Team Dinner

Essex Farm Note

Week 3, 2017

Friday night team dinner is one of our strongest traditions at Essex Farm, dating back to our second or third year in business. It’s a celebration of the week’s hard work done, and the good food that came from it. Everyone who has worked on the farm during the week is invited. We eat in the farmhouse, after local distribution is wrapped up. Recently I realized I’ve cooked well over 500 team dinners, some of them dead simple, some elaborate, some for 5 people, some for 35. I’ve learned so much as a cook, and gotten so much joy from it. There is nothing as artificially affirming of one’s culinary skills as feeding a table full of hungry farmers. Sometimes, cooking for it is the best part of my week, especially if there is a kid or two underfoot in the kitchen, like there is today. Often, I don’t know what I’m cooking until I start gathering ingredients. Tonight’s dinner was inspired by Hannah, who is here from Oberlin College to work with us for a month, and made a gorgeous challah bread to share with us. I’m making chopped liver, roasted carrot soup, middle-eastern spiced poached chicken with wheat berries, and a kale salad. Maybe we’ll light some Shabbat candles before we eat tonight and send up an invocation for international peace through the beauty of good food.

Mark has been on a bread-baking tear the last couple of weeks. He recently read Michael Pollan’s Cooked, and has been working on Pollan’s no-knead 100% whole wheat sourdough loaves. It’s not an easy feat, but these loaves have been really good and getting even better. Pollan says most commercial whole wheat flour is made from grain that has been wetted before grinding (unlike ours), to make the bran separate more easily, but this is bad, because it sets off a series of enzymatic changes that degrade the flour and make an inferior loaf. Confusingly, you do want those enzymatic changes to happen, but not until just before the loaves are baked. Mark, following Pollan’s advice, has been mixing the whole wheat flour with water about 18 hours in advance, and turning in his sourdough starter the night before an early morning bake. The dough is quite wet, and baked in lidded cast iron pots in a 500 degree oven. The result is a pretty decent crumb for a 100% whole wheat loaf, ridiculously good flavor, and an absolutely top-notch crust. If you’re baking from Essex Farm flour, send us your best pictures and tips so we can pass them along.

What else? At managers’ meeting, we greenlighted Ben’s idea of raising a batch of 150 turkeys for the share this year. Turkeys are touchy in the brooder and there’s no guarantee it will be successful but I’m looking forward to trying. Mark’s talking about frost-seeding some legumes into the established pastures. The tractors are undergoing their winter overhaul. Kirsten and her crew pruned the raspberries, which makes me lust for fresh red fruit. The Belgian endive is sprouting, so we have that deep-winter treat to look forward to in the next six weeks. Safe travels to the farmers who are going to Washington this weekend to exercise their First Amendment rights, and thanks to the tight crew that is sticking around to keep the animals fed and milked while they are away. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this gray 3rd week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram at essexfarmcsa and kristinxkimball, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

Aidan and Matt having a pre-dawn coffee in the butcher shop.

Roo! Isn’t he beautiful?

The woolies. Hopefully, most of them are pregnant.

Not a bad crumb!

Gilbert the boar has been working hard this week, courting sows.

All-team meeting on Monday. Nearly as fun as it looks.

 

Transfigured

Essex Farm Note

Week 2, 2017

The seasons of the year can be read as an equation that comes out even in the end. Addition and subtraction. Positive and negative. Sun and shadow. Objects and their absence. We farm in the north country. Here, summer is for gaining and winter is for spending. In the summer we fill the barns with hay. As winter trundles on the bales become empty space. They disappear but they are not gone. Matter trades places with energy, which is neither created nor destroyed, but in farming, it is so beautifully transfigured: A burning star in space becomes grass becomes hay becomes the beating of a heart. It becomes milk, roots, bones, flesh. It becomes us. It becomes this thought, a spark we are sharing between us. Now.

We have house guests this week, staying on the hoosier cabinet next to the dining room table. Two flats of germinated lettuce seed, planted in blocks of last year’s potting soil. It’s not worth heating the greenhouse to keep them alive, so we’re sharing our warm space with them for now. One flat has added organic fertilizer, and the other does not. We’re using them to test the old potting soil’s fertility, and also, perhaps, our limits. How early can we use this splendid new greenhouse of ours, if the winter stays mild? Would a late January Hail Mary planting of lettuce survive? Which is another way of asking that most pressing question, how soon can we all eat fresh greens in spring?

There was a lot of movement in animal world this week. We sold off 350 round bales of hay, which meant we could rearrange the lower covered barnyard to give dairy heifers and beef cattle more space. In the upper covered barnyard, we weaned most of the piglets. The timing of weaning is a balancing act between the benefits to the nursing offspring and the cost to the lactating mamas. Any mother who has nursed a child can probably relate to that. Producing milk is hard work, and there’s wear and tear on the mama equipment. Imagine nursing twelve 30lb babies with sharp teeth and enormous appetites. This time, the piglets were way beyond the minimum age and size for weaning, but the sows held their weight well. Now the sows are in with Buddy the fat and friendly boar, who came over from Vermont, and has been renamed Gilbert. Ben just texted me a picture of him in the act of breeding Flops, with the caption “Your boar works.” Looks like we can expect piglets again in 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days. Pig gestation time is the only one I never forget.

We’ve been working on our marketing and communications this winter. The essexfarmcsa.com website has been renovated, thanks to loads of help from Gwen Jamison and Alex Bates. We still have some editing to do there, but it looks five hundred percent better already, and the farm store finally has an order page, hooray. I still need to get my own site and blog cleaned up, and that’s the goal for next month. Meanwhile, we’re posting regularly on Instagram, so please follow us there at essexfarmcsa (farm) or at kristinxkimball (me). And that is the news from Essex Farm for this blue-sky thawed-out 2nd week of 2017.  –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Aidan on her way to butcher a pig.

A real blue sky day. The new greenhouse finally got boards on the end walls.

My right hand girl.

There’s still some mache in the greenhouse.

Who needs Florida? We have greenhouses.

Alex Prediger took this shot the morning that the whole farm was a skating rink. Just before it all turned to mud.

Two of the three sisters.

Fresh

Essex Farm Note

Week 1, 2017

The new year has come skating in on a fresh cold wind. January feels fast and light, unburdened by the year that came before it, and full of so much potential. It’s a good time to refocus our farm goals, and to share them with our members. They are so simple! And so eternally challenging – which is how we know we’re on the right track. Here they are: We want to grow the best full diet on the planet for ourselves and our members, and we want to build soil that is capable of doing it.

What is good food, what is a good diet? Ask thirty people, get thirty answers. But one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that a good diet is a whole foods diet, based on unprocessed or minimally foods, with an emphasis on plants. Good food is also nutritionally dense and delicious. It comes from healthy plants and animals that are well-grown, well-harvested, well-prepared, and well-enjoyed. Go one step deeper, and you get to the farmer’s level. In other words, the dirt. All of it –taste, quality, nutrition, and ultimately, the wellbeing of the people who eat it – rests first on the quality of the soil.

So what makes for healthy soil? From an organic farmer’s perspective, good soil has high microbial diversity and high microbial activity. It has a balance of readily available macro- and mirconutrients. But perhaps most importantly, it contains a high percentage of organic matter, a.k.a. carbon. How do we put carbon into the soil? We use the energy of the sun to pull it from the air, make it into plants, and then lock it up, underground. Mark calls carbon capture (via cover cropping, strategic tillage, and good grazing management) the farmer’s chief objective, because it does so many beneficial things all at once. Carbon capture increases plant yield and nutrition; reduces erosion and improves water quality; makes plants better able to resist pest and disease pressure without chemicals; and increases resilience in both floods and droughts. Moreover, not for nothing, keeping carbon underground helps mitigate climate change. So here’s to capturing and keeping more carbon in the dirt for 2017, and using it to grow wonderful food.

I’m out of town this week so Mark has been managing the farm, house and kids while tackling some longstanding administrative tasks, like reevaluating our farm’s insurance policies, getting 2016 tax prep onto the runway, and looking into some mysterious thing called a retirement account – all so exciting it gives me shivers. Meanwhile, we had four students visiting from Swarthmore and Oberlin, and they have bulled their way through some big bad projects, like sorting all the winter squash, and trimming the outer leaves from every single head of cabbage. Jon picked up our new boar, Buddy, and the animal team vaccinated all the newborn piglets, which hopefully puts an end to our adventure with circovirus. We are waving farewell to Megan Moody, who is off to bike the California coast. Have a great safe trip, Megan, and thank you for all your good work. Finally, we are happy to be back on Instagram for the new year, at essexfarmcsa. (I also post at kristinxkimball.) Look for new posts there, nearly every day. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this fresh 1st week of 2017.     –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Cold morning, but the Scotties don’t mind. That’s what all that hair is for. Photo by Brandon Jaquish

A big bale for the big horses. Photo by Brandon Jaquish.

New day in a new year. Looking pretty good so far. Photo by Brandon Jaquish

The bird’s eye view of the dairy herd in the covered barnyard. Photo by Morgan Looney.

We know you’re there, strawberries, nestled under thick straw until spring.