Forage

Essex Farm Note

Week 33, 2018

A chilly 57 degrees this morning in front of a storm system and a warm front, dangling the possibility of some showers or thunderstorms over the next few days. We hope so. The ground is still thirsty. Rain fell all around us this week but most of the clouds split overhead and passed us by. We got .2” – better than nothing but not much. The hay fields in Willsboro got about twice as much, and are starting to look pretty good. Here at home, we’re mostly resigned to not making a second cut this year, and, more immediately, are searching daily for sufficient pasture, especially for high-demand herds like the dairy cows. Some of the best stuff is found in unlikely places that we don’t usually graze at all, like the edges of the farm road, or along ditches. The sheep are getting the second-best, which comes this week from a field of past-prime forage that went by before it grew very tall.

It’s tempting, when grass is scarce, to leave animals on a paddock longer than usual to eat every bit of grass they can lip into their mouths, but on a drought year, fast pasture rotations and not overgrazing are even more important than usual, because they are the keys to getting more, better, faster re-growth. We may try to wean the lambs this week, to try to optimize what we have to feed them. We don’t usually wean lambs at all, but it would be more efficient this year to do so, since the dry ewes could get lower-quality maintenance forage and we could save the better stuff for finishing the ram lambs and getting as much growth as possible on the ewe lambs we’re saving for breeding. Whenever we do it, the sorting will be much easier than it has been in the past, because we just bought a whole big load of new-to-us sheep equipment, including panels, gates, a tilt table, and an actual livestock scale. It’s a huge improvement on our old duct-tape and baling twine sorting system, and the scale will allow us to take the guesswork out of measuring gains, so we can make more informed decisions on which ewes to keep for breeding.

The biggest win this week was getting fall cover crops planted. We have 15 acres of rye/vetch in the ground now, aiming for a total of 60, with some turnip, alfalfa and birdsfoot trefoil seed going into the later mixes. The whole premise of organic agriculture is to take care of the soil so the soil can take care of everything else. Cover crops – and especially ones that fix nitrogen – are our first step to doing that. And the week’s challenges? Sweet corn, for one. Sad to say it’s pretty much a bust this year. What the crows didn’t get, the corn worms did, or the deer, or the drought. We may not see any more of it this year, or if we do, it’ll be a sweet surprise bonus. We have a little lag in tomatoes this week, too, related to the timing of our pruning, but there’s still a lot of fruit on the vines so we expect a return to plenty.

Farewell to Evan Reith, who was an incredible asset to the farm this summer. He shouldered hard work and complex responsibilities with competence, good judgment and great cheer. We miss him! Have a great year at school, Evan. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this mixed-bag 33rd week of 2018. I’m writing hard these days and so have fallen off social media. But generally, you should like us on Facebook to see what we post there, or find us at 518-963-4613, at essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball  

