We hosted fifty middle schoolers from the Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Vermont last Thursday. They hiked from the ferry to the farm via the Essex Gateway CATs trail in the humid heat. They had spent a week confronting the thorny ethical issues of food production. Mark and I talked about how to distill what we do and why we do it into something easily consumable, but then decided it was more of a show don’t tell opportunity. We hunted for dung beetles while talking about soil health, visited the dairy cows while talking about agricultural diversity, grazed our way through the vegetables while talking about the importance of basing our diets on whole food that’s locally produced, pulled some carrots for the road, and then hiked back to the ferry. They made it across the lake just before a huge thunderstorm hit, the one that knocked a tree through the library roof across from the ferry dock. Whew!
We left the students to ponder this simple profound truth: The building blocks of food are wildly abundant in the air all around us. Carbon dioxide and nitrogen are carbohydrates and protein; it takes plants to pull those atoms out of the air and give them form. Animals convert plants to tasty goodness for us. The sun is what fuels it all. That’s it! Our job as farmers is to steward that magical process, to foster the health and wellbeing of the parts under our control, and to channel the earth’s unfathomable abundance, to provide for human needs. In our corner of the world, the interaction of plants and animals is essential for maximizing health; the more species we have in our system – plant and animal, micro to macro, wild to domestic – the closer agriculture gets to nature, and the better our work is for the soil, the plants, the animals, the people, the community and the planet. That’s why we believe so strongly in a diversified farm that weaves plants and animals together. Why is it so tricky? Because while nature loves diversity, economies love specialization! Large scale monoculture and processed food are the inevitable end points of food production in a purely-for-profit system. Thank you, members, for helping us subvert the system by buying a whole diet from us every year.
It was an adventurous week for animals. Our Angus bull, Three Sticks, led an overnight panty raid on the dairy herd, resulting in a mishmash of bovines at morning milking, and probably some unplanned calves due about nine months from now. Then, our dear and trusty guard dog, Stella, who does such a good job watching the broiler chickens in the field on Blockhouse Road, jumped out of her fence three nights in a row. It might have been the thunder, but she reeked of skunk, so I suspect she was chasing the unflustered black and white critters who are residing in the sweet corn next door. We had a big chicken slaughter this week, so there are 500 fewer birds for Stella to guard now.
It’s getting boring to tell you how much rain we’ve gotten, but here goes: 4” in a week, about 4 times the optimal amount, falling on saturated ground. The good news is that our drainage is working, so fall crops look amazing, fall pasture and cover crops are thriving. Bad news is that we just can’t seem to make any dry hay. And the sun is retreating, so our odds are getting shorter every day. We’re going to need to spend the money to wrap wet forage into haylage, even though it is not terrific quality, and keep hoping for a window to make something dry before the season closes entirely. And that is the news from Essex Farm for this oh-so-refreshing 37th week of 2023.
-Kristin & Mark Kimball