Essex Farm Note

Week 34, 2014

School starts in two weeks, and it’s time to impose some order on the household. The girls are subject to earlier and more consistent bedtimes now, and we’re picking up the routines that keep chaos to a manageable level. In the kitchen, I’ve been thinking about what works for us during the school year. I can handle a dinner party for twenty without much anxiety, but packing two lunches before school often fills me with dread. As our members know, feeding the family with whole farm food means you don’t do the traditional American lunchbox stuff – no packages of chips, no PB&J, no bologna. If you haven’t thought ahead, you are doomed. When the bus is honking at the end of the driveway you will find no joy in raw dried beans or a half-frozen package of beef cheeks. Here are a few of my strategies for making whole farm food portable and appetizing.

1. It’s all about the packaging. When Jane started kindergarten I bought her a stainless steel Japanese style lunchbox – cool-looking, but limiting, and it leaked. This year I invested in a larger style of lunchbox that is insulated, plus lots of small liquid-proof containers, so I can send a variety of things like stew, dip, and yogurt.

2. Permaculture people have this concept called stacking, which means getting multiple functions out of every element of a design. That’s my goal in the kitchen. If I am boiling potatoes for dinner, for example, I always quadruple what I need so that I will have potatoes in the refrigerator for the week; they will be repurposed for lunch as home fries, fritters, or potato pancakes.

3. Farm staples. I keep homemade bread on hand, either fresh or in the freezer, plus something spreadable, like a bean hummus, egg salad, or pâté, because sandwiches are the easiest thing to pack. I also make large batches of farm granola (oats mixed with maple syrup, melted lard, and salt, toasted in a slow oven, plus raisins, nuts, or shredded coconut if I have it) so I can fall back on yogurt, maple syrup and granola. My third lunch staple is dip. My kids are pretty vegetable friendly but even they eschew plain old carrot sticks after a while. Add a yogurt or sour cream-based dip, though, and they will eat any raw veg I put in there.

4. Frozen meals. Every time I make a stew or a hearty soup, I make extra, and freeze it in pint or half pint jars, ready to be defrosted and packed on demand.

If you have farm-food lunchbox strategies, email them to me and I will share them.

Now the short news. We are spraying vegetable oil on the dairy cow pastures this week, to prevent bloat on the rich clover they are eating. So far, so good. We got 27 round bales of straw made, from the wheat we grew. Straw for bedding will be almost as valuable as feed to us in the winter. It rained more than we would like this week. We expected a tenth of an inch and we got an inch. Now the ground is too wet to cut hay. We are hoping for another good dry window before the second cut becomes much more mature. Fall crops are delighted with the rain, though, and are thriving. Summer crops will still be coming in for some time. The second planting of sweet corn is ripe now, and tomatoes are booming. Farewell to Isabelle Cochran, as she returns to Smith for her senior year! Her intelligence, tenacity, and curiosity made her a credit to the Institute. We are so lucky to have shared the summer with her. And that is the news for this wetter-than-we-though-it would-be 34th week of 2014.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

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