Exaltation

Essex Farm Note

Week 53, 2016

On Christmas Eve Ron came to say the horses were out, thundering down Route 22, headed for town. As Mark and I were pulling on our boots the phone started ringing with more eye witness reports. But by the time we got to the road the herd had disappeared. It is a hard crew to miss: seven drafts, a spotted pony, and the cheeky little mini. Ron, good neighbor that he is, drove all the way to the ferry to make sure they had not gotten by us. By then Mark and I had picked up their trail across the road from Monument Field. The land there is brushy, with some trails mowed through it. We followed their hoofprints as fast as we could, hauling halters and lead ropes. The trees were good cover, so we heard them before we saw them, the pounding sound of a herd on the run. And then there they were, across a gully, along a little ridge. Their manes were flying, and their winter fur was damp with sweat. The ground shook with their exaltation. They looked so wild and free on their holiday toot, maybe even worth the price of our adrenalin. Barbara came out from the milkhouse to help us. Ron directed traffic. They turned around, and ran back across the road into the field of green rye, and put their heads down and grazed, blowing. We got three halters on three horses and that was just enough to turn anarchy into order. Mark led Abby and Cub in front, I brought up the rear with steady old Jay, and the rest of the horses walked in between. Soon they were back to their pasture and their very steady winter life of good hay but little excitement.

I’m sad to report that Penelope the cat was killed this morning. We think she jumped up on the warm engine block of an idling truck before dawn and was run over when the truck drove off. She was a terrible cat, and we really loved her. I know a lot of members feel the same way; some probably have scars from her claws and teeth to remember her by. Her classic move was to rub against your legs, begging to be petted, and then turn on you with a hiss. But she was strangely endearing, and a five star mouser. We’ll miss her fierce presence.

Here’s a quick rundown of the wins and losses for 2016. The hay crop was excellent; the first cut has 12% protein, and the second cut tested at 16% — the best we have ever made. Thanks to Ben for leading the hay making this year, and to everyone who worked long days to bring it in. Our corn crop was also great, thanks to our new field; what we have stored in the bin should be enough to bring us right around to next year’s crop. Pigs must be chucked into the loss column, with hard farrowing in the spring and this dastardly circovirus to close out the year, and so must broiler chickens, due to poor growth at the end of the fall. Vegetable yields were somewhat reduced due to drought, and weed control was poor in some places, but the quality of the produce was excellent, and I think members were universally pleased. Sheep were definitely a win, with good gains over the grazing season. The dairy was a big win, too, with lots of improvements in herd health and management. The biggest wins were on the human side: a wonderful management team, and a great crew, and our faithful members, who make our green world spin. All of us at the farm wish all of you a happy, healthy and joyful New Year. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this white 53rd week of 2016. –Kristin & Mark Kimball

This crayfish got halfway out of the pond and then decided to just chill for the rest of the winter. He could be our new goalie.

The last greens from the greenhouse. Known as mache in French, rapunzel in German, and plain old corn salad in plain old English.

Mary on Christmas Day duty.

Solstice

Essex Farm Note

Week 52, 2016

The sun gets up late these days, his energy so low he’s barely able to lift himself over the horizon before retiring for the night. We humans should take note: even a great fiery star needs a season of rest. I embrace this time of year, not in spite of the dark, but because of it. The cold is clean and strong; it removes the resistance of mud, the obstacle of water. The fires – candles, wood stove, bonfires – work their hypnotic magic on us, drawing us closer in. I take a lot of solitary walks, all around the farm, or through the snowy woods. The wind rouses a quiet animal in me that is keen and wary. There are things you think when you are alone outside in winter that you would never think in company, nor when the soil is warm and the plants are growing. And that’s the heart of what I love about winter: it’s the pause – the frozen lacuna – which, if you can bear to dwell in it, will reveal a path inward, and further inward, to your own true self.

The farmers are scattered far and wide this week, celebrating the holiday with their families. Thanks to Barbara, Anya, Jon, Ben, and Brandon for keeping the farm rolling here, and to Megan Moody for handling NYC deliveries while Phil is in California. Mark and I are milking over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to it; they say that animals can talk on Christmas Eve, and I know that Christmas milk has a magical power that transforms it into flan, hot cocoa, and hot milk punch, which is my new favorite drink: a lighter, bourbon-infused alternative to eggnog.

We have our work cut out for us for the rest of the winter. This week, the focus was on cleanup and organization. Mark, Jon and Brandon collected the broiler coops from the field and stacked them in the barn at Bonebender. Next up is pig slaughter. There are still 30 pigs in the field that are well-grown and ready to go to the freezer; we will hurry to get them butchered as soon as possible in January, because the longer we feed them the more they cost. I’m looking forward to tasting the difference between the purebred Tamworth pork and our usual Berkshire crosses. When butchering is finished we’ll turn to equipment repair and the 2017 field plan. Then it will be time for sugaring, followed closely by seeding in the greenhouse, which brings us around again to the high cool sun of early spring.

Now the short news, for this penultimate Friday of the year. The front pond has been a smooth fast playground this week. The girls are always hoping for some company on the ice, so please come by with your skates, a stick, and a puck. All are welcome. We had a rare difficult birth for Frieda, one of the dairy cows. Her calf came nose first, with its legs back, instead of in the proper hooves-first diver’s position. The calf didn’t make it but thanks to Ben and Alex’s good work Frieda is fine, and milking. In pig world, we’ve been dealing with swine circovirus, which causes sudden death in healthy-seeming piglets that are nearing weaning weight. It’s a new one for us, and a baddie. Luckily, there’s an effective vaccine for it, which will put a stop to losses, and the virus is harmless to humans and other animals. The forecast this week calls for gentle winter temperatures, which is exactly what we wished for for Christmas this year. Happy holidays, everyone! And that is the news from Essex Farm for this merry 52nd week of 2016.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Curious jersey calves. They are growing so fast.

Cabbage trimmings, ready to go to sheep and pigs.

The rink!

If you’ve ever wondered why they are called STRAWberries, well, now you know. They’re underneath that layer of golden straw, resting, until spring.

The kale soldiers are still standing at attention in the frozen field.

A frosty-whiskered day.

Myrtle! This group of gilts was really affectionate and gentle. Not many pigs would allow a six year old to cuddle her newborn piglets.

Hard Cold Happy

The solar panels are aimed to catch the flat winter light.

Essex Farm Note

Week 51, 2016

The cold came, making tarmac out of fields that were mud only a week ago. Yesterday, Derek and Mark Wrisley drove their combine across Newfield, eating 10-foot swaths of corn and leaving stubble in their wake. By the end of the day they’d put 80 tons of shell corn in our bin. It’s the most we’ve ever grown, enough corn to feed all of us – humans and animals – for the next year. At about $500 per ton for organic corn, it was a $40,000 harvest, and it makes the monthly payment on the drainage we put into that field a more cheerful check to write. Our yields in Newfield should improve as we continue to use cover crops and compost to build fertility and organic matter on its silt soil.

The below-zero temperatures today have called halt to greenhouse production for the year. Kirsten harvested the rest of the lettuce, chard, and spinach yesterday. The tomato vines, no longer producing, died a natural death almost as soon as she turned off their propane life-support system. The new greenhouse gave us an extra six weeks of greens production this fall, and should bring greens to us several weeks earlier than usual next spring. We will also have frozen spinach available this winter, thanks to a good harvest and the crew at the Hub on the Hill.

I bit into a poor-tasting carrot last night, which reminded me to remind you all to store your refrigerated carrots in air-tight ziplock bags – a detail we overlooked at our house this week. The crisper isn’t good enough. Carrots go from sweet and delicious to orange-colored cardboard when they are stored with brassicas (like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, or kohlrabi) or with fruits. On the farm, after harvest, we keep them in their own separate refrigerated trailer, and distribute them each week from a cooler without other vegetables in it. Once they are in your home refrigerator, you have to remain vigilant about segregating them. Just a day or two with incompatible neighbors will ruin their taste.

The sheep moved from the field to the barn at Bonebender this week. The rams have been with the ewes for two cycles. One more and we will pull them. Ben had another double-base AI hit, with two more cows testing positive for pregnancy. The piglets in the covered barnyard are snugged together in pods under a thick blanket of straw, invisible and inaudible until one of the sows steps on them. We are waiting for another litter of piglets, and also another dairy calf, and hoping they come in a few days, when it’s not so very cold. So far, the chill has been a clean hard benevolent presence. No frostbite, no frozen waterlines, no broken drainpipes. I’m grateful for our good wood stove, and for warm layers, which allow us to work and play in the cold instead of hiding from it. The girls have been outside, skating, from the minute they get home from school until I call them in for dinner. When the wind rose on Wednesday evening, Mark built a bonfire at the edge of the pond. My favorite moment of the week was playing hockey with them, after dark, in a mix of fire- and full moon light.

This is Taylor LaFleur’s last week with us. Thanks, Taylor, for your good work, good company and fabulous cooking – we will miss all three! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hard cold happy week of 2016.

Snow, rye, and wind erosion.

Horses and ponies in their thick winter fur

The tip of the piglet pile

 

Eau de Leek

Essex Farm Note

Week 50, 2016

The temperature dropped into the twenties after midnight, as predicted. Yesterday was a scramble to bring in the leeks before they froze into the ground for eternity. They were in Newfield, in two very long rows. I arrived near dusk, and Anya, Taylor and Kirsten had been at them since morning. When you are crouched in cold mud, pulling cold leeks out of cold ground with cold hands, long rows feel like endless rows. I’d come just in time to top the greens from the last fifty feet with a sharp little blade – which gave me an unfair level of satisfaction for such a tiny commitment. The winter leeks’ leaves fan out and hold leek-scented rainwater that soaks mitts, sleeves, pants and skin, so that soon, everything smells of eau de leek, and will for some time, no matter how hard you scrub. After a day of aging it is a strangely not-terrible perfume. The potatoes grew next door to the leeks in Newfield this year, and I think that the plants were aspiring from the beginning to become what I’m making for team dinner tonight: potato leek soup, an elegant dish that is so much more than the sum of its few humble parts.

We spent Sunday bringing in the last of the cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, mizuna, chard, and arugula. Mark and I took the morning shift, and Anya and Phil worked from afternoon until dark. I was gripped by the same mania for a bargain that WILL NOT LAST that propels the Black Friday shoppers, and wasted half an hour filling a bin with handfuls of scraggly cold-nipped cilantro, which wasn’t worth the effort it took to get it into the freezer. The other harvests were a different story. The cauliflower was especially satisfying. Each plant yielded a snowy gift hidden inside a tight wrapping of green leaves. You cut the thick stem at the base of the head but leave the protective leaf wrapping. Our bags filled quickly, and we tipped them gently into the bins, so they would not bruise, all the while grazing on a row of spinach as sweet as candy. The spinach! Anya and Phil brought in 25 bins of it; most of it went to the Hub for freezing, but don’t miss it fresh this week. It is weird to have reached the second week in December with so much fresh produce still available, but nobody is complaining about it.

Mark trooped out to Firehouse Field after dark last night to shut the hens into their mobile coops and pull up the electronet stakes. The hens will be in and around East Barn for the winter. In the dairy herd, Fly and Beatrice both calved this week. Fly was a first-timer, and is settling in nicely to her new job, milking; Cori and Kite’s pregnancy tests both came back positive on the first insemination. Ben “Better-Than-A-Bull” Christian shares credit for that with Alex and Morgan, who are doing a super job with heat detection.

We hope you’ll come by the farm store for your holiday shopping. Everyone loves maple syrup – it’s the perfect hostess gift. ($8/half pint). We have yarn ($15/skein) from our flock’s own wool, as well as wool batting ($20/2lbs) for felting projects, hand spinning, dyeing, or as filling for homemade quilts, pillows, or throws. Members get a 10% discount at the store, and NYC members can add store orders to their forms for delivery.

 

 

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Evergreen

img_1732Essex Farm Note

Week 49, 2016

Here it comes. The end of the year, in full view. Before it arrives, we begin again. Mark and I curled up with the seed catalogue last night, at bedtime. There’s a new variety of kabocha squash! That’s what passes for exciting, in farmer-world. In twelve short weeks, we’ll be seeding in the greenhouse. We are about to order next year’s laying hens and broiler chicks.

What’s to look forward to in 2017? The Hub is adding a ton of value and convenience to the share in the form of frozen vegetables, fruits, beans, and bread dough, plus pickled and fermented products. We are dreaming up new products all the time, so let us know your wishes, and if we can make them come true, we will. We changed the pricing structure to a flat per-person price, instead of a discount for each additional member of a household. This change was made so we can give an easy answer to the question, how much does the share cost?; it should not effect each household total much, if at all. The biggest change is a four week vacation hold. If you are going away for a week (or, at most, four), you can put a hold on your share, without charge.

On that note, it’s time to remember that the share only works if you take just what you need for the week, without giving away (or selling!) or keeping a stash of meat at home. If you have frozen meat at your house please use all of it before taking more. We went through a larger-than-expected volume of meat this year, and we see it reflected in the bottom line, so we ask you to kindly treat meat as the precious resource it is, eat it sparingly, and enjoy every bite, all the way down to the bones.

What news from out there? We have a healthy litter of 7 piglets, from first-time sow, Chrysanthemum. Two young rams from Canton are fully occupied with the ewes. Fly, a Jersey heifer, is bagging up for a calf we weren’t expecting until March, with credit due to last year’s bull. The corn is still in the field, and will have to stay there now until the ground freezes solid; some fat and happy wild animals extract a small daily tax on it. Heifers and beef cattle are in the covered barnyard but hens are still enjoying pasture. They will come in when the weather turns ugly. Next year’s garlic is beautifully rooted, and the row of overwintering onions is mulched.

Essex Farm Institute is hosting a terrific workshop this Tuesday, Dec 6th, at the Grange, from 9am-1:30. Richard Wiswall, farm-business guru and author of The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook, is offering Farming Smarter, not Harder: Planning for Profit. I’m surprised there are still spaces available for this, but there are, so please spread the word! It’s free for full-time farmers in our region, and open to others for a suggested fee of $25. Lunch is included. Please email essexfarminstitute@gmail.com to say you’re coming. Thanks to EFI programming director Racey Henderson and to all the EFI donors, the EFI board, and the Hub on the Hill for making this event possible. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this evergreen 49th week of 2016. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.           -Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

My phone is away for repairs, so I don’t have any pictures to show for the week. In lieu of new ones, I thought I’d post some really really old ones. Here goes.

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Nico! She lived most of her life in New York City, but thoroughly enjoyed being an elderly farm dog.

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That man.

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Jet, when he was much much younger.

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I was much younger too.

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The crew, 2008.

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Miss “I Eat Dirt” Kimball, as a wee thing. Very healthy immune system on this one.

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Picking currants.

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When they were too short to reach his hand he used to use a stick to bridge the difference. They were big enough not to need it in this pic, but not nearly as big as they are now.

 

Thanks Giving

Essex Farm Note

Week 48, 2016

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We served a traditional feast at the farmhouse last night. The groaning table (I love that creepy old phrase) held a 17lb turkey from our friends at Mace Chasm Farm. The bright cranberries were grown by our friend and former Essex Farmer, William McCaffrey. The rest – the stuffing, mashed potatoes, cauliflower, creamed spinach, roasted squash, bread, and gravy – was crafted entirely from Essex Farm dirt and Essex Farmers’ work. Sometimes, when things are not going smoothly, I ask, does it matter? This marathon of constant care, to produce a full diet, year round? The answer that came, last night, was this: It matters, because it is good. Not only food, but also the work.

