free for members (non-members, $25 suggested donation) and give good insight into the why of the how we do things around here. The tour starts at 10am with a potluck lunch to follow. Bring a dish to share and your own place setting. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this frost-nipped 40th week of 2016. – Kristin & Mark Kimball

Stevie

Essex Farm Note

Week 39, 2016

Stevie calved this week, a little bull. As with her previous calvings, Stevie’s udder swelled to the size and texture of one of the large carving pumpkins that was harvested this week. She has to swing her hind legs out to the side and around the enormous thing when she walks, despite twice-a-day applications of cooling peppermint liniment. All that swelling causes small blood vessels to rupture inside the udder. Anne texted me from the barn during milking, alarmed that Stevie’s colostrum was not the yellow-orange she expected but instead, brick red. “Disconcerting,” I wrote back, “but not pathological.” Jenny milked the next day, and nearly fainted at the sight of all that blood. Next milking, she considered wearing a helmet just in case she went down. Stevie will be right in a few days, and it will be wonderful to have her milk in the share. If this lactation is like her others, she’ll give most of her year’s production in the first ninety days, and then taper to a trickle. That’s fine with us, since now is when we really need it. We have one more cow to calve in the next week or so, and then a bit of a break. Our first artificially inseminated heifers will calve in March.

Meanwhile, the three heifer calves are healthy and beautiful in their paddock in the covered barnyard. They are starting to mouth a little bit of hay, even though their rumens won’t be developed enough to make use of it for quite a while.

In other baby news, Charlotte has been getting ready for piglets. The first five sows are in their pens in the west barn. They are in good lean condition after their summer on pasture, and just beginning to bag up. Charlotte wants to try farrowing them in their stalls, then moving them to a community pasture when the piglets are about a week old.

The spring pigs have reached slaughter weight, so we are preparing for pork. Doesn’t that feel right, just as the weather turns crisp? These pigs were raised outside, on organic grain, pasture, cover crops and skim milk. They should taste as good as pork can taste. We will also have some Jersey beef in the share this week, and in the weeks to come. The Jersey breed doesn’t metabolize beta carotene the same way other breeds do, which is why their cream – and also their body fat – is golden instead of white. You might notice a streak of yellow-gold in the ground beef, stew beef or roasts. It doesn’t change the taste, and beta carotene is good for you.

All that space spent on animals, when some of the biggest news of the week comes from vegetables. The winter squash are in, a bumper crop, and gorgeous. The cauliflower is the best we’ve had – snow-white, sweet, delicious. I have been lacto-fermenting all sorts of things, but my favorite, so far, is the pastel-fleshed elongated Asian radish, sliced into rounds, and pickled in brine just the saltiness of seawater, with a little garlic, ginger and hot pepper. I have been eating them with every meal, and sometimes in between. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this suddenly-colorful 39th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

Jimmy

Essex Farm

Week 38, 2016

Farewell, tomatoes, we’ve had a lovely time; so sorry about this latest blight, but that’s what you get for being organically raised. We’ll look forward to seeing you again next year. Eggplants, you look so well, glad to know you’ll be hanging around until frost. There’s a lot I still want to do with you, so I hope it’s a late one this year. Sweet corn, I hear you’re making your last appearance in distro this week; honestly, you took a lot of work to grow and a lot of work to pick, so don’t let the door hit you on your way out. But, Jimmy. Jimmy Nardello! Please, Jimmy, don’t go, not yet. I’m your biggest fan! You’re my favorite sweet red pepper of all time. Jimmy, every year you’re good, but this year – ah! You’ve been so sweet, so red, so complicated, I’m obsessed with you. Here’s a true story. This week, I bit into a Jimmy Nardello that was so good I wrote down its flavor profile, as though I were tasting fine wine. In one crunch of a perfectly ripe Jimmy Nardello I tasted notes of green apple and black pepper, with a sweet, juicy finish of black cherries. Here’s the sad thing. That perfect bite of sweet red pepper led me not down a wide avenue of pleasure but onto a sidestreet of minor anxiety. How can I hold onto this? I thought. A pepper this perfect might come along only once in a lifetime. What if I never taste one again? I started calculating how many Jimmy Nardellos I could pick, considering freezer space, blanching protocols, canning options, before coming back to my senses. The perfect anything is always an ephemeral thing. You can’t keep it. You can’t hold it. You just have to enjoy it, for the moment it’s perfect. Then let it go, and wait, and trust that the next perfect thing is only one harvest away.

Well then, what else? Three new calves in the dairy herd, and all three are heifers. It doesn’t get nicer than that. We have Kite’s daughter Kelly, Calliope’s daughter Charlotte, and Cori’s daughter Calamity Jane, who I’m calling CJ for short. All three calves are thriving, and so are their mamas; as of today, the cows are all giving milk instead of colostrum, so the milk supply will be coming up significantly.

What’s the phrase of the week? I asked Mark this morning. “Work-hard time,” he said. Harvest, repairs, cover crops, fencing, mowing – not for hay but against weeds. Prep for a lot of fall slaughter. Prep for frost, which feels, this morning, like it’s right around the corner. We bought a 12 passenger van this week from North Country Camps, which opens up more remote distribution opportunities. Mark started work in earnest on the new compost barn project, funded by NRCS. This week, he met with contractors to plan the drip trenches we’re putting around existing barns. The vegetable team is bracing for the really big harvests: dry beans, potatoes, winter squashes, carrots and beets. The pumpkins look incredible, so get your carving game on. We’ll have them for sale at the Harvest Festival tomorrow.

Welcome to Morgan Looney, who is joining us from Georgia. Much, much gratitude to Amy O’Brian, who made her last delivery on Wednesday, before heading out west, and then to Poland for a long and well-deserved wander around Europe. We already miss your beautiful, positive, good-natured presence. We love you, Amy! -Kristin & Mark Kimball

Winning

Essex Farm Note

Week 37, 2016

It’s not all weeds, seeds and afterbirth you know. Like other businesses, we have structures and routines that are meant to sculpt order out of the chaos that will ensue from any complex multi-person effort. We have written sales and marketing strategies; weekly, monthly, and annual production goals. We have meetings – a rather shocking number of meetings! – and occasional mandatory all-team pep talks. We have a large collection of checklists, SOPs, and spreadsheets, some of which are useful.

My favorite of these non-dirt oriented business-things is our weekly management meeting. Our management team is made up of Mark and me (owners), Ben Christian (production manager), Anne Brown (office manager and much, much more) and Jori Wekin (minister of magic, and value-added coordinator). Every meeting starts with a round-robin of how everyone at the table is doing, and the wins and losses of their week, followed by an hour’s worth of discussion and problem solving on production, staffing and financial issues. Usually, I make a pot of tea for Ben. Sometimes, when the numbers are hard to swallow, there are cookies.

In true Essex Farm fashion, everyone on the management team has to name three wins for every loss we want to talk about. Some weeks, that’s tough and it feels forced. This week, it was a snap. The first win to celebrate was the end of second cut haymaking. It really was a spectacularly good year for hay. Thanks to Ben, who managed all of it, and did much of it, we have made a record amount of really good quality first and second cut, all stored under cover, with no major equipment breakdowns; if the weather continues to cooperate we may get some third cut in a week or so. The whole team deserves a lot of thanks for this achievement. We are also incredibly grateful to the landowners who lease us their fields, and to the Rice family for letting us use their pole barn for storage.

The second big win is the way the field corn is shaping up in Newfield, and along Blockhouse Road. The ears are long, heavy, and just beginning to dent. I admit, I was against planting the Blockhouse Road field to corn, and fought hard against it. It tends to be wet, and I didn’t think it was fertile enough. I lost that fight, Mark planted it, and it produced beautifully. There is one corner that didn’t size up well, but even that is going to be put to good use: we’ll turn the pigs into it next week, to harvest their own feed. This was corn grown from organic seed, organically fertilized, cultivated and managed.

The third big win, raised by Anne, was the fact that the Hub on the Hill has been processing hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds of our bumper-crop vegetables every week – making kraut, fermented pepper sauce, canned tomatoes, salsa and more. Members will see some of these products in the share this winter, some are for the Hub to sell, and some will be sold in our store. Thanks to Jori and the Hub crew for adding value and storability to our ephemeral summer crops.

The forth, short win: the first calf is on the ground! A lovely heifer, Kelly, was born yesterday, from Kite. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this winning! 37th week of 2016.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball