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Turkana Farms, LLC, is a small scale producer of heritage breed livestock and a wide array of vegetables and berries on just over 39 acres in Germantown, New York. Under the stewardship of Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer, the farm is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and eschews the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, growth enhancers, and antibiotics.


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Turkana Farms, LLC, is a small scale producer of heritage breed livestock and a wide array of vegetables and berries on just over 39 acres in Germantown, New York. Under the stewardship of Peter Davies and Mark Scherzer, the farm is dedicated to sustainable agriculture and eschews the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, growth enhancers, and antibiotics.

    AgriCulture-Spring Awakenings

    AgriCulture-Spring Awakenings

    Spring, the season of rebirth and regrowth, is almost upon us. Winter's last full official day is Sunday, March 19. But Spring is an insistent force, and will be restrained neither by the calendar nor by cold wintry weather. If I needed any proof of this proposition, I found it yesterday evening. As Eric and I drove east east from Germantown, where the little snow we had this week has largely melted away, to the higher elevations of Northwestern Connecticut, where my friend George spent part of the week snowed in without power, we saw in the middle of a lawn in Lakeville, surrounded by deep snow, what appeared to be a large forsythia bush in bloom.

    Here in Germantown, it's easier for the season to show itself in full force. The little white snowdrop flowers that have been blooming for the last couple of weeks have been joined by six inch tall daffodil leaves, with buds that seem on the verge of opening. I even saw a couple of phlox leaves emerging near the house this afternoon. And fuki buds are popping out of the ground, it seems everywhere I look.

    Fuki, also known as Japanese butterbur, is a plant with flat round leaves which can be massive, a foot or more in diameter -- heart shaped, large, and coarse. The leaves appear at the end of stalks that begin at ground level and stick up about six or eight inches. People often mistake fuki for rhubarb. The stalks resemble a thin reddish celery stalk. The buds, which look like tiny greenish cauliflowers, appear right at ground level in early spring.

    The fuki here was planted in a fit of landscaping enthusiasm some twenty two years ago. It was located in a shady damp spot east of the driveway in order to quickly cover a lot ground with something decorative. I've come to view the plant as a horrible invasive scourge because, through sending out underground runners, it has been appearing opportunistically everyplace it can reach, sometimes areas not so shady and mucky. Unfortunately, in the height of summer, whenever the weather turns hot and dry, in all but the shadiest, wettest spots the plants wilt, and so does their beauty. The leaves dry up quickly; the stems turn a brittle brown. Because they have shaded out all competing growth, the fuki patch looks like the remnants of a forest fire. Spring landscape beauty becomes summer's desert. I would like to do everything I can to limit the area covered by fuki.

    Fortuitously, it turns out that fuki is regarded as something of a delicacy by the Japanese, a "mountain vegetable." The buds, known as " fuki noto", are harvested by hand in early spring and used in a variety of preparations. I'm thinking about doing a fuki noto tempura tomorrow. From my research today, it seems the stalks are also quite edible when they're young and tender. Parboiled in salt water, followed by an ice water bath to take out some of their signature bitterness, they may then be added to soup or transformed into a vegetable dish served with miso paste. My hope is that if I harvest enough buds and early stalks, and even convince others to eat them, that I will keep this rampant scourge under control.

    I assure you , this is not a general instinct of mine. Confronted by the first growth of spring, I do not generally try to beat it back. Indeed, I encourage the life force in all its manifestations, be they vegetable, animal, or human.

    Take Spring Fever. I have the impression, from my social world, that there is a pandemic of this condition already well under way. Various of my friends are falling into various stages of infatuation and outright love right about now. I've always been a love junkie. There's rarely been a period in my life when I wasn't in love with a mate or potential mate, regardless of season. But to see friends who previously proclaimed no interest in becoming part of a couple suddenly changing course and considering mating makes me suspect there's something in the atmosphere that has freed up that particular human need and desire

    • 5 min
    Agriculture-Raising Doodle

    Agriculture-Raising Doodle

    Another small March snowfall this morning frustrated my outdoor work but served to remind me of how much I need to do for spring. Each time it snows, the branches and berry canes etched in white loom all the larger, shouting "we need pruning." I felt a bit overwhelmed walking by the blackberry patch. The feeling intensified as I pitchforked a wheelbarrow full of muck from the barn floor and saw again how much remains to do. It feels like I might just as well have thrown the hay bales directly on the floor, and skipped the intermediate stage where the sheep tear it out of the manger to eat.

    And the hay supply is running low. In the fall of 2021 I over-bought, and ended up with hay left in the barn when spring arrived. As a result, in the fall of 2022, with a fairly constant number of sheep, I adjusted my buying down, and now it seems I have only about two weeks supply left. With at least six weeks before the pasture can serve as the main food source for the sheep, I'm going to have to bring in more hay in the next week or so to bridge that gap.

    I'm not sure this really represents a misjudgment on my part. In 2021 the hay I bought was "second cut" (the late summer cutting), fresh and tender, and the sheep tended to consume it thoroughly. This last fall, there was no second cut hay available to buy, as a result of our midsummer drought. The first cut hay I was able to find was stalky, dryer and coarse, not nearly as attractive to the sheep. The result has been much more wasted hay left on the barn floor, much more mucking of the floor for me, and much quicker depletion of my supply of hay bales because they are really only being partially consumed.

    I made the best choice I could in buying that hay, and, thankfully, the sheep don't complain. But I do perceive a slightly higher degree of frenzy when they get their daily grain treats: a little more aggression about knocking each other out of the way to get at this scarce resource. The herd dynamics have led to a certain degree of debate around here about how best to handle feeding time. On that subject, I am far less certain about which way to go.

    Many of you will recall the birth of Doodle, the little lamb rejected by his mother last July. Doodle is doing fine. Most of the day he hangs with the herd. He plays and hops around like a standard healthy little lamb. He is, unsurprisingly, affectionate toward humans. But, probably as the result of his near death experience just after birth, he is still quite small, even when compared with his twin sister, who his mother did not reject. It seems that his fate, as a smaller creature, is to be emphatically knocked out of the way when the sheep compete for their daily grain treat.

    My solution has been to keep Doodle with me in the barn when I exclude all the others in order to set up feeding. He accompanies me outside as I trundle the wheelbarrow up to the compost heap. He follows me back in to the hay storage room, he follows me when I put out the herd's mineral supplement, and, most of all he follows me when I put the grain their feed bowls. In essence, he gets a huge head start on the other sheep in consuming the grain. I justify it by recognizing that once everyone else comes in, he is going to get knocked out of the way.

    But my approach turns out to be controversial. Eric, being a consummate human resources professional, urges me to abandon this most favored treatment of Doodle so that he will develop sheep life skills. "Doodle has to learn to compete," says Eric. "He'll never be able to do it if you give him a free pass."

    My possibly soon-to-be housemate, Steve, also criticizes my approach. Steve is something of a shrink manqué, and much as he analyzes the dynamics of the human denizens of Turkana Farms he ventures deep into the realm of sheep psychology. "If the others keep seeing Doodle through the fence getting special access," insists Steve, "they are going to resent him. He'll be an outcast." But in cont

    • 6 min
    AgriCulture-Great Eggspectations

    AgriCulture-Great Eggspectations

    By Mark Scherzer

    I know you are all accustomed to my ruminations on the state of the world taking primary place in this bulletin, and the sales pitch for the farm being distinctly secondary. I'm turning that approach on its head this week, because I want to make sure I'm clearly conveying a message. This farm is getting back in business.

    After the death of my partner, Peter, I figured I had to pare things back to what I could manage entirely on my own, all while spending time to reconstitute a personal life and run my law business in the City. The farm's production contracted considerably as a result.

    I think the reconstitution process has reached a point of maturity and stability. I've built a life centered here rather than the City and moved the law practice here in that effort. I'm finding how to integrate the farm work into the work day so that it gives me needed breaks from my desk work rather than interfering with it. I have a group of friends and regular visitors who bring me great joy; several of them come in part because they find helping with farm projects to be therapeutic and fun. Most important, I am happily partnered again. Eric, my partner, has a keen eye for what I like and what I can manage. He is encouraging me to reorganize my operations, to stop doing what I can't do myself economically and to do more of what brings me both pleasure and reasonable revenue (like raising turkeys!).

    All of which means the period of contraction is drawing to a close. It's time to take more seriously the tasks of producing agricultural goods and selling them. To that end, let me say far more prominently than I have been saying in the past few months, I've got farm produce I would love to sell to you.

    Winter snow, Spring eggs Photo by Eric Rouleau

    Let's start with eggs. A couple of weeks ago, I announced that eggs were back. I excitedly described pullet eggs, the first laid eggs of the newest hens, of which we are entering the last week of production. I expected something akin to the Oklahoma land rush, when they opened the territory's borders to American settlers in 1889. Fifty thousand people lined up and rushed into the territory in a frenzy to claim some of the 12,000 160 acre tracts that you could own at no cost if you lived on and worked the land.

    (There is always a hidden cost to anything free, of course. In the case of Oklahoma, that cost was paid by the Native Americans displaced to Oklahoma from the Southeast a half century earlier through one sided treaties that the United States then decided to one-sidedly abrogate. Individual Native American families could claim their own 160 acre plots, but those lots unclaimed were forfeited from collective tribal ownership.)

    Similar land rushes were repeated several times in later years, and you can be sure pretty much all of the land was grabbed up. Not true, however, of my eggs. I'm bringing in a lot every day. The new pullets have now been joined by the older hens, who are starting their annual crescendo of egg-laying that tells us it's now biological, if not meteorological spring. Cartons of eggs are stacking up in the fridge. So in case my previous invitations were too tentative, let me send out the message loud and clear: Eggs are back, and I'd be delighted if all our regular egg customers were to return as well. The eggs are fresh, they're delicious, and it's more ethical than the Oklahoma land rush -- you pay for them.

    Now let's turn to lamb: We had to push back the lamb market date from last week because the ground was a little too soft for our trucker to feel comfortable backing up to the barn. They're now scheduled to leave March 20. This means there is still the opportunity for those of you who would like to order a whole or half lamb, custom butchered to your specifications. You receive it all neatly packed and frozen, giving you a stockpile of lovely lamb for several months use. Rack and leg of lamb for feasts, lamb shanks and

    • 6 min
    Agriculture-Good Buds

    Agriculture-Good Buds

    Part of my chore-time ritual, twice a day, is to muck a wheelbarrow full of accumulated waste hay and sheep poop from the barn floor and trundle it out to the compost heap. Even with this effort, the stuff builds up. It's anywhere from 6 inches to a foot deep in the part of the barn closest to the hay manger.

    This morning, as I was doing the mucking, I felt my fingers go a bit numb. I was wearing inner gloves and outer gloves, but it was pretty cold to be working in the barn. It was the sort of cold you feel when the air hits your face walking into a freezer storage room.

    My reaction, to my surprise, was to echo my late great-uncle Max when he entered the lake at our Catskills bungalow colony on a hot summer day. In my memory, he bellowed out "L'Chaim" as he splashed himself with the cold water, which you all know from Fiddler on the Roof means "to life," a toast.  As my cousin Al, who actually speaks Yiddish, has corrected me, he actually was calling out "mechaya," "a pleasure." This morning, I said to myself, what a pleasure, how refreshing to feel real winter cold.

    There is something I have long loved about the extremes of winter, the stretches of bitter cold for days on end. Sure, everything is harder to do. Gates ice shut, doors won't slide open. Even though I keep an electric de-icer in the sheep's water tank, ice can freeze over the top, requiring that I break it up with a prising bar. The painful numbness of my hands, my toes, my nose and my cheeks that takes over after an hour of chores in the cold, the feeling of being chilled to the bone, remains with me even after I come inside.

    But that pain, the struggle with the elements, also makes me feel, well... Butch. Strong. Healthy. Getting up to the barn with frigid north winds whipping the snow off the pastures into my eyes feels like I've gone on an Arctic expedition. Just finishing chores always seems like a small victory. My romantic macho farmer fantasy of myself finds momentary validation.

