Week 12, 2023|Kristin Kimball|March 24, 2023

Bird report, early spring edition. In short: they are getting busy out there. Four killdeer are noisily scouting for a home site in the muddy back pasture, some robins are gathering nesting material from an old hay bale behind our house, and I spotted two bluebirds this week, my favorite birds, their unmistakable flash of blue as uplifting as always. And meanwhile, the dastardly ravens are making trouble in the heifer herd. We stick a dye-filled tag called a kamar to the tailhead of the cows we want to artificially inseminate. Cows will mount each other when they are near their fertile period, and when they are about to ovulate, they will stand to be mounted instead of scooting away. The weight of a herdmate’s brisket pops a little tube of dye inside the kamar when that happens, and the kamar turns red. We have about an 18 hour window within which to successfully inseminate a cow; if we miss it, we have to wait another three weeks for her to cycle again. Good heat detection is the cornerstone of successful artificial insemination. And the kamars work wonderfully! Except, our resident raven population has discovered that the dye contains propylene glycol, which keeps it from freezing. Apparently, it’s very tasty stuff, if you’re a raven. When I went down for chores this morning, the ravens had pecked neat holes in five of the kamars, from which the little red dye tubes had been handily (beakily?) extracted. How the birds discovered this treat is a total mystery, and the fact they can do it without opposable thumbs is truly amazing – kamars are tough, and I would need a knife or a pair of scissors to get those things out. So, all respect to you, ravens. You’re smarter than I am, and I surrender. Would you please send a representative to parlay so we can negotiate the terms of a peace?

We almost lost a greenhouse to the late, heavy snowstorm that hit us last week. The greenhouses have two layers of plastic on the outside, and a fan keeps the space between the layers inflated for insulation. When a storm is coming, we unplug the fan and deflate the space between the layers, which allows more heat to contact the snow, and help it slide off. If the shed snow reaches all the way to the hip of the greenhouse, though, you have to remove it, or risk collapse. It was close! But we made it. The last of the snow is melting now, revealing the mud we will be living with for the next few weeks. Last night, I was leaping across a stream after feeding the horses, and I left one boot behind, stuck in the mud. There’s nothing like walking home in the dark through five inches of icy mud wearing one boot and one sock.

Speaking of greenhouses, I guess I buried the lede of this week’s news. Planting has commenced! Beth put the seed order in. New potting soil has been ordered and is on the way. The soil blockers are cleaned and oiled. The seed trays are washed and stacked. And the first seeds – leeks – are due to hit the dirt this afternoon. In other words, the 2023 summer membership is underway. I am so excited to get rolling, and there’s a lot to do. I know I said I’d have more information about the May through December membership for you last week, but I do not have all the details completely dialed in yet. Next week, for sure. For now, know that we will be offering memberships for pickup here at the farm and please help us spread the word. For our delivered members and friends of the farm, we plan to continue with the curated monthly deliveries for now, but hope we will be able to resume delivered weekly memberships when the labor situation is a little rosier, and after we work out a pricing and delivery structure that makes sense for everyone.

We are at the low point of our dairy cycle right now, as we dry off the cows that need to rest before their spring calves are born. Supply will remain relatively low until the middle of May, when several cows are due to calve and the new grass will give us the annual boost in production. This week, we weaned two of the dairy heifer calves, adding two peak-lactation cows to the lineup.

Our next delivery of curated boxes is scheduled for April 3rd (New Paltz) and April 4th (NYC). I’ll send an email with all the details to our Hudson Valley and NYC friends as soon as I can. If you are not already on that list, but would like to be, send me an email, subject line WINTER BOXES, and I’ll include you. These boxes will be curated with Easter, Passover and Eid in mind!

I’m going to lead a discussion about the state of our local food system at the Grange on April 4th, 7pm. Reber Rock Farm, Asgaard Farm, and Fledging Crow Farm will be panelists, and all – farmers, consumers, and other stakeholders –  are welcome to join the dialogue. We on the panel were all in Ben Stechschulte’s film, Small Farm Rising, 12 years ago, and Ben has agreed to show a clip of his movie to kick us off. As you know, we live in an incredible, unique foodshed, full of entrepreneurial producers growing for an engaged group of consumers. I think we all have a slightly different perspective on how the economic and demographic changes of the last few years have affected us, and I can’t wait to hear what everyone has to say.

That’s the news from Essex Farm for this sugar-sweet first-of-spring 12th week of 2023. Find us at 518.570.6399, essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

P.S. One of our members just sent me this vintage cake recipe for Quark Kuchen (Skyr), handed down from his grandmother. I can’t wait to try it! See if you can decipher it, and if you make it, let me know how it went.