It feels like spring at Mesa Top Farm! What a difference a week makes, as we have dodged a couple of storms and the temperature and wind has come up and so now the ground is drying out. Slowly, the cows are getting onto “dry ground”. They started wandering off into muddy pastures, not good for them or the pastures, so now I have them corralled on more or less dry ground. Still feeding a lot of expensive hay, but soon the grass will start growing!
We are starting to get some work done here. With Erica Shestak, our new farm manager, and Matt Smith, local young farmer and along with a visiting friend, we are beginning the spring cleanup and tending to repairs that in less severe winters are addressed throughout the “off season”.
We are gathering hatching eggs, and will set 288 in each of our two best incubators, hoping to hatch about 400 baby chicks in about 21 days from when they are set. Plant starts are up in the greenhouse: lettuce, baby bok choi, kale, collards, and chard. The next phase of the dance begins again…
This week’s update on cheese value chain and Jim Miller Ayrshire projects:
When I wrote about the failure of the attempt to establish a herd in McIntosh, to supply Old Windmill Dairy, I wrote that “when one door closes, another opens” and so it goes.
One ongoing relationship that I have built over the years in order to support my goal establishing an artisanal and farmstead cheese “industry” in NM, built around the Jim Miller Ayrshire genetics, has been the New Mexico Dairy Bureau. These are an exemplary group of regulators who are committed to delivering on their commitment of protecting public health while at the same time supporting opportunity and choice for producers. They have a difficult job as food safety is a major challenge in our immune-compromised and hypoallergenic world: people get sicker more easily, or so it seems, than they did when everyone had a dirt in their lives and the environment was not toxic.
Alf Reed and Dustin Cox were working closely with us at Old Windmill to establish the herd there, and when Mike and Ed gave up, they started thinking about who else among their smaller cheese operators might be more interested and able to house a small herd of cows. Through them I met Ken Carter of Desert Sky Creamery, in Las Paolomas, just South of Truth or Consequences. Ken has had the goal of adding cow milk along side his goat cheese making, and has had a couple of false starts. So today I am on my way to McIntosh to load up the gals again and head off to Las Palomas.
Meanwhile, through an odd twist of fate, the idea of a cheese share and sampling cheese to our members got a little boost when La Montanita received a mistaken shipment of mild cheddar, manufactured at Tucumcari Mountain Cheese, from organic milk from Native Pastures Dairy in Portales that we could sample for a seriously discounted price. These local two dairy partners are medium scale operations, moving milk and cheese by the semi-load, so the price points are crazy low compared to what our artisanal cheese makers offer. And our cost on this sample batch of cheeses was below half of their usual price for cheese from organic milk.
Soon, we will have some Ayshire cheese from Twin Mountain, again it will be a $4-5 sample piece, and you will see what a huge difference there is in texture and flavor between a “mass produced” cheese, sold within weeks of its origin, and a hand made, aged cheese.
With the help of our move to our new online system, a cheese share should become available when we roll over into May and the cheese adventure will begin in earnest!
This week’s Veggie/Share Update:
With the departure of the snow, we finally got to look under our the covers of our Mesa Top overwintering experiment and low and behold, we had some cabbage, growing under the triple row cover, buried in snow for most of 4 months. We wish we had more, but there is 1 lb per member, fresh harvested and very sweet.
We also have some collards and spinach under the covers. The spinach was not much of a success, but there may be a little dab of Mesa Top collards for you next week, along with some hoop house greens from Green Tractor Farm in La Cienega.
We also are introducing Vida Verde Farm this week, which is a partnership of two young farmers in the north valley of Albuquerque. They overwintered a small patch of carrots, and they are part of your share this week. We will begin receiving greens from Vida Verde later this month.
We finally broke into the Mesa Top storage onions. We try to experiment every season in some small way that contributes to our ability to extend the local season, and we have been working with different onion varieties to find the best keepers. The much less expensive onions that we have had from Schweback Farm were of a variety called Candy, that is a “semi-sweet”, more like a Vidalia or Walla Walla onion. The “Copra” variety that we grew for storage is a more pungent onion. Generally storage types of produce, whether they are onions, carrots, or apples, are less sweet. Sugar is the presence in a fruit or vegetable that breaks down with age. We have one more large onion per share, and some for the exchange table later in April.
We continue to offer the Elijah Farm apples, a little wrinkly but tasty. We encourage members to buy them by the box for $40 for 35 lbs, and make juice or sauce or apple butter. We can also offer smaller special order quantities: 10 lbs for $12.50, starting next week, until they are gone.
Our special local treat this week is Heidi’s raspberry jam.
We will continue working to “keep it local and regional” as we move toward the anticipated abundance of summer.
We hope you will extend your membership soon, as our farmers are all spending money (borrowing) to get this year’s crops going and make it possible to feed us all well later in the season. Watch for more communication from Dena and Amy and Colleen and Pattie about our big step forward in partnership with an online system by a company called Farmigo, to offer more and better options for our members to access local food and regional food and to support local and regional farmers and our food system.
Thank you for your support.