Week 2, 2020 | Kristin Kimball | Jan 10, 2020

The books are closed on 2019, and now it’s time to open the seed catalogues and begin planning for spring. Suddenly, it seems quite close. Only four weeks until the first seeds hit soil in the greenhouse, and six weeks until we start the onions and leeks. The wind is whistling in the dark outside the window this morning, blowing away that brief blast of cold, bringing warm air toward us, along with heavy rain. Two inches are expected on Saturday and Sunday. We don’t often get that in January. The farmer in me is grateful that it’s coming as two inches of rain and not two feet of inconvenient snow but the skier in me is frowning.

One of my jobs this winter is to go over the farm’s spending with Russ and Anh Thu, and look for ways to be more efficient. It’s interesting to view the farm as a thicket of numbers instead of the living tapestry of plants and animals that I tend to see first. Some highlights, at first glance:

  • We bought $9,000 worth of certified organic mineral supplements this week, our supply for the year. While that’s a lot, it feels like money well spent, to nourish the soils, the plants, the animals, and the people who eat them. We are always thinking about how nutrients cycle through our system here. We’re lucky to have the on-farm compost barn, which allows us to capture and amplify so many of the building blocks of healthy life.
  • We spend more than I’d like on electricity. Even after subtracting what we produce with our 25kw solar array, it costs $10-$12K per year. Much of that energy goes to temperature control – keeping work spaces and stored products from freezing in winter, and cool in the summer, and of course our freezers. I’d love to find efficiencies to bring that number down, both for our budget and for our environment. Solar power, people! Let’s figure it out.
  • Our grain bill was lower last year, thanks to a good on-farm harvest of corn and soy. When we need to buy grain, we only buy local certified organic grain (and please note how different and more expensive that is than “non-GMO” grain, which can use older and even more toxic herbicides and pesticides than conventional grain), and that always accounts for a big chunk of our budget. There are two ways to bring that number down: expand our on-farm beyond-organic grain production, or lean more heavily on 100% grass fed animals (cattle and sheep) and perhaps raise fewer broiler chickens and pigs. Pigs are actually middle ground, because they make good use of the proteins in ‘waste’ products like skim milk, but broiler chickens, even pastured ones like ours, are heavily dependent on concentrated grain feeding.
  • The biggest piece of our budget is always labor, and 2020 brings changes to the farm labor laws in New York, raising the minimum wage, and adding mandatory time and a half pay for work over 60 hours per week or on the designated day off. It’s going to be interesting to see how this impacts the bottom line and management for all farms, us included. Stay tuned.

Now we’re off to the airport in Montreal, to pick up Jane, who is returning from her three month exchange in France! We’re wildly excited to get our arms around her. Mark is shouting in the background for me to mention that we’re looking for a good deal on a sturdy farm truck, and if you want to make Anne Brown’s year, help us find her an affordable ATV for chore transportation. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this happy 2nd week of 2020. You can find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail, on FBInsta and the web, or here on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball