My eyes are darting around a piece of paper as I shiver, walking through a fridge the size of a truck: 4 gallons of milk, 2 bunches of Swiss chard, 1 pound of carrots, the list goes on far longer than I’d hoped. Are the potatoes in this fridge or the other? Which colored pepper is the sweet pepper? What does someone even do with this much fennel? How many shipping boxes will it take to fit this order?
Zoom out: I am volunteering at Essex Farm, arguably one of the best run, most impressive farms in New York State, located in the northern Adirondacks. It’s packing day for the Customer Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. The owners, Mark and Kristin Kimball, were kind enough to let a city kid see country life, and answer the ten thousand questions I came with.
A half hour prior to that moment of produce-hunting chaos, I was sitting at Mark’s kitchen table with his two daughters, taking a bite of deer liver that his neighbor brought over. Apparently deer liver is the “cup of sugar” of North Country, and my taste buds didn’t mind at all. He was speaking passionately about the importance of farming and making real, healthy food available — the importance of eating well, on the mind and the body. How at Essex Farm they approach farming “soil first”, and make the soil as rich as possible before planting, an effort which manifests in the taste of the produce. I look out the window behind him with childlike excitement, “Wow, a horse-calf!”
His adorable tween daughters start laughing at me in a way that reminds me of the horrors of middle school. It turns out there is no such thing as a horse-calf, it is called a “foal”, and I am a fool. Behind the still laughing kids at the kitchen table, there is a sparsely decorated living room, with two swings hanging from the ceiling, and a few pieces of birch bark doing the same. Their charming farmhouse, and the 1500-acre farm itself, is the stuff of dreams. As I praise his youngest daughter on her choice of name for their pet piglet, “Tofu”, laughter still going strong, I wondered, how did I even get here?
Once I exit the massive fridge and I pack all the produce, some of which I picked from the fields that same day, I place it in a box heading for my own neighborhood five hours south: Greenpoint. Suddenly, I remember how I got here. I wanted to learn more about food, where it comes from, and get cozy with the roots of my family’s agricultural past. I don’t know where most of my food comes from. Do you? There’s a sticker on my overpriced avocados that either reads “Mexico” or “California”, and that’s about as close as I can get to an origin story. As I get older, I feel a sense of shame in the many steps removed I’ve become from the very substance I nurture my body with. “Farmer Mark”, as I call him to my friends and family, was so welcoming in allowing me, ignorant as a “horse-calf” when it comes to agriculture, to see where some of the highest-quality food comes from, first-hand. I spent some time working alongside the experienced farmers who come to Essex to further cultivate their craft. They worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known in an office setting, in the fields rain or shine, yet still nurture a sense of community, even family, within the farm.
It would take me some time to learn about the best ways to rotate crops for richer soil, or how to most efficiently pull a row of carrots out of the ground, but to recognize quality food takes no time at all, and everything that my tongue touches from Essex farms tastes like heaven. The best part is that you can taste it, too. In fact, you can have it brought right to your door. Remember that long list of produce I was packing for someone in Greenpoint? Essex Farm offers a free-choice, whole-diet, year-round CSA. Being part of the CSA essentially means that for a certain price, you get some of the best farm-to-table food that money can buy delivered to you, on a weekly basis.
I had previously heard of CSAs that provide certain types of vegetables and fruits, but never anything like this. The Essex Farm CSA supplies from everything they have on the farm, including grass-fed beef, pastured pork, chicken, eggs, butter, over fifty different kinds of vegetables, milk, grains and flour, some fruit, herbs, maple syrup, and even soap and canned foods. All animals on the farm are fed certified organic food, and Essex Farm does not use any conventional pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. It’s worth mentioning that they have some of the freshest, grass-fed, A2 dairy around. Every week you can mark off however much, or however little, produce you want. You can see some of the options here. One of my favorite things about the Essex Farm CSA is the mindfulness they put into making it environmentally friendly: all packaging is re-washed, re-rinsed, and re-used. Isn’t there something 1950s-romantic about getting milk delivered in a bottle?
There are three “subscription” options for city folks who want to invest in the farmshare. If you want to get food every week for the entire year, you can sign up for the Annual Share ($155/week for 1 adult), which would be prorated from your start date and paid in monthly or quarterly installments. If you have a busier schedule and need to take long breaks, you can sign up as a Seasonal Member ($205/week for 1 adult). Seasonal memberships are purchased in share blocks no fewer than four weeks. There is also a “microshare” if you just want a week-long taste of what the farm has to offer, for $140/week. That’s a lot cheaper than what we spend at the restaurants on Franklin St. every week.
Mark not only runs an incredible farm, but he’s an incredible farmer, truly passionate about his craft. He’s not only open, but eager to talk to prospective CSA members. You can shoot him a text or give him a call to ask any questions you might have, ranging from info on their dairy cows, to why it even matters to eat fresh food. His book recommendations aren’t shabby, either. (Seriously, here’s his number: 518-570-6399). He views members as part of the farm community, and anyone who joins can get a free farm tour and come to the property whenever they’d like.
Living the city life while getting to eat local farm quality food is a true treat. They harvest on Mondays, pack on Tuesdays, and you get the food on Wednesdays. Talk about fresh and fast, I’ve waited longer than that for Amazon shipments. If you sign up, which you can do here, you’ll be eating the best farm-to-table food that money can buy. To learn more about Essex farms visit their website or follow them on instagram. You can also read their blog-style “Farm Notes”, beautifully written by Kristin Kimball herself, who has published multiple books on farm life.