Week 4, 2021|Kristin Kimball |January 29, 2021

I’m writing this an hour before dawn and the thermometer at our weather station reads 1 degree with a wind chill of -17. Jane, who is 13, is still asleep in the yard, no tent, just a sleeping bag. She decided to go out at the last minute, as we were all getting ready for bed. This is the influence of her father, my husband, who has been sleeping outside every night since last March. I’m used to things like this but that doesn’t mean I’m easy with them. When he came in without her this morning to get ready to start his day I asked, “What makes you think she’s not dead?” “Your interior life is very different from mine, isn’t it?” he answered. But Jane is a creature of comfort and the fact that she loves to sleep outside makes me believe it must not be so bad. The guard dogs and the sheep are curled into balls of perfect contentment out there, after all, noses tucked out of the wind. We are able to do more than we think we are, if we are brave enough to try. Mark read recently that the secret to keeping your brain nimble is to constantly do new things, or your old things in a new way. While I’m very happy inside by the bright fire or sleeping crosswise in my giant empty bed, it’s good to remember. 

Seed order is in. The seed companies report double or triple the volume of sales this winter, down from what was basically a seed sale tsunami in the first weeks after the pandemic started. Some of our old standbys are sold out, so we will be doing some old things in a new way in the vegetable field this year. I bet we will all discover a new favorite variety. It’s so good to know we are walking into spring with a lot of ground already spread with compost and ready to till and plant. Back in the early years of this farm, before we had drained ground, we just had to wait and wish for dry spring weather so we could get out there, prep and plant. The trajectory of agriculture is toward the control of nature, and the important part is knowing where to stop, at the balance between brute manipulation and working harmoniously with it. 

The sheep are starting to bag up. I’m still betting on Valentine’s Day for the first lambs. I need to sort and inventory my lambing supplies this week and order things that we need, a job I usually do in April. I’m a bit anxious about all of it, because lambing goes best when it’s predictable, and there are just so many unknowns this year. Well, here’s to old things in a new way. Mark and I are tossing around the idea of breeding our own beef cattle rather than buying in weanlings. I have been opposed in the past — when I pencil it out, it is hard to make it pay, and thanks to good neighbors we have had access to excellent weaners — but there may be ways to stack the benefits and have it make sense. Aside from chickens they are the only class of animals we aren’t breeding ourselves. The sows were introduced to the new boar recently, a young guy that Freddy named Squealy Dan. He’s half the size of the ladies but has got good energy. The gestation period for pigs is a neat 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, so we should see piglets around the end of April. 

With the kids home all the time and me trying to get some work done, we have all been sharing kitchen duty at our house. Mark is a master of giant, nutrient-dense breakfasts. He rolls out the Essex Farm pastry dough into pockets stuffed with chorizo, or makes steaks, burgers, or chops on huge beds of vegetables, always with some fermented food like kimchi or sauerkraut to give the microbiome its daily feed. The girls have been tackling lunches. Jane specialises in projects, especially when she’s trying to avoid schoolwork. She’s getting pretty good at croissants, patiently rolling the cold butter between layers of dough. Last week she made udon noodles by hand, and Miranda contributed elaborately decorated hard boiled eggs that looked like rabbits with little carrot ears and poppy seed eyes. I cook dinner, and given the scale of the first two meals, I get off very easy. Soup with shredded salad or carrots sticks does the trick most nights. I always have homemade stock or broth in the fridge and it’s a snap to compose a new soup each evening in just a few minutes. This week the house favorite was lamb broth with steel cut oats, carrots, loads of celeriac and garlic, some red pepper flakes, and a few pieces of leftover lamb. I threw it all into the pressure cooker for ten minutes, quick release, done. I have a deep dark kitchen secret to share if you’re looking for convenience. This stuff is crack. I’ve been using it for years. When mixed with 50% yogurt and 50% sour cream it makes a dip for raw vegetables that everyone loves. Yes, of course it would be healthier to make it from scratch, but I weigh that against the huge amount of vegetables the kids eat when this is on the table, and the crack dip wins. 

Jane just walked in the door, unfrozen, alive, even smiling, which is unusual for her first thing in the morning. Maybe I should try sleeping out after all. Thanks to Don and Ronnie Hollingsworth this week, for so swiftly answering my wish in the last note for a used gas range for the office. Twenty four hours after I hit send it was here, installed and working like magic. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this crystal cold 4th week of 2021. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on the web, and on instagram at essexfarmcsa, kristinxkimball, and farmerkimball.  

-Kristin & Mark Kimball