Essex Farm Note

Week 12, 2017

A quarter of the year is now behind us, and the ongoing contest between dark and light stands, again, at a draw. It does not feel like spring, with lows in the single digits, and an inch of slippery snow this morning. But the sun! I feel it gaining strength every day. It’s like watching a story unfold and knowing, despite the current action, that the good guy is going to win in the end. Meanwhile, the present is not so bad. I think my favorite weather of all is strong sun in cold air, the kind where your face is warm and your backside is cold, the kind we had for several days this week. The animals seem to feel good about it too. The hens have increased their production, from absurdly low to slightly less absurdly low. But fear not, egg-loving members! 600 reinforcements arrived yesterday from a certified organic poultry farmer, Daniel Stoltzfus, who has been supplying us and other farms in our region with 16-week old pullets for the last few years. They are well grown, healthy, fully beaked, and almost ready to lay. This new flock is settling in at Bonebender Barn, above the sheep, and I expect we’ll go from dearth to abundance in the egg department very soon. Thanks for your patience with egg limits this winter.

            In other life-affirming news, Zoe the Jersey gave birth to a gorgeous little heifer calf sometime before dawn this morning. It’s the first calf born here since we switched to artificial insemination, a change that Ben Christian has spearheaded and managed. The benefits of AI are manifold. Rather than using whatever bull we can find at the time we need him, the best Jersey bulls in the country are available to us, and Ben can choose the sire to augment the cow’s strengths, or mitigate her weaknesses. Our grass-based feed regimen isn’t meant to maximize the cow’s genetic potential for production, so we don’t need to breed for extreme milk, and can focus instead on healthy moderation, and traits of soundness and longevity, like good udders, feet and legs. Also, AI allows us to select A2/A2 genetics (google it if you’re interested) and to run a closed herd, which means we don’t buy pesky diseases like Johnes along with a bull. Finally, for me, the biggest benefit is simply that we no longer have to have a Jersey bull on the farm. They are deadly dangerous and unpredictable animals, and I really do sleep better now that we don’t own one. So, finding this morning’s little heifer was a joy on all fronts. When I asked the kids at breakfast for Z name suggestions, Jane came up with “Ziti” and Miranda with “Zydeco.” I might have to flip a coin to decide between those two good options.

            It’s been an up and down season for sugaring so far. We had two good runs this week, which brought in 600 gallons of sap. Chris stayed at the evaporator until 10pm on Wednesday to get the syrup made and the pans drained before the temperatures plummeted to valve-crushing lows. The forecast looks fairly promising for the week to come. In plant world, Anya and her crew have been very busy seeding. The north and middle greenhouses, which are blessed with automatic propane-powered heaters, are stuffed to full capacity with seedlings and chicks, so the cold-tolerant leeks have been moved to the unheated high tunnel. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this equinoctial 12th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram daily at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.          –Kristin & Mark Kimball


Essex Farm Note

Week 11, 2017

When the sun came up on Tuesday morning the sky was matte gray; looking into it was like looking into the flat eye of some disturbed being. Just after 8 the sky seemed to break up and begin to move, subtle at first, like a plague of hatchling insects. As the day wore on, the wind came, and the tiny flakes swirled and drifted. By afternoon milking it was a real blizzard. Anne was scheduled to jar the milk, and she had valiantly tried to drive to us, but was stuck in a ditch at the bottom of Crooked S Hill. Mark went to pull her out with the F350, and I went to the milkhouse in her place. By then, the storm was so wild that I had to struggle through drifts and against the wind, and when I opened my mouth to take a deep breath snow flew in and melted in my throat, like breathing in a swarm of frozen gnats. As I set up to jar the milk, the pitch of the wind became even more fierce. The door to the milkhouse blasted open. Then slammed closed. Then slammed open. Ice formed on the threshold so it wouldn’t close at all and small drifts began to gather around the equipment.

            Stepping into the barn, though, was like stepping into another world. The noise of the storm was muted. All was calm. The cows were in their stanchions, chewing their cud as usual, with their steady circular jaws. Alex was teaching Zohar how to milk, talking her through the steps of teat prep. Barbie the cat was curled in a warm nest in the hay. The sows in the covered barnyard had buried themselves entirely, only the ridges of their backs showing, rising and falling with their breath.

            When the storm finally ended, there was much to be grateful for. People and animals were safe. The electricity even stayed on, which meant the chicks were warm in their brooders, and the seedlings warm in their flats. Thanks to Ben for plowing us out, to Jori for braving the slush and ice in Albany and New York City on Thursday, to our patient members for those late deliveries, and to the whole team for getting here on Wednesday morning despite the extreme conditions.  

            Big thanks too to everyone who helped spread the word last week about our search for a new dairy team leader. We have had several inquiries, and are still taking applications. I have two new requests this week. First, would you help us meet our goal of adding thirty new members by the end of the 2017? We are marketing shares at home here in Essex, in New York City, in Albany, and in the Lake Placid/Tri-lakes region. If you know someone who might be interested in a share, please put us in touch. The second request is for a big but short-term loan. We have grants from NRCS and NYS Soil and Water to build a 75’ X 300’ compost barn to protect our watershed from runoff. It will also help us make better compost, which will build even better soil, and grow even better plants and animals. Preliminary drawings are set, and construction must be compete by the end of the year. The grants pay out at completion of the $450K project, so we are looking for short-term loans to get us through construction. Please let us know if you can help. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this big bad stormy 11th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

 –Kristin & Mark Kimball

Darn Cold

Essex Farm Note

Week 10, 2017

Forecast says -20 with windchill tonight, and the highs are not supposed to go above freezing for the next seven days. It may be one of those years when spring conceals itself entirely from us until it suddenly pops out from its hiding place, brilliant and fully formed. Anything that shortens the mud season is OK with me, but the cold has put sugaring on hold. We did have a run earlier in the week, which will yield another fifteen gallons of syrup. Mark is chafing at the awkward size of our current system – 400 buckets – and dreaming about 800 taps, with partial pipeline, a bigger evaporator, and a reverse osmosis machine. RO removes some water from the sap before boiling, which saves a lot of time and wood. The comically dilapidated state of our arch is going to force us to make a change next year in any case, but for now, a dream is a dream.

            I don’t think we’ve officially welcomed the McConnell family (Chris, Nicole, and their three young daughters) to the farm team and the community yet. Chris is just out of the Navy, where he was a pilot, flying a reconnaissance plane, the E2. Last week, Mark wondered out loud to me if he could dare leave Chris in charge of the evaporator after only a morning of training. (Mark is a little paranoid that beginners will burn through the pans.) I pointed out that Chris spent the last few years risking his life by landing multimillion dollar military equipment on moving ships, at night, and so can probably be trusted to run the evaporator. Mark relented, and Chris made much of the syrup this week, and what do you know? The pans are still safe. McConnells, we’re so glad you’re here.

            We’re making a sad farewell soon, too, as Alex is moving on at the end of the month. She has been our dairy team leader, and will leave behind a legacy of healthy, happy cows plus better systems for breeding, milking, and scheduling. Alex, we’re going to miss you, and wish you all the best at your next farm, in Wisconsin. We are eager to fill her shoes before she departs so please help us spread the word that we are hiring for this position. Applicants can email with any questions.

            What else? Mark spent part of the week in meetings about the compost barn project. The barn is now to be oriented east/west instead of north/south, in case we want to add solar panels to the south-facing roof at some point. We are grateful this week for the propane greenhouse heaters we bought last year. They are more efficient and less stressful than our old hands-on system. Anya seeded celery root today, the sloth of vegetable world, one of the first to be planted, and the last out of the ground in fall.  Ben is excited about diversifying grain; he’ll be sowing Field 10B to oats, undersown with hay. I’m beginning to see some udder development in the bred ewes, and we have our first AI calf due soon. Don’t forget Dan Kitteridge is coming to the Grange on Tuesday night to talk about improving the nutritional quality of the food system; free for students and local farmers, open to the public for $5. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this darn cold 10th week of 2017. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.                       

–Kristin & Mark Kimball