Friday, September 29, 2023

Fighting against ‘sameness’

sunset on a farm

By Kristin Kimball, Essex Farm

I’ve had my nose in the farm account books all week, and I am ready to stretch my legs and get out there, see what fall has wrought. I hear the winter squash and pumpkins are in, and some of the carrots; potatoes are ready, and when we have time and a dry window to harvest them, we would love extra hands for that. I can see for myself through the window that the maple trees in the sugarbush are starting to turn, and I think it will be a pretty fall, if it’s true that a wet summer brings more fall color.

We laid a giant bet on the weather this week. We cut more hay than we ever have at once – well over 200 acres worth – hoping to get some of it dry enough to bale. It’s all down on the ground now, getting a little bit closer to dry every hour, but with shorter days, cooler temperatures, saturated soil, heavy morning dew, plus a now-iffy weekend forecast, odds are looking longer.  Let’s see how the dice land. And please send dry thoughts our way.

I’m happy to be speaking at the Real Organic Project conference at Churchtown Dairy on October 14. I’ll be saying something (as yet unwritten!) about the crucial importance of independent consumers, if we want to keep independent diversified farms from extinction. This morning, Mark was talking about how simplified most of American agriculture has become. “All the good ground is in corn and beans, a little in wheat,” he said, where the large-scale model is spray, plant, spray, harvest, repeat. There are no people on those vast acres, no communities, just a few very large and expensive machines. “Then there are all the acres used for grazing beef,” he said, “but just until they get to the feedlot,” where they fatten on that subsidized glut of American corn. The sameness of the acres is a result of, and a reflection of, the narrow sameness of our plates – predictable cuts of beef, chicken and pork but no lamb or mutton or goose or duck nor bits of unfamiliar offal or even less-known cuts; there are potatoes, carrots, green salad all year, but no kohlrabi, chicory, radish, or celeriac. It’s pretty simple: if what we choose to eat is narrow, our agricultural landscape will be narrow. I thought about the sameness of those fields that stretch for miles, the narrow sameness of our food choices, and imagining them gave me the same feeling I get when I see the soulless sameness of American strip malls, or replicated tracts of housing, or the isles of a big box store, set out the same way in Arkansas as in Alaska. As an antidote, I suppose, Gerard Manly Hopkins popped into my head – “Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

Cultivating a pied, dappled, wide-ranging palate, of all the foods produced locally and in season, takes effort, desire and perseverance; the reward, though, is glorious: a more interesting, satisfying diet, plus a healthier agro-ecosystem. OK friends, thanks for letting me work that one out on the page! Refinements to come, I think. And meanwhile, that’s the news from Essex Farm for this couple-coloured 38th week of 2023.

-Kristin & Mark Kimball

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at

2 Responses

  1. wash wild says:

    When Kristen goes to the doctor does she want him to also be a plumber, a logger, a chef and a truck driver? Probably not. There is a reason for specialization in agriculture: when you focus on one thing you can become better at it. Animal husbandry and crop production, like every other field of human endeavor, have evolved to become complex and demanding. The day when a farmer was a jack of all trades and master of none are gone. I don’t necessarily like this trend any more than Kristen and Mark do but after a lifetime of milking cows and growing multiple crops I now just focus on hay. And yes, I mowed a lot as well and yes, it’s getting rained on as I write this. Maybe in my next life I’ll specialize in rice!

    • JohnL says:

      God bless all of you who grow and harvest our food. You are truly ‘the salt of the earth’. Thank you….thenk you…..thank you!

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