Week 7, 2023｜Kristin Kimball｜February 17, 2023
Misty freezing rain here this morning, but the roads are improving rapidly and it looks like the storm is over. This comes on the heels of a February thaw that felt like true spring, with all the delights and frustrations of that season. We worked outside in tee shirts, the drainage system pulled water from the fields at a mad clip, the farm roads were so saturated that driving them felt more like water skiing, and stepping off the road resulted in time-consuming battles to wrest one’s boot out of the grip of the mud. Can you feel the sun drawing the sap through the trees? It gives me a little rush of anticipation every year. Steve Caccamo of Next Generation Maple Products and Mike Farrell were here yesterday to help get the new sugaring equipment set up. This is thanks to a USDA NRCS energy grant, received after an audit revealed that the biggest draw on energy at our farm was sugaring. So much shiny stainless steel! The reverse osmosis machines will push the sap from 2% sugar to 8% before boiling. A new forced air arch and pre-heater hood will make the whole setup about six times more efficient than our antique equipment.
We spent last weekend at the NOFA New Hampshire conference. It was beautiful to be in a hall full of farmers again, the first time since the pandemic. Mark taught a weed killing workshop, which was a blast, even for someone like me who hates weeding. His room was packed, and I briefly wondered if they had misread the description and thought they were coming to a weed workshop, to learn how to make the big bucks. But no. They really were there to hear about weeds. I taught a writing workshop on how and why to tell your farm story, which was also a blast, thanks to enthusiastic attendees. Then we gave the conference keynote, which brought into focus this idea I’ve been thinking about lately: that the biggest long-range threat to independent farms like ours is the decline and disappearance of the independent consumer. Without independent consumers, there’s no reason for us to exist. You, members, are the quintessential independent consumers. You see whole food, in season, acquired directly from a local producer, as the sturdy bottom of your personal food pyramid. Your cabinets and your refrigerator contain a bunch of naked ball jars, piles of fresh produce, and bags without labels. You are not the norm! Your kitchen looks extremely weird to anyone who is not an independent consumer. Most people’s food pyramid is built on commodity crops extruded into convenience food, processed into something quite different from its original version, or otherwise run through the giant gears of agribusiness, to be packaged, shipped, promoted and distributed by one of the vanishingly few companies that controls our food chain. Agribusiness hates the independent consumer. There’s no profit to be made from us. And so agribusiness has spent a shocking amount of money convincing us that normal food comes not from the ground but in packages. They’ve been teaching us, via an advertising budget bigger than any industry save the automotive, to want what they are profitably selling. And as they gain ground with that message, we’re losing the cultural knowledge it takes to be an independent consumer – knife skills, forethought, a working understanding of our kitchens, awareness of seasonality, a sense that making food from scratch is both pleasant and important. I believe what we have going for us is that the independent consumer is healthier and far happier with their food, and that joy is the biggest bait. If we can convince more people to become independent consumers, we’ll be well on our way to preserving the independent farms. I have more thoughts on this subject, but I know I’m preaching to the converted, so I’ll save them for another venue.
Members, please note that there is a sign in sheet at the pavilion every week, and it helps us a lot if you take the time to check your name off, so we can plan more accurately. Also, don’t forget to check the chalkboard every week for any limits on scarce items and other important notes. And finally, we are quite desperate for jars again, so please remember to bring those back every week. The current crisis is half gallons, but we are running low on all sizes. And that’s the news from Essex Farm for this whiplash weather 7th week of 2023. Find us at 518-570-6399, email@example.com, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball