Perfect Perfect

Essex Farm Note

Week 37, 2017

A fast note this week, at the end of a full and busy harvest day. I was thinking today that every food has its perfect moment, and every moment has its perfect food, and right now the perfect foods of summer are overlapping with the perfect foods of fall. The result is a blinding array of deliciousness in the kitchen. This morning we harvested a full wagon load of perfectly ripe sweet corn, and bins of beautiful broccoli, and also the best broccoli raab I’ve ever seen. The arugula (my favorite green) is coming on now, and we still have tomatoes. The best thing that came out of our kitchen this week was a lucky accident I put together when I had extra space in the oven, while cooking a chicken: roasted eggplant, sweet pepper and tomatos, pureed with garlic, olive oil, lemon, cumin and toasted pecans. I ate it on thin slices of sourdough bread all week.

            The compost barn floor has been poured, and the sides are going up. Now you can see how gargantuan it really is – a football field in length, and 68 feet wide. This whole area will be used for making compost. For now, though, it’s empty. The kids have been riding their bikes on the newly-poured concrete this week; it’s like having a piece of city planted in the middle of the farm, a reverse park. Hard surfaces are rare in their world and they are exuberant about it.

            Seems there is not one bear on the farm but three.  The bear of the south is the one who feasts on the sweet corn. Two bears of the east (one grown, one juvenile) are eating the field corn. I wonder what shifted in our corner of the world, to bring three bears here, when, in the last fourteen years, there have been none. Every time we go out to look at tracks with the dogs, the bears stay away for a few days. I like the thought that they are wary about us, and hope we can maintain this détente until they hibernate.

            The laying hens have been on strike for the last few weeks. The reduction in daylight accounts for some of the loss, but also, a good percentage of hens went broody. Broody is a hormone-induced condition that makes a hen stop laying, pluck the feathers from her breast to expose her warm skin, change her attitude to one of preoccupied petulance, and sit on a pile of eggs until they hatch. Whether or not a hen goes broody is in large part a genetic trait, and for us, not a useful one. There are ways to snap her out of it – placing her in a suspended cage without bedding, for example – but it’s not easy to do at a larger-than-homestead scale, so we’ll wait for them to come back to production.

            Speaking of hens, we butchered the oldest laying hens this week. They were well beyond productive age, and while they’ve been wonderful to have cleaning pasture behind the dairy cows, the ratio of work-to-benefit was beginning to tip in the wrong direction. Members, these are the birds that make the absolute best stew. Their age and all that time on pasture, scratching for their living, give them a really amazing flavor. They are NOT good for roasting – the meat would be like rubber – but they are unparalleled for making stock, soup and stew. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this farewell, Mae! 37th 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

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harvest

Essex Farm Note

Week 36, 2017

I took a barefoot walk through Pine and Monument fields yesterday, at sundown. The soil and the air were still soft and warm. In the next field, Anne was turning the dairy cows out after milking. Their pasture was thick in tender fall grass and rich clover, and they greeted it with small moos of joy. This moment in the cycle of the year is one of my favorites, because it’s beautiful, and the weather is sweet, and everywhere you look there is bountiful food. (And also because there is change afoot, at a time when the status quo was feeling a little oppressive.) We’ve begun the rapid shift from the work of anticipation – of building, and growing – to the work of fruition – of harvest, and storage. The word harvest was passed down from the Old English haerfest, which means autumn. Those two separate things – the season and the action – are linguistically bound together, an acknowledgment of our universal human ties to the agricultural year. Wouldn’t it be great if the work of harvest were an all-team sport? Everyone who eats would participate, for the sheer pleasure of it. Send the children out of their classrooms to stook the corn. Let the banks close until the potatoes are dug. Everyone, fire up the stove and put the biggest pots on to boil. It’s time to bring the harvest home.

            The bear is becoming a nuisance in the corn field. Miranda and I went to case the scene earlier this week and found three more large areas of flattened stalks and chewed cobs, surrounded by enormous prints. There were also three comically large piles of bear scat, made up mostly of half-digested corn. The tracks ran into the woods east of the field and then south, across Route 22, so we can assume the bear is not a permanent resident of the farm. In other animal news, the older turkey toms are just beginning to experiment with their gobbles. They’re directly across from the farmhouse, so I hear them practicing as they head for their roosts in the evening. The dairy cows are very happy and productive on this good fall grass. Thanks to Ben, our dairy team, and this gentle season, breeding has been going especially well, too. We just sent five blood tests off to the lab for pregnancy checks, and all of them came back positive. I expect the two heifers we have in the barn will also test pregnant in a couple weeks.

            After a rainy stretch, the forecast looks clear again through Wednesday, so we’re going to mow a little bit more second cut hay today. Mark has been very busy with three projects on top of regular fall work: the big compost barn construction; the 40 acres of new drainage; and the beginnings of a NRCS wetlands enhancement project. That last one is going to be exciting, as it will take 35 acres of our wettest land permanently out of production; we get five miles of high tensile fencing out of the deal, a new well, and also – this is the best part – seven acres of wildlife ponds. I envision some really epic pond hockey games in our near future.

            Goodbye to Lauren Swank! Lauren has done just about everything on the farm and I know local members will miss seeing her at distribution. Thanks, Lauren, for your hard work, and good luck with your next chapter. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this autumnal 36th 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

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Bear

Essex Farm Note

Week 35, 2017

If you want to know where the ripest, sweetest crops are, ask the wild animals. Woodchucks make their way down a line of lettuces, biting the perfect succulent center leaves out of each plant. Crows select the ripest melons, and fill them full of beakholes. And yesterday, from the tractor, Mark spotted a ten foot wide circle of flattened sweet corn stalks at the east end of Monument Field. The ripe ears had been pulled from the stalks and shucked and eaten like a large person in a big hurry, with wide bites taken out of the rows of kernels, the cobs chucked back on the ground. The scene was lazy and messy and gluttonous, and even from up high in the cab of the tractor Mark could see the prints: the ball of the paw was six or seven inches wide. That’s a pretty big black bear. In the next field, the bear had found the first ripe ears of our next variety of sweet corn, and had another – larger – circular picnic. Luckily, we have plenty of corn to share, and he or she is being quite polite about eating in one place instead of raiding the whole field. Members, I recommend you make like the bear and fill yourselves with sweet corn over the next few weeks, then fill your freezer. It’s a beautiful, bountiful crop this year and we will be harvesting plenty. What you can’t eat or put up will go to the Hub on the Hill for freezing, to be distributed this winter.

We are also rich in green beans this week, thanks to the fast Amish hands that picked them. Same story with these: please take plenty for fresh eating and for putting up, and the Hub will process the rest. There’s a low of 39 degrees predicted for tonight. You know who hates that? Tomatoes! Also, melons. It’s just not their year. But you know who loves it? Broccoli. The first of the fall heads are coming in, and they should be fantastic for the next several weeks. Also, spinach is very happy, and the radishes (delicious cherry belles in the share today), and the cool-season grasses, the cover crops, and all of the animals. That’s the way it goes. Every year has its winners and its losers. We are nearing the end of the longest dry stretch of the summer. I don’t think we’ve had a single 7-day period without rain before now. Most of the summer, the soil saturation was .55m2/m at 2” depth. Today, it was down to .2. We’ve taken advantage of it to get in the rest of the first cut hay, plus the best of the second cut. And while the quality of the first cut is not wonderful, we have made enough of it now to get through winter if we have to, so we’re breathing a little bit easier.

Thanks as always to our whole crew this week, and special thanks to Ben for
long hours of haymaking, and to Andrew Cooper, who has done a great job leading
the vegetable crew at a busy time of year. Welcome to our long-time member Kathleen Wiley who has come on board as our New York City coordinator. And welcome to John Keating who has just arrived from Chicago with his very cute dog Gideon for a stint with us. Welcome back to Hannah Shafer! It’s great to see her here again. Speaking of the team, we are still looking for a dairy team leader, and are also looking for an animal team leader to replace the irreplaceable Charlotte, who will be leaving in four weeks. Let us know if you have any leads. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this autumnal 35 th 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

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