    The sensation of braving the cold is one I have almost missed entirely this year. Even when Eric and I traveled to northern Vermont two weeks ago in search of winter we found mild temperatures. The ski conditions were surprisingly good, but it was good spring skiing, including some bare spots and slush, in mid February. Here on the farm there has hardly been a challenging chore time.

    I will freely admit that my taste for braving the cold is not the best reason to complain about the mild weather. Don't worry, I have other reasons, too. I worry that it will have bad effects on the farm.

    For example, I am concerned that the weather will interfere with my lambs going to market as scheduled this Monday. Usually I can count on the ground being frozen hard at this time of year, and a truck therefore being able to back up to the barn for them to be loaded in. It seems touch and go for this Monday whether the ground instead will be muddy, and the truck unable to approach it.

    I am concerned too that the lack of prolonged deep cold will mean winter doesn't take any toll at all on pests and pestilence. Will ticks, voles, and spores of plant diseases all come through winter in full flourish, and reproduce in overwhelming numbers a couple of months from now? Will this summer be a nightmare of insect bites and plant diseases?

    And what does the apparent acceleration of spring mean for my fruit trees? I've always understood that it's best to trim fruit trees when they are dormant. If it is warm on a sustained basis, are there dangers in continuing to trim? Also, with a season that doesn't know whether it's winter or spring, will the trees be prompted to flower earlier than they should? If they flower just as a cold snap happens, the entire season could be wiped out. Earlier flowering increases that risk.

    At least the mild weather has meant that I've made great progress in trimming the trees. It's been delightful most days to work outside. Spending all that ti

    • 6 min
    AgriCulture-The Safety Net

    AgriCulture-The Safety Net

    Hi All, Mark here.

    It’s a balmy winter Saturday. The sun is ever higher in the sky. The breeze is mild. About half the pastures and lawns are bare; only a thin layer of slushy, melted, refrozen, and remelted snow covers the rest. The ground is soft. It’s the sort of day that says “Look for the crocuses to pop.” Yesterday was almost as nice. These are the kinds of days that generally send my spirits soaring.

    So why did I wake at 5 this morning with a feverish anxiety dream about the farm? Why were my sheep giving birth to rabbits? Why was a new dance venue opening across the street with, I was assured, highly amplified music all night, which would not only make my home unlivable but also deprive the farm, my biggest asset, of any value? Why was the order of everything unraveling, leaving me no safety net?

    Maybe because these balmy days are occurring in late January, not early March. Had this weather come after a deep polar vortex, or weeks of consistent cold, it would be a welcome reminder that winter is not eternal. But it’s more like a reminder that winter has barely ever started.

    As of tomorrow, January 29, New York City will have gone longer without accumulating snow than in any previously recorded winter. It may be a completely snowless season there. In Germantown, where we average 46 inches of snow annually, we’ve had no more than about 6 inches so far. Our small snowfalls were followed so quickly by rain or warm weather that I have only had to shovel the driveway once. Sure, February is usually the snowiest month, but I doubt we’ll come close to our annual average.

    Even the mountains up north have been unusually warm. Only yesterday, after a few significant snow dumps, did Eric and I work up the confidence to commit to a few days of mid-February Vermont skiing. Otherwise, plunking down a room deposit seemed a bit like buying cryptocurrency - highly speculative.

    No wonder I’m anxious. In the last few years, the social order and work routine as it existed most of my life was upended by COVID. The geopolitical order was shattered by Trumpism and Ruscism. And now it turns out that the foundation of all life, the earth and its atmosphere, is changing, perhaps sooner than we wanted to believe it would. If none of the order of your world is steady, how do you make life choices? Unfortunately, you have to assume that things will fall apart, and choose with all your worst anxieties always in mind.

    I’m convinced that this is not only a human reaction, but is deeply ingrained in the entire animal world. I’ve concluded this because I’m not the only uneasy one on the farm these days. My chickens, too, have had their world rocked by change and uncertainty, and I observe them reacting by assuming, similarly, that there is no safety net.

    You may recall that last fall a weasel was decimating my young chickens at night. While that problem was resolved, in the last couple of weeks a daytime threat has loomed over all of them: a very large and very present hawk, which I’ve seen eating prey on the ground near the pond, perching in a tree outside the parlor window, and swooping down onto the front lawn. While I didn’t see it in the act, I am quite sure it also killed two of my chickens and totally eviscerated one of them, eating all the meat off the bones.

    I was pretty sure the hawk was the culprit not only because it has been so present (the rabbits and chipmunks that seemed to multiply in the yard have been scarcely observable lately), but also because of the way the chickens react whenever the hawk can be seen or heard above – by running into the coop and hiding in the corner, preferably under a solid surface. I realized, also, that the chickens had become far more vulnerable to hawks than they’d been in several years. On his Thanksgiving visit, Perry, the son of my later partner, Peter, enjoyed a chainsaw saturnalia, which included radically pruning back the vines and branches

    • 6 min
    AgriCulture-The Kindness of Neighbors

    AgriCulture-The Kindness of Neighbors

    The "Waste Not Want Not" bulletin of last week, which included news of the death of my elderly sow, Possum, elicited a range of responses, including valuable kitchen composting tips to help me replace my living, breathing consumer of food scraps. But virtually everyone added condolences. By far the most touching and beautiful tribute came from my next door neighbor Emily, a gifted designer, who delivered a card of her own creation. On the front was an illustration of my great big pig gazing through the chain link fence from her mugwort filled pasture. On the back, she wrote, "I will miss visiting Possum through the fence."

    And then there was the message from my frequent farm sitter, soon-to-be (I hope) housemate, and always attentive reader Steve: "You had to dig a grave for a 400-pound pig and didn't think that was interesting enough to be your main topic?!"

    Truth be told, Steve was not the only one curious about Possum's burial. Others asked. And the issue rather preoccupied me too, from the moment I found her lifeless in her hut. To begin with, of course, there was her size. Six feet long from snout to tail, 3 feet tall, and 21 inches from side to side at her widest exactly. (I measured her before digging.) A solid, wide creature who always amazed visitors.

    She was also awkwardly located. Her pasture was fenced off and deliberately set in a soggy low lying area, a pig paradise where they could create mud wallows in the summer and the sheep would not want to graze. It is fenced off from the rest of the property with no wide gates or any easy route for mechanized vehicles to enter. 
    Then there was the matter of time and temperature. Our unusually warm winter saved me from a painful battle with frozen soil, but it would only hasten the decomposition of her body. I felt an urgent need to get her in the ground.

    To top it all off, I was alone. It was one of my rare (and unwanted) weekends without Eric. He and Steve and Matt and Tom and Paul all offered to help, but dispersed as they were from the Berkshires to New York City and Eastern Long Island with commitments they couldn't instantly drop, I didn't feel I could wait. Against all their warnings (Eric insisted: "Don't do this yourself!"), I stubbornly decided I just had to get to it.

    Shovel in hand, I went down to survey the possible burial sites.In a perfect world, I would bury her next to her former companion, Vernon the boar, in the middle of the pasture. But the prospect of maneuvering this massive corpse down and up a rise and across a stream was a quest I could not undertake. Besides, any action emphasizing their coupled status would be terribly guilt inducing for me.

    Possum and I had a complicated relationship. She came to us as an adult, a gift from a farm where she constantly fought with a rival sow. In most circumstances she was sweet and liked to be approached and petted, but she, like any sow, could be ferocious if ever her piglets were threatened. And I, unfortunately, on one muddy spring day, found myself trying to grab her male piglets for the vet to castrate. I grabbed a hoe to keep her at bay as she charged me. With her full weight, she jammed it back into me, cracking one of my ribs. From then on, I kept a wary distance.

    That was just one reason I spent several months soon thereafter convincing my late partner, Peter, to sell off our 30 plus pigs. After they were almost all gone, I reversed course. I couldn't bear to part with Vernon the boar, having raised him from when he was just a couple of months old. Fearing he would be lonely, we kept his companion, who was, ironically, Possum. (Possum and I both loved his sweet nature.) And as fate would have it, she was left alone when Vernon died. Her farm of origin did not want her back. I felt guilt at her life isolated from pig society and with only a couple of daily visits from me. Emily's note was especially comforting by letting me know she and Possum communed through the fence.

    • 5 min

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