Week 28, 2021｜Kristin Kimball｜July 16, 2021
I’ve been thinking about diversified farms this week, and looking for the roots of the connection between the decay of rural communities and rise of industrial monoculture. Industrial scale monoculture — those infinite fields of one thing, like soy or corn, or barns full of thousands of cows — is the cheapest way to produce calories for humans and make money doing it. But it’s inherently destructive to the environment. That becomes obvious, if you are curious enough to look. Perhaps less obvious, unless you’re doing it, is the boredom of laboring on a farm like that. Industrial scale production requires more machines and fewer people, and the work those people do is often repetitive and mostly unskilled. Imagine standing in a pit and putting milking claws on five thousand anonymous udders all day, every day, for years. It’s mentally dulling, physically draining. When consumers pay a bit more to support smaller scale diversified agriculture there are so many hidden things they are supporting, like higher-skill jobs with healthier work, and ultimately, I believe, healthier, stronger rural communities.
After 18 years, I still learn and change every day, and so does everyone who works here. The definition of a good life, I think, is not one without problems (that life doesn’t exist) but one that offers you the type of problems that you like to solve. For us, that’s pretty much the definition of this complex farm. This week, for example, after a lot of contemplation and research, we’re testing a new system for raising our dairy heifers. We’ve been having some trouble with calves and weaned heifers that persistently nurse on their pasture mates, which can damage or infect an udder before the cow even begins to lactate. Above all, we want milk cows with strong and trouble-free udders. Calf chores also require a lot of time and a lot of washing up. So, inspired by our friends Scott and Aubrey, formerly of The Family Cow, we’re going to try a new system, leaving them with their mothers for a full 10 months rather than raising them on a bottle. It’s a radical change, which trades production for (hopefully) healthier cows and less labor. You can read more about the method here. Bijou, daughter of Beatrice, is our first subject. Beatrice is easy to spot because she has a pair of stubby little horns that look like a cartoon space alien’s antennae. Bijou is lovely all over, tawny with wide white spots that remind me of our first cow, Delia.
Their first week had a couple bumps. After generations of raising calves on bottles, the mothering instinct in our herd is a little weak. Bijou didn’t jump right up and start nursing, like a calf in our beef herd would. Caitlin put a lot of thought and effort into making sure Bijou and Beatrice bonded, and it worked. By the third day, Bijou was a professional nurser. That, however, might have been what led to the second bump. I think Bijou chugged a LOT of milk that night, and in the morning, we found Beatrice down in the barn, with milk fever. This happens when milk production demands too much calcium from a fresh cow’s blood all at once, and it’s fatal if not treated. Luckily it can be corrected with an IV bottle of calcium, so Mark and I got to practice our IV skills, and within an hour Beatrice was up and mothering again. Stay tuned to see how this system works out.
What else to share in this farm news brief? The summer vegetables are in full swing. Summer squash is in the spotlight this week, at its moment of perfection. The small ones are best for dinner, the big ones (the ones we missed once at harvest!) are there for those of you who like to make zucchini bread. Tomatoes are coming in, and will be abundant in a couple weeks. Today is the annual garlic harvest, and it’s the finest stand of garlic I’ve seen here. Hooray for that. We had a great visit from our friend David Fisher of Natural Roots, reminding us how refreshing it is to exchange ideas and experience with other farmers, and just plain commune. We’ve missed that. Mark is ecstatic that we have 10 different fats in the share right now, from schmaltz to ghee and everything in between. Admittedly, this is a niche enthusiasm, but it’s pretty cool to have such a rich choice in healthy fats. We made improvements to the water system this week, to supply more water during chicken slaughter days, when the demand is high. So far so good! And we had a meeting with engineers, contractors and USDA personnel to plan out our barnyard roadway improvements, a grant-funded project meant to keep runoff out of the waterways. There’s a toxic blue-green algae bloom in Lake Champlain right now, due largely to agricultural runoff bringing soil and excess (conventional) fertilizer into the lake. If you like to swim, that’s another hidden reason to pay a bit more to support diversified farms that don’t produce excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus! Finally, please reach out if there’s anyone in your orbit who would like to sample the share. We are blessed with abundance now and would like to reach more people. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this summer swing 28th week of 2021. Find us (and more pictures of Bijou and Beatrice) on Instagram at kristinxkimball, farmerkimball and essexfarmcsa; by phone at 518-963-4613; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or IRL right here on the farm, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball