Ready Set

Essex Farm Note

Week 5, 2018                  

February. I love this month, when all the potential of the year begins to shift into action. It’s still winter, hard-frozen and covered in snow, but the light is getting stronger. We cross into ten hours of daylight, gaining three minutes a day. Crops that will be transplanted to the fields in April or May will start life in flats this month – onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, herbs, and the first lettuce. We will also direct-seed the south greenhouse to cold-hardy greens – my beloved mâché, spinach, maybe some chives, all for spring harvest. Sugaring is likely to begin before February is over. The sap buckets are already washed, the wagon is ready and the harnesses are waiting on the tack room wall.

            Mark says I tell too many dog stories. Just one more, OK? On Wednesday evening, I was late going out to feed the Great Pyrenees, and when I got to the sheep pen, I saw two waving white tails instead of three. Jake sometimes falls deeply asleep in the middle of the flock, so I walked the whole pen, peering around sheep, but no Jake. The fence was fine, no sign of how he might have escaped. I walked every pasture in the dark, calling, and then drove around the farm and all the way to town. Finally, there was nothing left to do but go to bed. The next morning, Mark ran out to the sheep pen, while I took the kids to school. And there was Jake, lying on a comfy tarp just outside the fence, but so tired and sore from his night’s adventure he didn’t get up, just lifted his head, yawned, then snuggled back down. We think he got out by scaling a new water trough, which was situated near where I’d hung a bucket full of very tempting dog food on the other side of the wall, out of sight but certainly not out of smell. How he spent his hours at large, we’ll never know, but the coyotes seem to be giving us a wider berth.

            We ate tortillas every which way this week, but the best might have been the simplest: toasted until fragrant over the gas stove flame, then eaten with black beans, hot sauce, sour cream, and cilantro. We’re getting loads of good feedback, and are working hard to find an affordable way to have them made fresh each week, from our own corn. We have them in the share again today, hooray.

            We have many belated welcomes to make. Courtney’s husband Russ Schneider has joined us for some part time office work. We’re so glad he’s now firmly planted in our community. Scott Hoffman is back! He and his wife Aubrey met here, and now run The Family Cow Farmstand in Hinesburg, VT. They have the whole raw milk operation down to a lacto-T, so Scott is here, on special projects. He researched, sourced and set up a new root washer, a tool we’ve been talking about for five years. It’s a beauty. We have missed him and Aubrey and are so glad to have them back in the orbit. We’re also saying a huge warm hello to Katie Culpepper, who has joined our management team, tasked with increasing the quality and diversity of the share. She ran the farm at the North Country School, and arrives with mad, mad skills. Finally, welcome Matthew Pounds, who came from a fast-growing CSA in West Virginia with interest in diversified year round CSA (that’s us). It’s great to have him here. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this deep breath 5th week of 2018. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, 518-963-4613, on Insta at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.   

–Kristin & Mark

887fc0dd-f872-454b-b383-c2dd965ce41d.jpeg

Lucky

Essex Farm Note

Week 4, 2018

            The new ponds melted and refroze into an acres of smooth hard ice this week. After school yesterday, we bundled into warm layers and hiked out past the grunting brood sows and the curious horses. The boulder I call Coyote Rock – a huge glacial erratic where the wild dogs used to sit and howl – is now at the edge of the newly-filled pond, and perfectly placed for putting on skates. The sun was sinking, the wind was high, and a waxing gibbous moon stood overhead in the clear evening sky. Just as we got both kids laced, the interlopers arrived, trotting down the farm road, shoulder to shoulder, looking straight ahead as though to evade detection. Jake and Suit, two of the three Great Pyrenees who are guarding the sheep, were out of their fence and off on an adventure. This wasn’t the first time that an hour’s recreation was interrupted by a farm emergency, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I hustled back into my boots, abandoned the kids, and ran. Who knows where they’d end up if they kept going? They are not known for coming when called. And if hundred pound dogs could get out of the sheep fence, it was likely that the sheep could, too. I really didn’t want to spend a cold night on an unplanned sheep muster. Luckily, the dogs came to me (I feed them). Luckily, I had baling twine in my pocket. Luckily, Mark came running to help. Sometimes, you get lucky. I walked them up the hill and back to the sheep, who were still in the fence, along with the third dog, Mozzie. The bottom of a gate had come loose, and it was soon fixed, and we were back on the pond, the four of us gliding together through the last cold light.

