Essex Farm Note, week 38

We got a flood of response to last week’s note, regarding whether or not we can continue to use draft horse power here while also paying a living wage and achieving long-term economic stability. As we were discussing all of your thoughts in the farmhouse this week, I was advocating a mixed-power approach – draft horses plus tractors powered by biodiesel or maybe solar powered electric tractors. Mark frowned, and every time I made a point, he frowned more deeply. “What?” I finally said. He pulled out the beaten copy of The Grapes of Wrath and read:

The houses were left vacant on the land, and the land was vacant because of this. Only the tractor sheds of corrugated iron, silver and gleaming, were alive; and they were alive with metal and gasoline and oil, the disks of the plows shining. The tractors had lights shining, for there is no day and night for a tractor and the disks turn the earth in the darkness and they glitter in the daylight. And when a horse stops work and goes into the barn there is a life and a vitality left, there is a beating and a warmth, and the feet shift on the straw, and the jaws champ on the hay, and the ears and the eyes are alive. There is a warmth of life in the barn, and the heat and smell of life. But when the motor of a tractor stops, it is as dead as the ore it came from. The heat goes out of it like the living heat that leaves a corpse. Then the corrugated iron doors are closed and the tractor man drives home to town, perhaps twenty miles away, and he need not come back for weeks or months, for the tractor is dead. And this is easy and efficient. So easy that the wonder goes out of the work, so efficient that the wonder goes out of the land and the working of it, and with the wonder the deep understanding and the relation.

While I could have debated with Mark forever, I did not feel able to argue with Steinbeck. I’ll write about this again soon, but in short, we will pursue draft horse power for another season at least, and keep the discussion open. And I look forward to sharing our numbers more fully with you when we have them all in line.

We are so close to that bold line of demarcation that we call first frost. We skated by this week, but barely. The thermometer read 37 when I got up Thursday morning. We still have beautiful melons and peppers and tomatoes and basil in the share today so enjoy them while you can. Fall crops are booming. I’m really looking forward to winter squash. Meanwhile, we have our eyes on Little Red and Zea, who are due calve any day now. Their pasturemate, Scout, give birth a couple weeks ago to a stillborn premature calf, so we are ready for the cheer of live babies in the barn.  More cows are due in the coming weeks, so our dairy supply should increase. Pullets are starting to lay too, so we’ll be rich in eggs. In all, it is a fine time of year to eat, isn’t it?

Mark’s obsession of the week has been finding a way to build a community soccer field in the hay field next to the fire department. If you want to help, contact him at And that is the news from Essex Farm for this hello fall 38th week of 2012.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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