Newsy News

Essex Farm Note

Week 23, 2018

A very newsy note today, because there is so much afoot. Mark set a sort of reverse doomsday clock this week, to remind us that we have just 11 days left to plant all our major crops, before the window slams shut for the year. It’ll be full throttle from now until then – or full trot, depending on what you’re driving. On the tractor side, we bought a new-to-us mid-sized John Deere this week. We have also been making full use of the draft horses, working at lease one team every dry day, all year. Jonas has his black Percheron stallion hooked with our Belgian, Jake, on the spring tine harrow today; most of the rest of this week, they were cultivating corn and vegetables. It’s awfully good to have horses back in full employment.

     The new field on Blockhouse Road is starting to look like a real vegetable farm. The rain this week helped the plants take off, and now the sun is back to add some speed to their growth. The main headache there is nut sedge – one of my least favorite weeds, because it’s so dang hard to kill. The good news is that the sedge makes the broadleaf weeds seem like child’s play. Thanks to the whole plant team and the horses, we are on top of them, and today is perfect for weed control – the bright sun, fresh breeze and low humidity mean that any weeds we manage to disturb will die on the surface of the soil.

     We are still talking daily about how to utilize more and better forage and other non-grain feeds for all the animals. The ruminants are already either 100% grass finished or very nearly so (the ewes get grain at the end of pregnancy and beginning of lactation, until the spring grass is up, and the dairy cows get a little at milking time in the winter). Mark tightened up the dairy cow rotation this week, moving them to a fresh paddock every 6 hours. This style of grazing gets the cows to eat or trample all the forage in a given paddock, instead of picking and choosing their favorite plants, which, in the long run, encourages the less favorable ones to take over. The girls look happy, and production has stayed even. More: last year’s laying hens are moving into the new compost barn, where they will have access to all the goodness that ends up there, plus pasture, but no grain – a system that Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost practices on a larger scale. I can’t wait to see what it looks like here. Meanwhile, 600 new pullets have arrived and begun to lay. They are pastured in Firehouse Field in two separate flocks, learning to eat grass and bugs, with one guard goose each. Finally, we’re trying a new low-grain system for 36 feeder pigs. This morning they were grazing and rooting the oat/pea pasture, with side helpings of a failed batch of tempeh, assorted vegetables, and skim milk, and looked about as happy as pigs get. (That is, exceedingly happy.)

     We have equipment here today to complete a grant-funded vegetated treatment area – a section of permanent vegetation engineered to keep any runoff from the dairy out of the waterways. And grants, wonderful as they are, always mean a cash flow crunch, because of the lag between laying out the money, and getting it back. If you can pay your quarterly or other payments now, they would be greatly appreciated! And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this brilliant 23rd week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on insta and the web at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–K&M Kimball

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Waterfall of June

Essex Farm Note

Week 22, 2018

It’s the first week of June, the beginning of a uniquely busy month in the always-busy year. June is like standing under a waterfall of work. It feels best if you don’t resist it, just let it wash over you, and catch what you can, knowing some of it will get away. You understand the urgency of June when you think about what farming essentially is: the art of capturing sunlight, converting it to matter, and using it to meet human need. We have sunlight in abundance now, but it peaks in three short weeks, then recedes until the tide turns again at the end of December. At our latitude, we need to not only capture the light, but also securely store it for use in the dark half of the year. We can store it in corn, or beets, or meat, or butter, but here, we store the majority of it in grasses (plus clovers, trefoil, dandelions, and other forbs). At this point in the year these plants are young, succulent, and full of nutrients. The animals are harvesting their own at this moment, moving from paddock to fresh paddock each week, or day or, in the case of the dairy cows, every twelve hours. But this state of youthful plant energy is transient, and storing it is the key. That was what we focused hard on this week. Luckily, the weather cooperated, breakdowns were minimal, and we hired enough people and machines to get the first cut completely finished. This is great news because the quality is excellent, and there is plenty of light left for the plants to grow again, to be made into good second and maybe third cuttings. Some of the first cut was made into large round bales of dry hay, and some of it was wrapped to ferment into baleage (which is essentially pickled grass, delicious to ruminants), and all of it is safely home, so much sunlight captured. It’s a good feeling, especially as we talk and read more and more about the benefits of grasses over grains, for the soil, for animals, for humans, and for the planet. Members, we are steering the farm steadily away from grain, even for pigs and hens, and I’ll write more about that another time.

     What else? Weeding is in full swing, and there’s more transplanting happening today. We have the first lovely lettuces, kale and herbs in the share today. There’s a new Jersey heifer in the dairy nursery, daughter of Crayfish, named Crawdad. And lambing is finished, as of a week ago today. The tail end was trickier than the rest of the season combined, with some poor mothers and one very tough delivery. We ended up with two bottle lambs on the very last day, having gotten through the whole season without one. But what would spring be without some lambs in the front yard? Here are the final stats: Out of 115 ewes (104 of whom lambed) we got 128 lambs. That’s a rather disappointing 111% lambing percentage; even with 40% yearling mothers, as we had this year, we would hope for 1.5 lambs per ewe. On the bright side, we had few problems, and should have very large fat lambs come fall. It’s also easier on the ewes to raise one instead of two, which will give them a boost for next year. I think the biggest factor was failing to get the ewes on high-quality forage at breeding season last year, which lowered conception rates. Also, profligacy is partly genetic, so I’ll focus on it in our ram selection in the future. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this waterfalling 22nd week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, online and on insta at essexfarmcsa, or here on the farm, any day but Sunday.      

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

 

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May

Essex Farm Note

Week 20, 2018

     Let’s begin with the good news. The weather, since the storm, has been textbook perfect for May. The animals are eating fast-growing neon-green spring grass. Loads and loads of plants are going into the ground today, and also seed potatoes, in front of the gentle rain due to hit tomorrow.

     Also, we have a new product to sample in the share today, one that we’ve been dreaming about and working on for a really long time: our very own Essex Farm tempeh. If you’re not familiar with it, tempeh is a traditional staple food from Indonesia. It’s made from whole soybeans that have been soaked, lightly cooked and cultured with rhizopus oligosporus – helpful little spores that ferment the beans and form a white mycelium that binds them together into a beautiful firm-textured cake. The fermentation does some remarkable things to the soybean’s nutritional profile, making it easily digestible and breaking down the anti-nutritional phytates that give soy a bad name. Unlike tofu, is a whole and high-fiber food. It also contains a large amount of good-quality protein, Vitamin B2, minerals, and concentrated cancer-fighting isoflavones. Ours is made from certified organic, local soybeans. So, it’s good for you, but how does it taste? I’ve been a fan ever since I ate it in Indonesia, marinated, grilled and served with a peanut dipping sauce. But on its own, it’s kind of a neutral and non-exciting entity. It’ll readily take on whatever flavor you want to give it, which makes it ideal as a substitute for meat no matter what culinary mood you’re in. For first-timers, try slicing it ¼” and marinating it for half an hour (or more!) in a bit of soy sauce and vinegar plus some flavorful extras, like crushed garlic and grated ginger, before pan frying it, until golden brown.

    Huge thanks to Thanh for her painstaking development of the fermentation process for us, at the Hub’s kitchen. She spent many hours tracking down a good commercial-scale source for the culture (finding it, at last, in Belgium!), then tending to those magical little spores and coaxing them to grow. Thanks, Thanh!

     We’ve long wanted to offer a delicious, locally grown and produced vegetarian alternative to meat, and we know many of you are interested in eating lower on the food chain. Even the way we raise it, meat is resource-intensive, environmentally and economically. Having a non-meat protein source will help shrink our carbon footprint. So, please tell us what you think of the tempeh, or if you would like suggestions for using it. It would be fantastic to know how much of it you think you’d eat each week so we can make plans to scale up. Shoot us an email when you get a chance.

    And now the sad news, and I’m awfully sorry to break it. We lost our beloved dog Jet this morning after he was badly injured in an accident. Local members all know him well, but for others, he was the diplomat, the nicest creature on the farm, wise, gentle, and everyone’s friend. I know many of you will miss him almost as much as I will. Hard as it is to say goodbye, he was nearly 14, and had a great run. I’m too sad to write more now but expect a Jet tribute in the near future. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this farewell 20th week of 2018. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, online or on insta at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

– Kristin & Mark Kimball

R.I.P. Jet