Week 47, 2020｜Kristin Kimball ｜November 20, 2020
In the soft lacuna between deep freezes this month, Mark planted 25 acres of rye as a cover crop, in the fields known as Monument and Superjoy. Since I’m homeschooling the girls now, and looking everywhere for real-life learning opportunities, would you care to join me for a quick bout of farm math? Here’s your assignment, with the answer down below: Mark’s planting rate was 2.5 million seeds per acre, and each seed has the potential to grow 372 miles of root. How many root miles will we have underground when the rye matures next spring? Compare your answer to something real, to illustrate.
There’s such distress in the world at large, yet still so much to be grateful for here, as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday. The cards that determine a farm’s fate fell largely our way this fall, helping buffer the challenges of the very dry growing season. We got lucky when the weather allowed us to plant 20 acres of forage turnip, annual ryegrass, rye, vetch, oats and peas on August 23, and those acres did well, and are providing valuable fresh green feed now for sheep and calves. We are still pasturing all our animal groups except the young pigs, and if the weather doesn’t turn foul we have enough grazing to last them until Christmas. This is a big win, especially in a year when hay is scarce and expensive.
We had the same sort of good luck in the vegetable fields. When the first freeze approached, we harvested all the cabbage and cauliflower that was mature enough to store, leaving the rest in the field with a sprinkle of hope that it would survive the cold. Indeed, while the large ones would have been damaged, the small ones, whose cells were more concentrated, were not, and they continued to grow and mature until the second cold snap approached, last week. They are all in now, and safe in storage. The cauliflower will feed us for weeks, and the cabbages for months.
One dark note, and I deserve it, for bragging in the last farm note that we never have to pull calves. Of course, last week, we had a disaster. One of our dairy cows had a malpresentation, and ruptured her uterus by straining, probably in the middle of the night, leading to uterine inertia. By the time we understood what had happened, there was nothing we could do for her or the calf. Bad as it was, I learned a lot, and I’m grateful for the experience,
In the bigger picture, it seems a good week to remember that the need for good food and water and shelter, for clean water air and healthy soil, and for dignity, is universal, and it’s in our collective interest to do what we can as individuals to foster those things for everyone. We are so honored to be working with the farmers here. They stretch themselves every single day to meet the farm’s demands. And we are honored and grateful to be growing good soil and great food for you, our amazing members, without whom this farm would not exist. Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and special thanks to Mike and Andrea Ferrell for providing the organic popcorn and organic coconut oil we have in the share right now. That’s the news from Essex Farm for this thanks-giving 47th week of 2020. Find us at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Insta at essexfarmcsa, kristinxkimball and farmerkimball, or on the farm from a distance, any day but Sunday.
-Kristin and Mark Kimball
ANSWER: The rye will produce almost a billion miles of root per acre, or 25 billion miles in total. Let’s agree the diameter of our solar system is 7.2 billion miles (this is, apparently, somewhat controversial). Circumference is diameter times ?, or about 22.6 billion miles, so those roots, set end to each miraculously mutibranching end, would circle the solar system with a few billion root miles to spare, tracing Pluto’s orbit. Back here on earth, we plant the rye because those roots interact with the 10 billion organisms in every cup of healthy soil, feeding them, and us, in ways we don’t fully understand. Dig down through science far enough and you hit a beautiful mystery. Ten points for getting the right answer, five more for showing your work, but you still have to do the dishes.