Yep, the work. It’s time to pay gratitude to the whole team that gets it done, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I run over my usual word count. I’m grateful to Anne Brown, who has been a tremendous force for improvement here in the time she’s been with us. I’ve never met someone as simultaneously kind, smart, and steely-tough as Anne Brown. It’s hard to remember how the farm ran without her, and I don’t like to try. To Ben Christian, who has farming in his bones, deeper than any of us first-generation farmers ever will. We are so grateful for your work, Ben. In an unsure world, here are two thing to count on: If there is a problem with a cow, no matter the hour, Ben will pull in to help fix it. Also, as long as there is an important job to do, Ben will be on it until it is finished. To Barbara Kunzi, who has been on our team since our very first week of distribution. She is steadfast, talented, wise, strong, and incredibly generous with her work. To Jori Wekin and her crew at the Hub on the Hill, for using her courage and energy to boost the farms of our whole region to a more stable plane of existence. To Alex Prediger, who runs the dairy like the cow boss she is, using her good sense, intelligence, and skills, and Morgan Looney, who joined us this fall from his home in Georgia, and has helped keep the cows milked and the calves fed two times a day. To Aidan Cooper, butcher, who joined us last spring. We took a risky bet, bringing on a 16 year old girl, and Aidan was the unlikely jackpot. Jon Christian is the next generation of farming Christians, and, unquestionably, one of our farm’s most valuable players. Jon is in charge of animals this winter; they are in very good hands. To Brandon Jaquish, who runs the shop, for taking our broken things and transforming them into fixed ones. I’m grateful that Brandon’s skills keep the rest of us from messing things up too badly. To Phil Geerdes, who takes great care of our members in New York City. We’re lucky we got this big-hearted tall man to come so far from his glorious Pacific Ocean waves. To Megan Moody, who is here to pitch in when we need it most, and Cameron “Six Pigs” Duhaime, whose knife skills are getting us through these busy weeks in the butcher shop. To Meghan Brooks, who works on the tricky and important coordination of the New York City share. To Tatiana Abatemarco, who helps with the very visible hard work of distribution, both locally and for NYC. To Jenny Linger! Several years ago she pulled into our driveway from Ohio, her car packed with all her belongings, and declared that she’d begin working for us now. She did! So beautifully! This is her last week here… for now. We love you Jenny and wish you and Liam all the best. Extra special thanks in this season of harvest goes to the three people who did the most to make 2016 such a good year for vegetables: Taylor LeFleur, Kirsten Liebl, and Anya Kaplan-Seem. Taylor has worked incredibly hard for two years here, on vegetables, animals, grains, and machinery, and he almost single-handedly kept the draft horses employed this summer. Kirsten ran the vegetable enterprise, always a daunting job, requiring both a crafty sense of strategy and dogged physical tenacity. She and Taylor are both moving on to other farm and food projects soon, but they aren’t going far. We’re so glad they are staying in our community. Anya brought new skills and energy to vegetables and herbs this year, and is the person most responsible for improvements in the way they are presented. Not for nothing, she wrote her master’s thesis in Geography, while farming here full time and then some. Anya, thank you.

Thanks must always go to Mark, my beloved, who keeps this dirty dream pinned firmly to earth, week after week, year after year. And the names I’ve mentioned are only the farmers who are here with us now, at the close of the year. Thank you to all the other farmers who have worked here this year, and for the last thirteen years. To the generous landowners who have made good land available to us, we give you our most sincere thanks.

Finally, the grandest whole-hearted and most important thanks go to every Essex Farm member, for your dedication to Essex Farm and to this food. Growing a full diet, year round, without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer, is complicated, and difficult, but we believe that it is also transformative, both for the land and for the eaters. We believe in whole food, in season, from healthy dirt. We believe in the benefits of agricultural diversity. We believe in working toward a form of agriculture that is socially just, environmentally beneficial, and economically sustainable. We can do all these things, but only because you believe in them, too. Thank you, members, for your continued support. We can’t wait to grow beautiful food for you in 2017. And that is the news for this Thanks-giving 48th week of 2016.

 

–Kristin & Mark Kimball