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