Week 24, 2024|Kristin Kimball|June 15th, 2024

June! The leaves and flowers hinge and arc to track the sun. We orient ourselves to the sun in June too, zipping from field to field and task to task, capturing as much energy as we can during these golden weeks of long days. Our work as farmers is to catch the light where it lands, convert it to meet our needs, and to store it up for the shorter days ahead. This is the whole game of civilization, immensely simplified. We’d be smart not to lose track of the basics.

We’ve been lucky with the weather so far this year. The dry sunny weeks were perfect for making all the first cut hay; the good soaking rains that followed kept everything growing nicely. The strawberries – well planted, well tended, well mulched – are producing lots of juicy berries. I always thought strawberries were named for the thick layer of straw they’re mulched with, which keeps the delicate berries from turning to mush in the corrupting dirt. But it turns out that this etymological story can’t possibly be true, because the word arose a thousand years ago, before cultivated strawberries were even a thing; there were only the little wild alpine berries that people gathered in the woods and fields. More likely they are named for the practice of stringing those wild berries – too delicate to be carried in a pail or bag – on a straw or piece of grass to take them home or to market.

What I know for sure is that you’ll never get a strawberry in the grocery store that tastes like a strawberry grown outdoors in healthy soil, picked at perfect ripeness in June, and eaten right away. I’m especially aware this week how lucky we are to have them. Our evening ritual has been to stroll barefoot along the strawberry rows, tasting the variation in soil conditions and ripeness, and putting names to the wildly different flavors of the different varieties like a couple of dirt farmer somaliers. I wish everyone in the world got to experience that pleasure like we and our members do. Members are getting berries in the share this week, plus first access to the PYO (Pick Your Own) rows. We’ll open the PYO patch to the public on days when members have had their fill and the picking is still good, most likely early next week. We have berries for sale at the Essex Farm Store, too.

Which reminds me! The biggest news of the week is that we’ve revamped our little store for the season, and added Crown Point Bakery’s bread to our lineup. Natural leavening is a fickle business and so perhaps are some bakers, so we don’t know precisely when Yannig will deliver the bread, baguettes, croissants and cinnamon buns each week, but we expect to have them for sale fresh on Thursday pm and all day Friday, with any leftovers frozen for sale the rest of the week. I’ll have to come up with a sign or a signal at the stone gate to let you know when it arrives, and take it away when we sell out. Like the bat signal, but for bread.

Crown Point Bread is part of a bigger Essex Farm Store strategy for these busy summer months. I have been mentally wrestling with the store for years, not quite sure what it should be or how to do it. We opened the store to have a place where everyone would feel welcome at the farm: members, visitors and non-member neighbors. Truth is, it takes a ton of energy and focus to keep the store well stocked with perishable products, especially because the building and its infrastructure are not optimal for the purpose. The return on that effort has always been iffy, and we’ve not been able to offer the array of delight we have in our weekly share. The highly diversified model of agriculture we’ve developed, which we believe is the best way to steward this land, works best when we produce a whole diet for members with whom we have a very direct and collaborative relationship. Our members are the wind that sails this ship, and we’re so grateful for their committed support.

And yet! Since we had to let go of our delivered memberships in 2023 (we miss you, NYC), we rely entirely on local sales, and the local landscape is different from what it was ten years ago. There are more choices available to the same number of people, with retail outlets selling to the same small segment of the market. When we look at our projections right now, we see that our current local membership sales are not going to carry us through the end of the year on the right side of zero. I am putting a lot of effort into the Essex Farm Store right now in the hope that it will capture a little stream of additional revenue this summer, but even more importantly, that it will bring new people onto the farm who have not considered joining us before, and who don’t yet know how healthy and delicious a full diet membership here can be. If you know folks like that, please send them our way so we can show them around and send them home with some delicious samples.

The other thing I finally realized about the Essex Farm Store this year is that its best and most joyful purpose is to help make whole food seasonal cooking both easy and delicious, by stocking the spices, condiments and kitchen items I love and use every day, alongside a selection of our own meats, vegetables, milk, eggs, and more. Figuring out which items to carry has been pure delight. I unboxed my first order this morning, and put it out on the shelves: a whole array of the Teeny Tiny Spice Company’s organic blends, plus an award winning organic Japanese style soy sauce, and two condiments from Blank Slate Kitchen that I’m obsessed with: Zhug and Sichuan Chili Sauce. I won’t stock anything that I don’t use myself and believe in, so if you have any questions about what we are offering, please ask me. And please pop in to look frequently, as we’ll be adding new items and a few gift-y things as the season rolls along. Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated.

Our members Dan and Cassie reminded me last night that the summer solstice is right around the corner. Over the winter they brought us a lovely long evergreen garland that has hung on the east side of the pavilion, slowly drying and browning, and becoming increasingly flammable. The solstice, Dan and Cassie said, is a fine to burn that thing, and light up the shortest night. Does that mean I have to stay up until dark next week? Stay tuned and find out.

What else to tell you? We bought a new Angus bull, Four Sticks, brother to last year’s bull, Three Sticks. I like him so much. He’s squat and squint-eyed, with rippling shoulders and massive haunches, and a shiny, jet-black coat. The best part is that he’s not too scary to be around – though bulls, like the ocean, are not something to turn your back on. Thanks to Lewis Family Farm and Paul Versnick for breeding him and selling him to us. He’s going to make beautiful beefy babies here. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this breathless 24th week of 2024. Find us via text at 518-645-4658, via email at essexfarm@gmail.com, or on the farm, in the farm store, or, like the sunlight, wherever you can catch us.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball