Week 15, 2022|Kristin Kimball|April 15, 2022

We have new faces on the farm this week. An Amish family from Ohio, the Millers, moved into the little cabin behind the west barn. This will be their home base, as they look for their own farm within buggy distance of the established Amish community. It’s a small home base! Ten kids in two rooms and a loft. Their possessions arrived on a tractor trailer on Tuesday, and Wednesday was the frolic. A frolic is when there’s work to be done that’s too big for one Amish family, so the community turns out to help. Buggies began rattling up the driveway at 7. The men who came from far away arrived on the county bus. Soon, there were horses, buggies and black hats everywhere, and the sound of multiple hammers beating wood in that stochastic tattoo you don’t hear much anymore in the age of the nail gun. Around the cabin, amongst the crowd of people and horses, were: a wringer washer, a saw mill, various baskets and crates, a pen full of goats, and a milk cow named Gentle. Inside, the women and girls were at work, setting up house, washing cups, and heating water on the cookstove for coffee. Each time I passed the scene on the way to and from my own work, it was different. A wall up for the wash house, then a roof, then the windows. By lunchtime the construction was finished, the pieces of a large family’s life were falling into place, and the buggies were rattling back down the driveway, on their way home. Please welcome the Millers if you see them around the farm. We’re so happy they are here. 

In news from the region, there is a proposal appearing before the planning board on Monday in the town of Moreau, just outside the Blue Line of the Adirondack Park, to approve a fertilizer manufacturing facility that will use municipal sewage sludge as its input. Saratoga Biochar Solutions plans to build a $29 million factory that will convert solid sewer waste into char to be sold as farm fertilizer. Their PR is slick (the word biochar is the buzzy golden child of climate-progressive ag) and they’ve managed to get great press. Saratoga Business Report published a perfectly timed wet kiss piece ahead of the planning board meeting. Reading this and the company’s proposal, the project sounds like a terrific climate-friendly solution to the problem of municipal waste, and it might yet turn out to be, but we just don’t know enough yet, and until we do, I’m against it, and I hope you’ll join me in voicing your concerns.

This proposed project would have slid right by me except that we are closely watching an agricultural and public health nightmare unfold in Maine right now because of the practice of spreading municipal sludge on agricultural lands. Among the many unsavory things that lurk in a municipal waste stream are PFAS, the dangerous ‘forever chemicals’ that accumulate in the body, mainly in the liverHere’s a story about what’s happening on farms in Maine from the Washington Post, and one from the Guardian. The story got personal to us this winter when our farmer friends at Misty Brook Farm fed 50 bales of hay from a contaminated farm to their beautiful herd of organic Jersey cows and dairy sheep. Afterward, their milk tested beyond safe limits for PFAS. (Maine, by the way, is one of the few states systematically testing for PFAS in agricultural soil and groundwater, and following up positive tests with tests on farms’ food products. New York isn’t doing this. You can’t find things you aren’t looking for. There’s no history of biosolid land application permits in our corner of the state but we are a lucky exception.) Misty Brook had to buy a new herd of clean cows to keep their business going, and are currently milking and dumping the milk from their old herd, which they will likely need to do for a year or more before the cows are clean and the milk can be safely consumed. 

 I know that spreading sludge is not the same as spreading biochar, and there are more safeguards in place than there were in decades past. We all want climate friendly solutions to human waste and agricultural problems. The whole story of Saratoga Biochar’s proposed project is too complex to cover in a farm note. I’ll leave you a breadcrumb, though, if you want to pursue it further on your own. The EPA conducted a peer-reviewed study in 2021 to see what happens to PFAS in PFAS contaminated sewage sludge when it’s made into biochar. The industry is using this study to claim the biochar contains much-reduced levels of PFAS, but the study was inconclusive on several levels, e.g. they couldn’t determine what happened to the PFAS that was thermally liberated, they didn’t study all types of PFAS, and they didn’t know how efficiently PFAS can be extracted from biochar in order to determine its levels. In short, again, there are a lot of unknowns, and until there’s more science, I don’t want this stuff in our foodstream, nor our air, nor our water. 

If you wish to express an opinion to the planning board of the town of Moreau, you can email the clerk at biclerk@townofmoreau.org, and be sure to cc zoningadministrator@townofmoreau.org  The deadline for comments is Monday April 18th by noon. When the planning board meets Monday evening, they could make a decision on the project, or vote to continue its review. For more details, you can contact Tracy Frisch, who has obtained some information through FOIL requests and is helping coordinate the public response, at tracy.frisch@gmail.com. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this frolicsome 15th week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on Insta at essexfarmcsa, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball