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