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VAPG

Essex Farm Note

Week 32, 2018

Big news to share this week. We got the Value Added Producers Grant, the one we thought we definitely were not going to get. Apparently, it was extremely close, but things fell our way at the end. Writing this grant was a years-long effort that came together around the kitchen table over the holidays last winter, fueled by pots of strong tea, with many hours of work from Anne, Jori, Barbara, Deirdre and Nathan. I’m sending this team a lot of gratitude today, along with the many members and friends of the farm who wrote beautiful letters of support for us. I’m convinced those letters were what put us over the goal line.
            The grant provides funding over the next three years to create a line of pasteurized dairy products, made with our own grass fed Jersey milk, that will be legal for distribution, transport and sale. I have been gunning for this for about ten years, and the grant will make it possible. It will cover 50% of eligible expenses up to $202,500, including inventory, packaging, training, and payroll. We must match the other 50% using the value of our milk, family labor and cash.
            There are a few tricky hoops to jump through yet. First, the grant doesn’t cover the hard stuff, like the equipment, nor a building to put it in. But we knew that going in. We have done our research and will place an order very soon with MicroDairy Designs, an innovative little company in Maryland that sells affordable, small-scale, modular equipment that complies with all 380 pages of the ordinance governing dairy products. No small feat! We need to decide if we will put the new equipment in an actual new building, or into another modified trailer in the barnyard. It is nice to dream of the former, but the latter is more realistic, at least at the start. Now, here’s the hardest hoop of all. We need to produce something edible by October 20th. Given we just got the grant, and the delivery time for the equipment is 10-12 weeks, this is a bit unrealistic. Luckily the USDA will allow us to take our milk to another facility to make into a product, in order to meet the deadline. (The full line of products will be in production here at Essex Farm by March 2019.) So now we are on the search for a dairy plant within a reasonable distance that we could rent for a day per week. Let us know if you have any leads. We’re really grateful to the USDA for this game-changing opportunity, and especially to Gary Pereira and Scott Collins in the USDA Rural Development office for answering approximately three million questions over the last few days. Wish us luck, and stay tuned to hear what our first product will be.       
            And now I’ve really buried the lede. Senator Chuck Schumer is coming to visit today. We are so honored to host him and look forward showing him what we do here. Coverage of his visit will be on the radio and tv! Check out wamc.org and ncpr.org for the radio story. And for television coverage check out WCAX at 5:30 and 6pm and WPTZ (channel 5) at 5 and 6pm.  Also, the first sweet corn is ripe.
            We said goodbye to Courtney this week. He is only going up the hill to the Hub, so while we’ll miss him a lot we will still be neighbors and friends. Thank you, dear Courtney, for your good work, kind spirit, and countless delicious lunches. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this dog-days 32nd week of 2018. Like us on FB to see what we post there, or find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or right here on the farm, any day but Sunday.                                                                

–Kristin and Mark Kimball

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Why

Essex Farm Note

Week 31, 2018

 
Whole team meeting this week, in the midst of a storm of work. Picture us. Fifteen people, smudged with dust, blood, milk, manure and sweat. We’re gathered around the tables in the shade of the pavilion, among the summer crop of flies, the smell of Matt’s magnificent lunch, almost done, drifting out of the shabby kitchen. We are a diverse bunch. There are fifteen sets of beliefs around the table, from Anabaptist to atheist. Different core values, styles, orientations, ages, politics, and backgrounds. But there’s something powerful that connects and bonds us: we work together on this great living project that bridges week to week (to bring you food) season to season (to sustain the farm) and decade to decade (to foster the health and resilience of a system that begins with a single molecule and ends with the planet and all it carries). It’s not the what of the daily work that comes up, but the why. You don’t last long in farming if you don’t have a why. The why is what keeps you going out there, every day, into the storm of work. 

Evan’s why was a double hit. As he drags the heavy hose to fresh pasture for the beef cattle each day, he reminds himself that he’s doing it in order to foster healthy pasture, healthy cattle, for the taste of that animal that will eventually nourish healthy people. That the hard work will make him healthy, too. If that doesn’t get him through the end of the job he thinks of Aldo Leopold: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it does otherwise.” It’s undoubtedly easier not to work this way, or produce food this way, but if the work and its result answers your why, you will keep going out, and do it with joy, though it’s joy of a particular color, more plain than bright.
           
You all have a why, too, I know, for being members of this farm, and eating this way. You could purchase your daily lot of calories in cans and packages, from Sysco and Wal-Mart, and it would be cheaper and easier. Your whys range from better taste, to health, to satisfaction, and maybe some of Evan and Aldo’s reasons, too. We’re so glad to be working on this great living project together. We think of you as collaborators, and we couldn’t do it without you.
            
That’s the why. So what about the what this week? We harvested garlic plus most of the onions, and they are in the loft of the West Barn, to dry and cure. Moved the orphan sheep to the main flock. Harvested and weeded like maniacs. I took a two-day class in artificial insemination, and it is, in short, much harder than it looks. At night I dream of cow cervixes. I’ve been bugging Ben to come over between shifts at his new job and re-breed cows for me so we don’t end up with a herd of open Jerseys in 9 months. We are saying goodbye to Arielle this week, so she can head back to school. She has been one of the strongest and bravest this summer! Arielle, thank you so much for your good work. We will miss you and hope we see you back here soon. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this onion-scented 31stweek of 2018. Like us on FB to see what we post there, or find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday. 
                                                                                               
 –Kristin & Mark Kimball  

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