            The USDA Value Added Producers Grant application to support the creation of a creamery on our farm is wrapping up at last! Anne, Jori, Deirdre and I spent much of the week huddled around the farmhouse table with tea and the nearly incomprehensible application, strategizing, calculating and typing until our eyes blurred. Huge thanks to the whole team and to all of the members and farm note readers who answered our call for letters of support. They were a boost to the application and also to our morale. The awards are expected to be announced the last day of May.

            The beef in the share is from two Jerseys– one heifer and one cow – that we butchered last week. The same gene that makes Jersey milk so beautifully golden (from beta carotene) tints the fat of grass-fed Jersey cattle. Don’t be alarmed if you notice that color in the fat of this beef. It’s good to eat, and good for you.

            We are testing some tortillas in the share this week and would love to hear your feedback. These were made across the lake at Vermont Tortilla Company, from certified organic corn grown by our neighbor, Mark Wrisley. In order to make tortillas a regular and sustainable part of the share, we’d like to get a tortilla press up and running in our own neighborhood. Mark has issued a challenge to Jori and the Hub on the Hill to make it happen in 2018. Knowing some things about Mark and Jori, I’d put my money on it. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this brisk bright 4th week of 2018. Find us on Instagram at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

IMG_6800.jpeg

Extra hands light work

Essex Farm Note

Week 3, 2018

Miranda and I walked to the new Long Pasture pond after school yesterday. After this stretch of cold and storms, the weather felt so balmy, at 19 degrees, that both of us felt justified leaving the house without hat or mittens. Mary the English Shepherd came along, bounding through the snow, the canine embodiment of joy. We walked along the new fence line, which is scheduled to be strung with high tensile wire next week, but for now is just a line of posts. At the lower, hummocky part of Solar Field, Mary stopped and cocked her head at the snow. Then she leaped straight into the air, and down again, nose planted. There was a brief front-foot scrabble, which turned up snow, grass, dirt… and her quarry, a velvety, dark-gray vole. She curled her lips back to avoid the vole’s teeth, flung it in the air several times to stun it, and then dispatched it with a solid bite. “She crunched its noggin,” Miranda said, matter-of-factly. We watched Mary eat it, first the head, then the body. She repeated the whole performance four more times on our walk. While I’d like to believe Mary has an extraordinary nose, I think it’s more likely that we have an abundance of voles this year, a fact that must make the coyotes, foxes and hawks as happy as Mary.

            It has been a full and busy week on the farm. We have a large crew right now, including three visiting students from Swarthmore, and we are using this rare abundance of muscle power to do mid-winter cleanup and organization of all the buildings on the farm. We have found parts we forgot we had, inventoried a supermarket worth of products, and gotten a good sense of what we need to order for spring. Mark says we checked off almost every item on our weekly to-do list – which is surely a first. This must be what it feels like to be sufficiently staffed! It won’t last, but we will enjoy it while it does. Next week, the focus will turn to the fencing project. Here’s hoping for moderate weather. My hands get cold just thinking about handling high tensile wire in some of the temperatures we’ve seen this winter.

            Extra workers have allowed us to get corn meal back in the share today. We’ve ground it from the corn we grew on Pine Field this year. We also opened up our butcher shop for the first time in a long time, and slaughtered two fall-born Jersey bull calves, and a cow. (Miranda and I ate the calf kidneys the day they were slaughtered, sautéed with butter, red wine and a bit of mustard – a treat that maybe not every 7 year old would love, but this one does.) The rams are finished with their work in the ewe flock, and will hopefully head to the butcher shop next week. As this meat makes its way into the share you’ll notice the difference in cut style and packaging. 

            We had a surprise calf born in the beef herd this week, from a supposedly unbred heifer we bought last fall. He seems fine, despite the hard weather. The seed catalogues are out and thoroughly dog-eared, underlined, and notated, but the order has not yet been placed. If you are hungering for something we don’t usually grow, this is your last chance to let your desire be heard. If we can accommodate your request, we will. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this powered-up 3rd week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta at kristinxkimball and essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.   

–Kristin & Mark Kimball

c1aecd7b-6fa2-4767-b935-4278a25fe3f9.jpeg