Essex Farm Note

Week  15, 2018

I’ve watched part of this spring unfold from the window of my father’s hospital room in Syracuse, where he has been for the last five weeks, fighting hard against leukemia. Each week I spend a couple days with him, and then return to the farm, where the season has inched along in my absence. It’s running late this year, but coming closer. There is a jolting contrast between the rich biological tapestry of the farm, its teeming muck, and the hard, clean halls and rooms of the hospital, where stray forms of life are vigorously suppressed; between the strict daily rhythm of the farm and the timeless limbo of inpatient life, where, like in a casino, there is no day or night. Yet I’ve been surprised to find similarities between these worlds, too. The challenges of medicine are recognizable to a dirt farmer. Both farmers and doctors work with the chaotic uncertainty of biological processes, using the tools and skills at our disposal to mitigate a shifting set of risks, and foster the health of living things. I see, at the edge of both disciplines, the crepuscular unknown, bigger than the known – mysterious – which is both exciting and terrible. Thanks to the farmers, friends and neighbors who have covered my duties as I go in between, and have sent good thoughts and prayers for my father and our family. He is determined to win, and if you know him, you know not to bet against him despite tough odds.

     Here on the farm, we are attempting to foster the health of the spinach in the south greenhouse, while suppressing an invasion of mites. We’re harvesting some baby spinach early, for a small but delicious treat, and then we’ll use an organic insecticide to try to gain the upper hand. Everywhere, we are officially in the busy season. The first chicks are thriving in the brooder. The greenhouses are all full, including newly-germinated peppers and tomatoes. We had a nice heifer calf from Nutmeg the Jersey cow this morning. Noah found her, and named her Nellie. As of yesterday, every bovine on the farm is vaccinated for pinkeye. Pinkeye is a painful infection that is spread from cow to cow by flies. Two years ago, we had a terrible time with it, both in the dairy and beef herds. Last year, we switched to this expensive pelleted, slow-release vaccine, and had no cases at all.

     The weather has been unseasonably cold, but also relatively dry until now, so the fields were workable this week. We have gotten 20 acres of new ground tilled and spread with compost, ready for vegetables. We can transplant onions as soon as we get another dry window. Another 50 acres were seeded to an oat/pea mix this week, for cover crop and grazing. I can’t wait to see those brown acres turn green. Mark reports we broke multiple pieces of tillage equipment – which only happens when you’re using it – and sends thanks to Scott Bridge and Jon Christian for loan of tractors. We’re in the market for a good used 30hp cultivating tractor and a 70hp 4WD tractor. If you have any leads let us know.

     As some things begin, others end. We are finished with sugaring. We made nearly 140 gallons of syrup – a farm record. We have snow, sleet and sub-freezing temperatures in the forecast – and let’s hope that turns around before lambing begins in 10 days. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this in-between 15th week of 2018. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarmcsa.com, essexfarm@gmail.com, on insta at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.  

– Kristin & Mark