Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Not the Tradition I Had in Mind...

Every family has holiday traditions, whether it is the food we eat, the people we share the day with, or other special things that become part of our annual celebrations.   One thing I have wanted to make a tradition here at the farm is taking a Christmas Eve sleigh ride with my husband, Dan.  We got the sleigh ready, I brushed Sara, my little Morgan mare, put on her fancy harness, and I even added a few pieces of Christmas garland for a festive touch.  We started out into the snow-covered hay field, and it was magical.  She trotted away with a pace which felt like we could keep all day.  The sun gleamed off of the holly-like tinsel, and the single bell I adorned her hames with jingled merrily. It was a picture worthy of a Christmas card. At least for the first round.  

She began to pick up a bit too much speed, and as I slowed her down, the strap around her backside tightened.  She hates this feeling, and before I could blink an eye, she began a kicking fit.  Pieces of harness and sleigh shafts began to break apart, and soon there was nothing connecting pony to sleigh besides my grip on the reins.  This caused me to fly from the sleigh, with none of the grace of Santa's reindeer, breaking the front board before I hit the snow-covered ground, face down.  Still Sara kept going.  I was now being drug on my belly behind her flying hooves, which suddenly seemed much closer than when I was safely aboard the sleigh.  My shoulders were now functioning as snow plows, and I couldn't see much beside those hooves. There was nothing to do at this point besides let go.  She continued racing across the field as I picked myself up and assured Dan that I wasn't hurt.  Sara turned around at the far fence and came galloping back toward us, but was in no mood to slow down and be caught, so I didn't try anything foolish like jumping in front of her.  She broke a gate and was into the barnyard.  By the time I made it down there, a switch had flipped, and she calmly trotted over to me so I could take her inside.  We stood there for a minute, catching our breath, and Dan arrived to help me unharness her.  She was ok; missing a bit of hair on her leg, but no blood.  Nothing would swell, and when we let all the horses out for an evening drink at chore time, she was prancing away from Dixie, just like any other night.  I have a fair number of bruises on my legs and knees and my hands have a bit of rope burn, but the skin will grow back, so no major harm to me either besides some major stiffness that will fade in a day or two.  The harness and sleigh are both broken, but both can be fixed.  We live near an Amish community, so we'll take the harness over to the Amish harness shop, where they will fix it like new.  I want to get a new set of lines and replace the nylon ones that burned my hands as well.  Dan is confidant that with a trip to Home Depot and a new coat of paint, the front of the sleigh will be fine too.  We had been meaning to replace that board anyway. Even the digital camera in my front hoodie pocket escaped intact! I remarked that at 24 years old, Sara should be too old for such episodes, but I'm very fortunate that she is still healthy enough to be bad.  I'm also happy that I did not get the sleigh bells I had been wanting for Christmas this year!

There was one major casualty in the whole fiasco.  My pockets had been filled with animal cookies to give to the critters as treats.  Snow + cookies = soggy mess.  However, my goats love cookies, soggy or not, so they cleaned them all up. Jerry was happy to take all the broken bits of legs and elephant trunks from the palm of my hand, and the whole herd was very pleased with their Christmas treats.

Now Dan and I are anxiously waiting for the Christmas ham, glazed with my mulled blackberry vinegar, to come out of the oven.  We'll have a feast of sides, like homegrown squash and frozen corn from the summer.  We hope your holiday is a merry one as well, completely free of sleigh wrecks and other fiascos, and full of love, good food, and happiness.

 Merry Christmas! 


Christmas Snow

The snow is falling gently outside, and we're not expecting weather above freezing, so it looks like we'll be having a white Christmas here at Pleasant Valley.  The big storm that blew up the East Coast spared us, so we only have about 4 inches here.  In my opinion, just enough to make it pretty, but not so much we're digging out or unable to travel. Most of the animals are spending their days inside where it is warm and dry.  Although the horses love to kick up their heels when we let them out at chore time, Dixie will be pawing at the barn door wanting to come back in if she thinks we're taking too long!  The only critters outside now are the sheep.  Although they have access to dry shelter under the barn roof,  you will see them outside with an inch of snow on their backs.  Wearing a wool coat all the time keeps them plenty warm!  The pigs are snuggled up in their nests of hay most of the time.  Although they still have access to the great outdoors, the frozen ground is tough for them to walk on, so they stay inside most of the time in the new, improved and very dry hog house.  The chickens also don't want to be out in the snow, but because we have a timed light in the hen house, we're still getting plenty of eggs.  The only animals besides the sheep who still love to be outside are the rabbits.  They spend as much time out playing in the snow as they do in their hutch. I can see them from my kitchen window and they seem to enjoy sprinting through the snow and playing.

For those of you who stopped in to see us at our farm stand, you probably noticed the black and red sleigh.  It is more than just a decoration, and we have enough snow to take it out now.  My little Morgan mare, Sara, is able to pull it easily.  I wanted to start a Christmas Eve tradition of taking a sleigh ride last year, but it rained ant there was nothing but mud last year.  This year is looking a lot more like Christmas!


History in Context

One of the great things about our farm is the sense of history you get just by being here.  Not just because we choose to farm with horses and use antique equipment, but the very buildings are antiques too!  One of my long-term goals is to research the history of the farm and write it down, but for now I know for sure that the barn was built in 1894.  It's carved into the foundation stones, so that I'm quite sure of.  The building used as the workshop is older than that, and the house was put here later than the barn, but not by too many years.  It was built on an adjacent farm, pulled by horses and rolled on logs to its current location, so it is a bit harder to date.  Looking at the hand-hewn beams of the barn, it's fascinating to me to picture how it was actually built.  It's been in continuous use without any major structural repairs (other than a board here and there or a new roof) so it was built right the first time, as the saying goes.  The pictures of horses and buggies and a blacksmith shop here are easy to picture.  It's a bit more mind-boggling to picture that in the larger context of history, of the area and the nation as well.  

At my day job, we are in the process of relocating the office.  We will be moving to the historic Transit building in downtown Oil City.  While touring the building looking for office space, we found out a lot about the history of the structure.  It was built by John D. Rockefeller in the days of Standard Oil.  It processed something like 90% of the world's orders for petroleum products at that time.   Our little corner of the world was the birthplace of the oil industry, and at that time huge Victorian homes were being built, many of which still stand today in places like Oil City, Franklin,  or Titusville.  Boom towns like Pithole appeared overnight, full of the lawless and the newly rich.  I knew all this, it is celebrated in annual town festivals, it is talked about frequently in the local newspaper, and there are many historic monuments within a short drive of home.  But somehow, it can be hard to reconcile with our little farm.  Still farming with horses and heating with wood, we seem pretty far removed form the oil boom.  So what brought it all home to me the day I was in the Transit building?  J. D. Rockefeller, a prominent national historical figure of his era, was building his 4-story brick superstructure to handle petroleum orders the very same year my barn was built, 1894.  The two structures are separated by less than 30 miles.  I had never really put those events side by side, as one seemed to be something from a history textbook and the other an extension of personal history, the history of my home.  Wow.  History in context.


Closed for the Season

This was the first weekend our farm stand has not been open for business.  It's just too hard to grow much produce in December in northwestern Pennsylvania, and there comes a point when the butchering is also over for the year.  That point would be now.  All the creatures still here will be with us over the winter, either for breeding or providing meat for the stand's opening next year.  We are tentatively planning on being open for Memorial Day weekend, 2010, but that sure seems far away! 

Although I'm a big fan of sleeping in on the rare occasion I can, it sure seemed strange not to wake early to an alarm yesterday.  I felt like I should be gathering things to take down to the stand, and straightening up what was there already.  I can't say I was truly sorry to be in my nice warm house for those 4 hours though, since the temperatures ranged from mid 20's up to a high of about 32 yesterday. We've removed all the products and stored them ourselves.  Things like potatoes or winter squash will keep in the basement nearly all winter, but aren't much good to eat if they freeze sitting down on the concrete in the stand.  All the jars are safely put away in the pantry as well.  But there is no such thing as empty space on the farm, as within the week the stand was full again...but this time with animal food! We had a large amount of feed delivered which, along with our homegrown hay and corn, should keep the critters happy and full for quite a while to come!

 I'm often asked these days if the work is pretty well done for the year.  It sure hasn't seemed like it lately, but that probably has more to do with being called back to a full time job than with what's really going on here.  While we are busy every day, it isn't with major farm activities like plowing, planting or hay making.  Now it's cleaning up around the hog house and doing some home improvement projects we've talked about for months. I've even pulled out some Christmas decorations, and if it ever warms up above 25, maybe I'll get outside and finally take down the sagging cornstalks on the porch and replace them with some festive lighting!

 Thanks again to everyone who stopped by our farm stand these past few months.  If it weren't for people like you, who appreciate food that is local, organic, home-grown, hormone-free, and fresh,  we wouldn't be able to do what we love. We hope to see each and every one of you again next year, and in the meantime I'll be blogging so you can stay connected to what's going on here!


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