AgriCulture: Wired

November 9, 2019

It seems that what’s new is the cold. And colder it will get. This may be your last chance for swiss chard, in now limited quantities. Kale is still chugging along, however, in both curly and flat varieties. Egg production is diminishing fast as the light fades, but we still have enough for our individual customers.

The arc of electricity that crosses Lasher Ave. (Photo by Mark Scherzer)

Hi all, Mark here.

Getting ready to come up to the farm Thursday, gathering my things, I realized that up near the top of the hierarchy of items I remind myself I must bring, at least as prominently as my wallet and far ahead of my belt, is the charging cord for my phone. It turns out that the wonder of wireless connectivity, which I use so intensely that I lately seem to need to recharge the phone twice a day, is anything but wireless. My life, and our kitchen, our office and even our bedrooms at the farm, seem entangled in a snarl of wires for all the wonderful electronic devices we use.

Electricity is a blessing. The wires that carry it, somewhat less so. The recurrent deliberate blackouts California has endured recently were initiated in order to avoid wildfires being ignited by sparks from the high voltage wires that carry power from generating plants to transformers. I don’t understand the scientific process, but my friend Paul tells me that high voltage and an exposed wire in the proper conditions can cause the electricity to arc out of the wire and set off fires. We all know how critical electricity is to us: saving labor, transmitting information, saving lives. A recent feature on NPR reported how agriculture was particularly acutely affected by the outages. Cows can’t just suspend being milked, and electric milking machines, during the outages had to be run off gas generators. But the farmer interviewed for the story said the loss of power and additional expense was something he could live with in order to preserve the lives and property of his neighbors. It was a nice recognition of our interconnection in a larger community.

My mind has been heavily focused on wires lately, because we are ready to bring electricity out to the new barn.

As you all know, the barn structure got finished a couple of weeks ago. It was of course not as affordable as we had hoped. The cost of the structure itself, around $38,000, was only about $8,000 more than the insurance proceeds we received from the burning of the old one, and when we got the estimate the whole replacement process seemed manageable. The builder, Henry Kriz, did a great job. But it turned out there were lots of ancillary costs we didn’t mentally factor in when thinking we had the replacement licked. Emergency repairs to the water tank and pump were about $2,000. Debris removal was $4,000. We moved the location of the barn rather than pay to demolish the old concrete slab it sat on, but we decided we needed a new concrete floor, which added $9,400 to the cost. And then moving the water tank and pump to the barn’s new location added another nearly two thousand. Now we are working on getting the interior mangers built, interior gates, door handles, etc. It will all add up. But we managed, thanks to good timing on resolution of cases I was working on in my legal practice.

I was ready for another not insignificant expense for electrical work, and hoped to get the barn on a separate account (at agricultural rates) from our home account. But when we got the estimates, from someone whose work for us in the past seemed very fairly priced, it was rather stunning. Nearly $20,000, half the cost of the building itself, and that was without counting whatever National Grid, our electric utility, would charge us for running power across the street from where the lines currently run to our side of the street and instituting service.

“Didn’t you have electricity at the barn before?” everyone asks. And the answer is yes, but it wasn’t up to code. It was transmitted by a wire run atop our eight foot deer fencing from the chicken coop to the barn. It served well, but we couldn’t expect to repeat that arrangement and get a certificate of occupancy for the new barn. It seems the new line will have to be in conduit, and buried in an 18 inch deep trench.

“Do you really need electricity?” they also ask. And the answer is yes, to run the water pump, provide energy to brood the turkeys, run the heaters that keep drinking water from freezing, and give us light to tend to the sheep. Sure, an unelectrified barn can serve as much needed shelter in the winter, but that’s only a small part of the functions it must serve as the heart of the farm.

“Can’t you do it cheaper?” That’s the logical next question. My first instinct on being faced with the $20,000 estimate was to engage in magical thinking. I recalled the fantastic rainbow that arced across Lasher Avenue back in June, and thought how nice it would be if we could just harness that – perpetually – to carry electricity from the other side of the street to the barn. I then considered solar power, to get rid of the damned wires that were driving up the expense. But that carried several drawbacks. It seemed it would be a higher initial expense. The time of year we most need the power is also the time with the least sunlight, and highest risk of the panels being inoperable because of being covered with snow and ice. And if we were generating significant amounts of solar power, I’d want to be able to feed that back to the utility for a credit on our bill, something we could not do unless we were still connected to the power grid, and hence again requiring the wiring. Solar would be a nice add on, but I’m not ready to make it our exclusive source.

So we’ve turned to figuring out practical alternatives. We’re going to keep the barn on the house’s electrical service, obviating the need to bridge the street and pay for a new hookup. We will apply for a special program that reduces electrical bills to homes that also power agricultural businesses. And we’ll do as much of the trenching ourselves as we can, Troy by renting a trencher and me (because I like digging) manually. We’re hoping to get the total cost under $15,000.

I do still want a set of wireless earbuds, like I see everyone wearing on the subway. I am so pleased with the wireless mouse I use with my desktop computer. The WiFi in the house could be a bit stronger, but I love the freedom it gives us to move about with our devices and laptops. Unfortunately, I don’t see us getting a wireless barn anytime soon. It seems I am going to remain married to wire for the foreseeable future.

Raspberries, sorry, season is over
Peppers – season is over
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Rainbow Chard – $3/bunch
Leeks – done for the season
Acorn squash, $2/each
Kale $2.50/bunch, two different varieties, deep blue green straight leaf (Lacinato) and curly.
Sorrel, done for the season
Mint, done for the season

EGGS: $5/doz

Decorative Tennessee Dancing Gourds, 4 for $1

MEATS: We keep some on hand, but it helps to order ahead in case we need to retrieve from our stash in the big commercial freezer

GEESE: One remaining, about 8.5 lbs. $10/lb.

ROASTING CHICKENS – Nice fat Freedom Rangers, frozen, largish (4 to 7 lbs, a few smaller), $6/lb.

LAMB: Riblets $8/lb, small and larger leg roasts $14/lb,

PORK: Loin pork chops, $12/lb (2 to a pack, btwn 1 and 1.5 lbs), Jowl (roughly 2 to 3 lbs each), $12/lb,
Spare ribs and country ribs $7/lb
baby back ribs $8/lb
fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
picnic or Boston butt roasts (roughly 2 lbs) SOLD OUT
smoked bacon, $12/lb
Kielbasa $8/lb


Email us your order at, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Regular pickup times are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., other days by arrangement. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call at 518-537-3815 or email.


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