Farmers: Kristin and Mark Kimball
First season: 2003
What they raise: Mixed vegetables,
dairy, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, dairy, wheat,
rye, oats, corn, oilseed sunflowers, maple syrup,
cherries, apples, plums, pears.
Location: On Lake Champlain,
a little south of Burlington VT.
Marketing strategies: Year-round
CSA for 25 families.
The sugarbush stretches across the east-facing slope we see
out the kitchen window. In the fall, these maples lit the
hill in a red blaze. We're listening to the weather radio
with more interest than usual, hoping for the cold nights
and warm days that raise the sap from the trees' roots to
their buds and tock, tock, tocking into the buckets we've
hung on their trunks. We've had a long stretch of almost perfect
conditions, and the sap run has been spectacular—so
good, in fact, it's taking a lot more time than we budgeted
for. The pace of spring is quickening, and the list of urgent
tasks gets longer by the day. We have piglets arriving in
a few days and haven't got a place to put them yet. I need
to design new mobile coops for this year's broiler chickens.
The alliums should be started by now on the sunny porch that
serves as our greenhouse, but we don't even have all the flats
built yet. As usual, time is our scarcest resource.
Meanwhile, though, I'm thoroughly enjoying sugaring season.
In the shadowy woods, the snow is still too deep for wheels,
so after morning chores we hitch the horses to a primitive-looking
sledge that Mark and his friends knocked together just before
the first good thaw. Around here, they call it a jumper; it's
simply a set of curved hardhack saplings pinned together with
homemade dowels, with scavenged boards set between them. Our
friend Mr. Ben Christian showed us how to make it as it has
been made for generations. On top of the jumper, we've strapped
a 300 gallon holding tank, also scavenged. Once hitched, I
drive the horses up to the woods, and Mark joins the team
of four volunteers who turn out every morning to tramp around
the woods hauling 5-gallon buckets from tree to tree. I have
the easy job, moving the jumper slowly through the sugarbush
so the crew can empty their buckets.
The first few days we collected, the horses were nutty with
spring fever, and we had one of those accidents that makes
you wince for how much worse it could have been. Coming across
a tiny bridge hauling a sloshing ton of sap, the horses hit
a bump with more speed than usual. The force of it jounced
my feet off the sled, just as the horses spooked at the sound
of their hooves on the bridge and pulled hard on the lines.
There is nothing to hold onto, so I got pulled off the jumper
entirely and landed hard on the bridge, narrowly missing getting
hit by the heavy runners. Luckily, I kept the lines in my
hands and the horses clattered to a stop, or else it would
have been a very bad day indeed. The long stretch of warm
days with heavy sap runs has been good for settling them down.
Some days they haul 250 gallons at a time to the evaporator,
which makes for a good load to drag through the mud on the
driveway. Silver, our pluggier horse, had gained weight over
the winter—so much that his collar no longer fits, so
and we had to take out its pad. But already he's toning up,
the pad is back on, and he and his partner, Sam, are settling
into the old routine of work.
Once the sap is bucketed into our big holding tank, all we
have to do is stand around the evaporator, feeding it wood,
checking the levels of the pans and watching the syrup temperature,
and enjoying all the company that stops by to see what we're
up to. So far, we've drawn off about 30 gallons of syrup.
The first quarts went home with our members this week.
Yesterday, Mark and I walked the farm for the first time
this spring. The snow's melting fast, and under it there's
life. Our winter wheat and rye is pushing up through the frosty
ground. Some of the Walla Walla onions we planted as an experiment
in the fall seem to have actually made it; so did some heavily
mulched Chinese cabbage. In all the fields, the wet soil looks
black, rich and promising.
In some ways, we're way ahead of where we were last spring.
We are starting with plowed fields this year, where last year
we had to break sod. We have a good load of compost made,
ready to spread. Most of the machinery we need for the season
is in working order. On the other hand, we have about twice
as much plowed land to be planted this year. Those beautiful
black stretches of turned soil will soon be the scene of our
battle against the devilish weeds, and I fear we'll be overwhelmed.
Last spring, I was blissfully ignorant of the flood of work
that was about to hit us. This year, I know what's coming…and
am bracing myself.