Week 1, 2023|Kristin Kimball|January 6, 2023

Fresh year, new life here in the dairy barn, and so much good news to share. First, the new life. Noodle the Jersey cow gave birth to a heifer calf on the last day of the year. Sofie found her, and so won naming rights. Sofie has milked for us for the last two years, and has never had the luck to find a new calf. This caused Sofie some pain, because she’s always brimming with great calf names that she doesn’t get to use. Sofie, who is now 16, gets up at 5am on most weekends to get here to milk, as does Alaina, who is also 16. Think of that when you are tempted to believe this generation doesn’t want to work, or that they spend all their time on screens. I believe that hard, physical, real-world work might be the best antidote to the downsides of the mediated, screen-focused existence that these kids were born into. Don’t forget, your share dollars are supporting that too! Calves’ names must start with the same letter as their mothers’, so Sofie chose New Year’s Eve, to be known as Eve. As most of you know, we raise our heifer calves on their mothers now, and Eve and Noodle are doing great together.

This morning, Nick found another new calf, a boy this time, son of Wishful Thinking. He was born outside overnight and had the misfortune to land in a puddle, so when Nick found him he was mildly hypothermic. But Nick put him in front of a big heater and by the time I got to the barn he was dry and shivering in a healthy way. I hand milked Wishful (which triggered a nostalgic flashback to the days when we milked by hand every day) and gave the calf a quart of colostrum from a bottle, which he was strong enough to suck. He’ll go into a pen with his mama today. We have switched to once a day milking, as part of our strategy to shrink our hours of labor. Fresh cows (those that have recently calved) do better if milked more than once a day, so we’ve decided to keep this bull calf on his mama for the first part of the lactation. The calf will nurse when he wants to, and we’ll take the rest.

Speaking of milk, Harmony let me know that the paddle in the bulk tank this morning was precisely at the top of this morning’s milk, and a combo of movement and fast chilling turned a bit of the milk’s cream to butter. You might notice some buttery flecks in the whole milk at distribution today. It’s totally fine to drink! And a good conversation starter with your friends, who will be impressed by how artisanal your food supply is. Harmony also made some lovely soft cheese for today, and has been experimenting with some different fermented dairy products, like filmjolk and viili. The latter has one of the most intriguing textures I have encountered in food, and that’s ME talking. If you’ve ever eaten natto, there’s some correlation. I’m a fan of both, but might be in the minority, at least in America. Harmony jarred some samples of filmjolk for the share. If you see her today, wish her a happy Russian Orthodox Christmas Eve.

We got a big shipment of our pork and lamb back from the butchers this week. Tritown, who butchered the pigs, made some delicious cased sausages for us, and cured some of the hams and the bacons. Much as I love butchering on the farm, we are not well equipped to make cased sausage nor cured/smoked meats, and it’s a big treat to have these things back in the share. Benji Shetler at the Reber Rock butcher shop butchered the lambs, and among other delicious things, he made a lamb merguez and a lamb rosemary sausage, and both of them are to die for. You’ll find a selection of these new items in the share today.

In other news around the farm, we got all 500 ewes and lambs back home from Lewis Family Farm this week, with thanks to our team for loading, to Jon and Dan Christian and Paul Versnick for hauling, and to LFF for grazing them so nicely. It’s worth a walk to the barn today to see them, and give the fluffy white dogs, Apollo and Artemis, a welcome home pat. Just know they have no manners and have been known to knock small people over in their exuberant displays of love. It feels great to have all animals under cover and off the fields. This winter has been more mud than snow and ice. Looks like there’s a change coming this weekend but the mild temperatures have helped keep the feed bill on the low side so far.

The other huge job that we attacked this week was cabbage cleaning. The bottom of each cabbage must be cut off with a knife, and the outer leaves peeled away for long term storage. While hand milking fills me with nice warm memories, cabbage cleaning reminds me of short overcast days, and hands that get red and sore with chilblains. So, huge thanks to the whole team for doing it, with extra special thanks to Bethany, Catherine, Amanda, and Nick for their cold-handed marathon.

I’m happy to report that Martina the geriatric barn cat has found an indoor home with our own Jackie. Thanks to Jackie and to her landlords for allowing it. Makes me happy to think of Martina’s comfortable retirement at the foot of Jackie’s bed.

I’ve saved the best bits of news for last, and I hope you had the patience to read this far, because there are some big day brighteners here. In the wake of our end of year note about the farm’s difficulties in 2022, we have received so many calls, emails, letters and messages from members and friends of the farm, offering support, love, and encouragement. We deeply appreciate every one of them. I’ve learned that this farm means just as much to some of you as it does to us, and that gives me a big hit of courage and optimism. Notes from other farmers across the country, who are going through many of the same challenges, helped us feel less alone. Most of our local members have signed on for our four month share, which keeps some revenue coming in. We’ve added a few new members (welcome, welcome to the Essex Farm family!), and some of our former delivered share members are continuing their memberships, by making the drive to the farm to pick up their food. Please note, if you are on the fence because of distance, consider coming every other week or even every three weeks, stocking up for the weeks in between. This time of year, the milk is the only thing that won’t last that long, and you can freeze it in pints or plastic containers if you wish. This changes the texture of the fat but keeps it sweet and perfectly good to use. For our other delivered members, please know we’re working hard to come up with a plan that’s sustainable for you and for the farm. And we have not forgotten about your bins and jars! Mark and I may make the trip ourselves to say hello and collect those things. We are so grateful for your patience, especially since we know some of you would appreciate having the clutter out of your apartments as soon as possible.

Now for the sweetest news of all. Our member Joan (who has long spoiled all of us here with her baked goods and big hugs) has established a donor advised fund to subsidize shares for individuals and families who want Essex Farm food but can’t swing the full cost of their shares. And this gift is not just for this year, but for each year going forward. I’m tearing up a little as I type that. As some of you might remember, we used to offer a sliding scale for any member who needed it. That was really important to us, because we felt strongly that we wanted to feed everyone in our community, not just those who had the means. But the cost of the sliding scale outstripped what the farm could support and we had to suspend it. Joan’s gift allows us to reestablish this practice, supporting members and the farm in one fell swoop. We are still working out the details together, but if you or someone you know falls into this category please get in touch with me via the farm email. Joan, thank you so much for putting strong community support into community supported agriculture! The ripple effect of this gift is wide, and my biggest hope is that it might inspire others to do the same. (I can connect anyone who feels drawn to this idea, which, you should know, is not tax deductible, as we are not a nonprofit.) Here’s the bottom line: if we can significantly grow the local membership right now, we will have the budget to buy potting soil and hire summer farmers, and the courage to put seeds in the ground for spring. I really believe that widening the circle of people who can afford the real cost of this food is the key that will allow us to do that.

Finally, I’m going to be speaking in Lake Placid at the FISU World University Games on Sunday, January 15th, about the connection between healthy soil, healthy athletes, and a healthy planet. Just saw that Bill McKibben is speaking there too, and you won’t want to miss that. Both events are open to the public. I can’t seem to find a link to the speakers’ schedule online, but will try to post it next week. Looking ahead just a bit, Mark and I will be giving a keynote at NOFA New Hampshire’s Winter Conference, in Manchester, NH, on February 11th, and I will be closer to home at the Whallonsburg Grange on March 14th. We’d love to see old friends and make some new ones at any of these events, so please come say hello if you are in the neighborhood.

That’s the news from Essex Farm for this bright 1st week of 2023. Thank you for reading, and for supporting the farm. Find us at essexfarm@gmail.com, by text or phone at 518-570-6399, on Instagram at essexfarmcsa or kristinxkimball, or IRL on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball