linger, languor

Essex Farm Note

Week 32, 2017

There’s a heaviness to mid-August that seems to arrive on the air and spread to everything: the fattening fruit of the tomatoes, the full moon, the heavy pods of weed seeds, the thick-bodied insects upon which the hens are feasting. The heaviness feels seductive and a little dangerous. Linger, languor. Stay in this part of the season too long and our eyelids would grow heavy, our wills weak. Always, right about now, I begin to feel eager for light air and cool breezes, the first chill nights of fall. Walking through heavy grass with Mark yesterday, he reminded me that frost is only six weeks away. Six weeks! And between now and then there will be so much good food to eat. The sweet corn’s kernels are beginning to plump. I expect we’ll have some in the share next week, or the week after for sure, and then it should be an all-you-can-eat corn fest, with plenty for the freezer if we can keep up with picking. Cucumbers are coming in from the field now, and we planted more in the greenhouse this week, along with some supplementary late tomatoes, in case the early plants succumb to blight. We have hot peppers available this week, with some sweet ones getting very close. I’ve been loving the little purple striped cherry tomatoes – a new variety for us this year – and we had our first good harvest of large slicers this week. Meanwhile, some of the big storage crops are coming in. Isabelle and her team got all the yellow onions harvested yesterday and into the hot dry loft of the east barn to cure. The garlic came in last week, and is also drying. The summer carrots are all in now, too, and the fall carrots are beginning to size up.

            On the animal side, it’s been a birthy week. Ursula the sow had her litter, and we’re waiting for Cori the Jersey cow to calve, any minute now. Cori’s 2015 daughter, Crayfish, just came up from the heifer pasture to join the cow herd. She is the spitting image of her dark-spotted mother and also inherited her high-strung temperament. It took five days to teach her to walk into her stanchion but now that she’s finally got it she does it at a dead run. The older batch of turkeys got a paddock of grass this week,  and the younger set has moved from their brooder in the garage to a section of the middle greenhouse. They are awkward and strange and I like their weird little personalities. Something stealthy is picking off chicks in the west barn brooder. Charlotte suspects a weasel or mink. Mozzie the Great Pyrenees is living with the hens this week. All three dogs were getting bitten terribly by flies, and Mozzie’s nose was getting the worst of it. Repellant ointment would probably work, but the dogs hate it so much they run through the fence when they see me coming with it. The shade of the chicken barn is doing Mozzie a lot of good, and he should be back with the sheep in a of couple days.

            Members, we had a skim of ice on the milk in the bulk tank this morning. We are still getting the hang of that new piece of equipment! Freezing breaks up milk’s fat molecules, so some might notice a slight change in texture (it looks chunky in hot coffee) but the taste and quality are good. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this heavy 32nd 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

Wild Milk

Essex Farm Note

Week 31, 2017

David Asher is responsible for the mess in my kitchen. There is a pot of renneted milk that has been sitting unattended on the pantry counter for the last 24 hours. Its soft curd has sunk in a pool of pale yellow whey, and there is a skim of white mold growing over all of it. (Geotricum candidum!) On the other side of the kitchen, there’s a cloth bag of cottage cheese made simply from milk, taken warm from the cow and left on the counter for two days to clabber. It’s dripping whey now, into a bucket in the sink. The whey from that bucket is destined for the stovetop tomorrow, to be make into a tiny batch of seriously authentic ricotta. Finally, there is a jar of kefir bubbling away on top of the dishwasher, which I nip from every morning as soon as I wake up, and refresh every day with more milk, in a continuous ferment, like a Mongolian herdswoman.

            David is the author of The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, and came to the Hub a few weeks ago to teach a class. His premise-- that good fresh raw milk from pastured animals contains all the native cultures you need to make any cheese in the world – really blew my mind, because it’s so different from conventional methods, which rely on laboratory-grown cultures and microbial rennet. He points out that this is the same premise that rules the making of sourdough bread – the wheat carries yeast spores, the means of its own leavening, and of traditionally fermented vegetables, which carry all the bacteria they need, given the right conditions, to transform into sauerkraut, or kim chi. This made so much sense to me, and was so different from everything I though I knew about dairy, that I dove in hard. Now that I’ve tasted some of the products made from these traditional methods I’m a true believer. I fully recommend his book. The more I read and know about our gut microbiome, the more I believe that these wild, living, minimally processed, naturally fermented foods that are part of our human culinary tradition are key to good health.

            The farm roads and fields were all full of traffic this week. Ground work has begun on the big pole barn, which we’ll use to make compost. On the other side of the farm, the Barnes family is back to add drainage to the fields along Blockhouse Road. The beautiful loam soil in that section is so wet as to be unproductive in all but the very driest years (like last year), so we are looking forward to restoring it to healthy production. Meanwhile, the usual fieldwork continues. Isabelle Smith is here for two weeks, and she always brings a gust of fun along with her good hard work. The Amish girls have been a terrific addition to our summer crew. This week we had Elizabeth from the Shetler farm near Westport, as well as a rotation of Swartzentruber girls, so we had two buggies in the barnyard and two lean, fast-lined Standardbreds in the barn during the day.

            We got some hay in this week. Some of it was only rained on twice. The vegetables look gorgeous. The sweet corn should be ready for harvest in 2 or 3 weeks. Tomatoes are being hammered by crows but soon production will outpace even their shiny black appetites. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this hot 31st week of 2017. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, on instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, 518-963-4613, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.  –K&M

Warm Bright Meat

Essex Farm Note

Week 30, 2017

We’re solidly in it now. The heat is catching up to the light. This is the season for capturing as much of the sun’s generosity as we can, so we can keep it through the winter. Mark says that this time the work shifts from stressful to simply hard. The cloth of the year is cut, now stitch. I am not sure, based on feedback from my adrenal glands, that I agree. Example: yesterday evening, as we were picking currants, our neighbor Beth flew her Cessna overhead and gave what I though was a friendly wave of her wings. My phone was tucked away in my pocket so I didn’t see her text until later. DOG ON THE RUNWAY. WOULD LIKE TO LAND. Then, LANDED. CONCERNED ABOUT DOG CHASING PROP. I wondered, what is the proper expletive for such a unique agricultural situation? Mozzie the Great Pyrenees had popped out of the electric net, which was set in a hard-to-fence area with long grass just west of Beth’s runway. Points to Moz for sticking around, but he had decided to wait smack in the middle of the landing strip, and didn’t want to move despite the giant bird barreling down on him. Luckily, Beth landed short, and Mozz came trotting right up to her, and Beth put him back in with the flock, but none of this did my heart any good. We are very grateful that Beth is such a good and patient neighbor (and pilot), and I suppose the momentary stress of the emergency is outweighed for me by the lack of stress I feel when I hear the coyote chorus strike up their mournful midnight ballad.

            I promised to address off-farm butchering last week, and didn’t get a note out at all, so I’m here now to rectify that. Forgive me for going over my usual word count! Generally, the concerns raised have been consistent. Most members would prefer animals to be killed and butchered on farm rather than shipped. Some people prefer paper to plastic packaging (especially the foam trays under the sausages) to reduce garbage. Other people like the professional look and keeping quality of the professionally butchered, plastic vacuum packages, and I do think that we as a group waste less meat by using more durable packaging. Some were confused about the NOT FOR SALE label. That label, which the butcher shop is required to add, indicates that the packages are not inspected by a USDA employee and that therefore the meat cannot be sold at retail. This is the same as ever for us. Feedback on butchering quality has been likewise mixed. Some people (I included) love having the linked sausages, which we don’t have the equipment to make on-farm, but other people found the grind too fine and therefore didn’t like the texture. (The sausage spicing was custom-done for us, and made according to our own usual recipes, with the same organic spices and salt we use, so flavor should be exactly the same.) Nobody wants nitrates in the bacon. Local members have really missed having the weekly personal interaction with the butcher and picking out and wrapping their own unfrozen cuts of meat.

            We are grateful for all the input. We hear you, both on the positive and negative points. For me, the biggest negative is shipping animals. I have always been proud of the fact that our animals are killed on the farm and I look forward to doing as much of it here again as possible. There is a web of reasons we are shipping this summer, and I’ll share them here, not as a way to deflect your concerns but to explain the reasons behind our decision. The biggest is that we lost two key people with short notice in June, which left us without a butcher at a time of year when it’s very difficult to hire farm help. We had already decided to outsource some of our butchering this summer, because we’ve been growing at a healthy rate that is slightly faster than we can grow our labor and infrastructure, and that was creating stress on our team. Also, we were approaching this peak of light and heat that is key to the success of the year. Without someone trained for butchering, we decided to focus on the overall health of the farm, and ship the cattle and pigs this summer, while continuing to do the chickens every week, on-farm. Chicken butchering, by the way, is a weirdly fun full-team effort. Anyone who would like to help out with it is welcome.

            The bottom line is that we are always working to balance the economic, environmental and social costs of our farming practices. I’ve learned that it’s not possible to have perfection in all three, at once. To keep the balance, we have to first consider the farm as a whole, rather than each individual part. We strive to produce the healthiest, tastiest food we can while keeping the share cost affordable, and also doing our best for the land, the animals, and the people who work so hard to provide it. Meat is the costliest thing we produce, economically and environmentally. We work hard to improve the quantity and quality of our soil and pastures because we think that ultimately, good dirt and good grass makes for healthy food. We feed our animals only organic grains or grains we grew ourselves. This is very different and much more expensive than “non-GMO” grain, which is usually grown with conventional chemicals. We do this because we think it’s important for the land, farmers, and eaters.

            For the coming weeks we plan to keep our heads down and work hard to harvest all the energy the sun is giving us. We hope to get our on farm butcher shop up and running again as soon as we can. You can help by spreading the word that we’re looking for a full time butcher, and also hiring a New York City share coordinator, a position that requires fewer knife skills, more people skills. If you or someone you know fits the bill for either of these positions, text or call Mark 518-570-6399, call or email the office 518-963-4613 essexfarm@gmail.com, or come by the farm. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this warm bright 30th week of 2017.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball