Week 44, 2022|Kristin Kimball|November 4, 2022

Is it really November? Highs touching 70 degrees, lows in the 50s, little rain in the forecast? Nobody is complaining. We’re getting lots of late-season work done. The best news of the week is that our soybeans are in. This crop is the main source of protein for animal feed that will become our eggs, our chicken, our pork. 18 acres yielded 20 tons, which is about 38 bushels to the acre – pretty darn good for organic production on a drought year. Did you know soybeans fix their own nitrogen? Like most plants of the legume family, they develop a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria called rhizobia that take nitrogen from the air, where it’s plentiful but plants can’t use it, and put it into the soil, where they can. In exchange, the soybean plant feeds the rhizobia some of its carbohydrates. It’s a natural win-win. In conventional and non-GMO soy production (non-GMO, remember, uses the same practices as conventional except that it often uses more, and more toxic, older-generation chemicals), it’s usually easier to put chemical fertilizer on the field than to encourage the soy to commune with rhizobia in a healthy soil microbiome. Chemical fertilizers on soy result in slightly higher yields but can also lead to problems like soil degradation, loss of soil carbon, nitrogen pollution in our ecosphere, etc. Some conventional soybeans also get a late application of the herbicide glyphosate, sprayed on the mature beans to kill off any weeds just before harvest. This is why we’re so adamant about not using conventional/non-GMO feed for our animals, and pay the higher price for organic or grow our own instead.

The red onions were cleaned and put into storage this week. Thanks to the Intervale in Burlington for once again loaning us their wonderful onion topper, to Don Hollingsworth for hauling it across the lake for us, and to the whole team of people, including some cracking volunteers, who got the work done. They really are the most beautiful onions we’ve ever grown, and credit for that goes to the whole plant team, with Bethany and Nick at the helm.

Now the focus is on turning over the fields. The soybean field was tilled within 24 hours of harvest (thank you, Don Bigalow!) and is already planted to a rye cover crop. Nearby, as I type, Scott Hoffman is spreading compost from last year’s cattle bedding onto the field that will be next year’s vegetables. This is the beautiful magic of our diversified model: our healthy soils feed our plants which feed our animals which feed our soils. And all of it together is feeding us, deliciously. We just celebrated our 19th anniversary of arriving at Essex Farm, and no two years have been the same. There’s no such thing as a corn field here. The same patch of soil hosts corn one season, sheep the next, then maybe tomatoes or squash, with soil-building cover crops in between. Agricultural diversity is a good thing on so many levels – for community and environmental resilience, for natural control of pests and diseases, for sequestering carbon and building healthy soil, for creating interesting work instead of drudgery, for making robust habitats for living things, from microbes to megafauna, and for the nutrient density of the food we produce, just to name a few examples. The trouble with agricultural diversity is economics. The pressure towards ruthless efficiency is immense. A diversified farm cannot achieve the same economies of scale that can be achieved on a farm growing a lot of one thing. There’s no other farm I know of that is as diversified as ours, and the only thing that makes it work is our full-diet membership model. Your share dollars buy great food but they also allow us to farm in the way we believe is best for our soil, our planet, and, our collective personal health.

We’re short some key players this week, because covid has taken them out, so I’m rushing to get this note out so I can get out there and lend a hand! Before I go I wanted to give you a quick glimpse of the questions we are wrestling with at the house this week, as we shape Essex Farm 2023. The pressure of inflation, the increased cost of labor, a doubling in delivery costs, and a scarcity of skilled farmers has put a bite on us in 2022. We are not alone, and all the farmers we know are working toward restructuring their models for next year to respond to rapid changes. What I can tell you is that we will be raising the share price for 2023. Stay tuned for that, we’ll give you news soon as we know it. We’d also love to find a way to cover the cost of the food donations we have been sending to food banks and mutual aid organizations since the beginning of the pandemic. The value of the food we send is about $50,000 per year, and has not been covered by any outside organization. We know how much it is appreciated and how important it is to the people who receive it. If anyone has ideas we’d love to hear them.

Thank you to everyone who sent beautiful warm blankets for farmer housing, in response to last week’s note. We are so grateful to put these to use. And huge thanks to Kimball and Jamison who were here as volunteers this week from Arizona and California, on the way to next chapters in Japan and elsewhere. We are so grateful for your good spirits, your hard work, and willingness to pitch in wherever needed. We hope to see you here again sometime soon.

We are hiring, so please help us spread the word. We are saying goodbye this month to Nick Loughhead and we sure would love to find someone who could fit into his schedule, if not fill his shoes. This would be full time, Tuesday through Saturday, focusing on milking and animal chores. We have affordable housing available, hourly pay, and Essex Farm food is included at a discount from the beginning, and for free after 6 months.

That is the news from Essex Farm for this balmy 44th week of 2022. Find us at 518-963-4613, essexfarm@gmail.com, on our three Instagram accounts at kristinxkimball, essexfarmcsa, and farmerkimall, or on the farm, any day but Sunday.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball