Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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It was a very busy weekend here. Thursday night I heard the first peeps coming from the incubator, we kicked off hatching season with a Delaware chick followed by many more Delawares, some Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons and a few Polish and Blue Cochins. My favorite part of hatching season is opening up the incubator in the morning or after I get home from work. When I pull out the hatching tray, it's just amazing to see little fluffy chicks where solid eggs were just a few hours prior. Even after hatching hundreds of chicks, it never grows old for me. In fact, this is later in the year that we started hatching previously, and I really missed it!
Another successful event this weekend was Friday's Farm to Table conference. We only got a little lost on our way to the convention center! It was great to finally meet Mia from PASA, I feel like I know her since we've exchanged so many emails. She was really great in person, truly excited about local foods, and I look forward to meeting her again. We had samples of my Black Forest Preserves, Carrot Cake Jam, Horseradish Mustard, Ginger-Garlic Mustard, and Thai Dipping Sauce available to all who walked by the PASA table. Although all were well-received, the Carrot Cake Jam was the hands-down winner. My favorite quote from the conference was a woman who not only wanted to buy a jar, but wanted me to make a whole bathtub for her so she could "just soak it all in!" I was amazed, even in a big place like Pittsburgh, about half of the folks who stopped by knew where Tionesta was. We hope to see lots of them at our stand this summer! It was a great place for farmers and other vendors to network as well. Although I had quite a few requests to carry my products at other locations, for now the only place they will be available is at our stand here at the farm.
I was pleasantly surprised by the edible Allegheny table as well. The magazine had contacted me last year about advertising in it. Although it was a bit too expensive to fit into our current advertising budget, I offered to host them if they ever cared to do a story here. I was told that only farms that advertise would get stories published about them This really soured me on the magazine, because it is a beautiful publication that states its purpose as supporting local farms and seasonal eating, but I felt that if they only profiled advertisers, they were misleading the audience about the true availability of local food by ignoring small producers. One of the women at the booth asked if I had heard of the magazine before, and when I relayed this story, she told me that it was not true at all, and that she was in fact the editor of the publication. I gave her one of my cards, and whether or not they ever want to do a story here, I'm excited about the magazine now. I'm looking forward to sitting down with the issue they handed out at the conference and to seeing the subscription come to my mailbox.
Posted by Emily
@ 11:30 AM EDT
It's a crazily busy week here, I'm on a break but won't get away from my day job till well after dark today & tomorrow. It all works out for the best though, as I will have enough hours in that I won't need to use a precious vacation day to be at the Farm to Table conference on Friday. Dan and I will be leaving Tionesta bright and early after chores are done to head down the the David L Lawerence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. We're going to be one of a only a few farms featured at the PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) table. They'll be helping us display some of my mustards and jams, and I'll have a small supply on hand for folks to purchace while I'm manning the table. It looks like we'll be present pretty much all Friday morning, so if you attend, be sure to stop by and say hello! Just look for the table with the big "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" banners!
Posted by Emily
@ 04:11 PM EDT
The weather here has been beatuiful, the mud is drying and we have even more beautiful farm babies! Lambing season continues, we now have a total of 6 healthy little lambs...5 rams (boys) and one ewe. Last years we fininshed the season with 4 ewes and only 2 rams, so I guess it's just the boys' year this time! We also have three more ewes who we are watching closely, as they have yet to deliver.
Both our sows have delivered their piglets, with Fern giving birth a few days after Char. We have a grand total of 19 healthy little piglets! Wow!
The incubator is filling with eggs and our first chicks of the season will hatch next weekend. I've missed the soft peeping of chicks, so I'm excited about that, too. I also spotted the first goose egg of the season this week. This goose found a nice spot under the rabbit cages in the back yard. It's fairly out of the way, but I can watch from my kitchen window, so I'm hoping she sticks with this spot for hewr nest this year. I noticed this location as I moved the bantam Japanese chickens from that rabbit cage back into their summer home. It is a bottomless pen called a chicken tractor, and now that the snow has melted, I can put those birds back out on grass. It sure is nice to see them in the yard again!
The plants are coming to life as well. I noticed the first glimpses of crimson popping up through the mulch covering our rhubarb patches. The blueberry bushes are showing little buds and it looks like my rosebush survuved the winter. A few early leaves of green mark where the oregano, thyme and lemon balm are in the herb garden as well. The daffodils are poking up and I'm sure the forsythia and lilac bushes will be blooming soon, as the buds are starting to swell on the branches.
Besides all the spring excitement, I'm also looking forward to the Farm to Table conference set for next Friday & Saturday at the David L. Lawerence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. While the cost of a table for the 2 days was a bit out of our farm's advertising budget this year, we belong to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, aka PASA. They are featuring member farms and giving free samples of products at a table there, so I've already sent them a box of our jams and mustards. Dan and I are planning on attending on Friday as well, and if all goes according to plan, we'll be at the PASA table when our farm is featured to answer questions and have some of our products to sell. I think this is really neat, but I'm also just as excited to check out what other farms in our region are doing. When I find out the actual time our farm is scheduled, I'll be sure to post it so that you can stop by and say hello if you're there!
Posted by Emily
@ 10:28 AM EDT
Although the weather is a bit gloomy, the rain did get rid of the snow. Even though it's still muddy, at least the water has stopped coming in to the barn. The hog house has stayed wonderfully dry with its new roof, which is great since we have so many new piglets! Charlotte had her litter Thursday-11, a new record for her. While we lost a few the first few days, if she raises these 8 it will still be a successful litter. Her sister, Fern, gave birth last night. She had a whopping 12, but 2 were stillborn, which often happens with such large litters. Again, we're still thrilled.
We though there would be a lull in lambing season as the 4 ewes still outside are young and historically, the youngest give birth a bit later on into the spring months. However, looking out my kitchen window into the pasture, there is a new lamb who will need to be brought into the nice warm barn before nightfall! The other five are growing at a record pace, and we can't wait for the pasture to dry up a bit so we can let them out!
We are super busy inside the house too. We had tons of home improvement projects on the to-do list to get done over the winter. Spring is here, so we're trying to do as much as possible while it's still too muddy to plow. Once the outdoor work of planting and field prep begins, major inside projects are pretty much on hold!
Posted by Emily
@ 04:17 PM EDT
Periodically, I try to review the sites that list our farm and keep them updated. Yesterday, I looked at our eatwellguide.org listing. I don't really like that one, because I can't edit it myself and it's just not user-friendly from a farmer's perspective. Oh well. I noticed that it still had our old RD Box address, so I clicked on it to update. Then I noticed what it said about our products...no veggies listed, but all the meats were there, even turkey. We didn't do turkey last year, but that's on our list of things to do this year, so I didn't see leaving it up as a problem. Then I read the descriptions. Pasture raised, no hormones, no antibiotics, organic methods...all were accurate. Except one. This listing advertised our poultry as being "100% vegetarian fed."
While chickens aren't meat-thirsty carnivores, they aren't strict vegetarians, either. We don't feed our chicks any animal byproducts, just high protein, corn based poultry feed. However, we do raise them on pasture. The pens they live in have no bottom, and are dragged to new grass each morning. This means that they not only have new grass to pick at and eat, they have lots of bugs to hunt and kill, which they do. I've even seen the egg hens chasing each other when one of them kills a frog...a prize each wants to claim. A chicken is designed by nature to hunt bugs as a part of its diet. If you watch a chicken in a true free range/pasture pen, its attention is always drawn to the small movements of insects. It just makes sense to me to let nature take its course and reap the benefits in the garden of having the chickens controlling the insect population.
So what is the big deal? My chickens eat bugs, who cares? The problem I have is the misleading advertising that is present in our food system. "100% vegetarian-fed" is just a buzzword to get you to buy a product. It's a lie if the chickens are truly raised in outdoor free range conditions. It also makes you think that animal welfare is important, but if the birds can't eat bugs, they must be raised in some pretty sterile, unnatural conditions. I've seen the phrase on plenty of egg cartons dropped off at the farm. An under-educated customer buys it, but are they getting what they think is being advertised? Maybe. I'll never advertise my chicken or eggs as vegetarian-fed, but unlike big industry, I would never feed them beef by-products just to up the protein content of the food. (Yes, this actually happens- it's standard procedure for factory farms.)
As a consumer, find a farmer and ask about the living conditions and type of feed used if it is something you want to know about. Small farmers make their living by being open and honest about what we do and how we do it. We welcome and encourage educated customers.
Pleasant Valley Farm is now on Facebook, too! Become a fan and get the latest updates and farm pictures!
Posted by Emily
@ 07:48 AM EST
For what seems like forever, the farm has been blanketed with snow...unbroken white all the way to the tree line. With a week of spring sunshine under our belts and temperatures breaking 60 today, it's quickly being replaced by more spring-like footing- mud everywhere! Although the pond in the pasture is still frozen over, it won't be for long. I can see the outline of the water shading the snow and ice yellow. I'm guessing in a day or two there will be open water. For now, the ducks are swimming in a rather large puddle between the house and the greenhouse.
We hope to be in the greenhouse, starting vegetable seeds, before long. Another box of seeds arrived today in the mail. Even though I placed the order and know what's inside, I still rush to open it. It's like holding a box of promises. Each packet whispers another secret, another color, another taste. I can't wait to be elbow deep in trays and potting soil.
I swear, even the animals get spring fever. Although the doors remain open all winter, the chickens don't venture out if there is snow on the ground. Today they were looking for buried treasure in the exposed mud. A couple of the Phoenix hens need to have their wings clipped again, as they are spending more time loose than in their outdoor run these days.
Last night, I let the cows and horses out while I cleaned up the barn and put feed in the feed boxes. As I was scooping our home-ground feed out of the barrel, I looked out the window to see the cows racing through the pasture. The animals generally go to the creek and drink and then mill about the barnyard until the door reopens, but last night the cows raced through the pasture, turning around the island of trees and brush halfway up the field. Fiannait led the way, her heels kicking up higher than her ears in what looked like bovine glee. Louie, Happy and Baby Buzz weren't far behind.
Our five little lambs are doing well. They seem to be in a constant state of joyful motion; jumping and frolicking as much as they can in the pens. We can't wait to let them out so they can play in the great outdoors. That will come soon, we hope in the next couple of weeks if the weather cooperates!
Posted by Emily
@ 04:50 PM EST
The sun has been shining here for almost a week now. It's refreshing after all the gloomy and snowy days of February. The snow is melting and soon Dan will be able to begin plowing for the year. My goal is to take lots of pictures of the equipment and how the process works and get it up on the website sometime this spring. It will look a lot like the page up now that covers hay making.
I just hit "send" on another seed order this morning. I can't wait to begin starting seeds! we plan on making use of the greenhouse this spring to get a jump on the season. We plant around 75 different vegetable varieties every year. Sometimes I feel like it's hard to narrow it down to that many, as the seed catalogs do a good job of making everything sound so good!
Our little owl friend is still living in the barn. After a bit of online research, we've decided that we have a red phase screech owl. We have been wondering if it is looking for a nesting site, so I looked up the dimensions and we hope to have a nest box hanging for it soon.
I think this is one of the hardest times of the year...while the sun is shining, I feel like I should be outside, doing something! But with a foot of snow still melting off the fields and pastures, it's really just not time yet.
Posted by Emily
@ 11:20 AM EST
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We have a fairly recent addition to the barn crew. While normally we don't encourage wildlife to take up residence in the building, sometimes it is beneficial to us and the critter. In this case, I'm happy to share the hay mow with an owl. It's not a barn owl, as those are white with big, moony faces, and our visitor is a smallish owl, reddish brown in color. Matt thinks it's called a barred owl, and i haven't had time to look up anything more specific, so I'll go with that for now. I love seeing wildlife as long as they don't damage our crops or hurt the livestock. I think it's part of being sustainable. While we are stewards of the land, we share it with other creatures who call it home as well.
Our owl has been hanging out for a couple of weeks now. The upper part of the barn is where we store hay, machinery, and where the feed grinder is located. We've been able to grind a bit of our corn into animal feed now that Dan has the Wisconsin engine up and running, so that means there is a bit of corn dust on the floor of the barn. It's not much, but it is enough to attract the mice that live in every barn. An owl loves to eat mice, and I love the idea of one of these quiet birds cutting down the rodent population. This owl has probably been living there, finding a nice quiet spot to be behind the stack of loose hay, so some evenings you see it, most you don't. It doesn't appear to be terribly afraid of people, and we go about our chores without scaring it off. Tonight, after chores, I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when Dan came in and told me it was hanging out and visible from outside, so I went to check it out. Old barns like ours bear the mark of the builder. That's why you'll notice a small, cut-out shape near the peak of most barns. This was the signature of the builder. Ours looks like a diamond with a small triangle at each point...the result looks something like a cross. It's just a small, open hole that doesn't cause problems as far as rain getting in or anything. Tonight, it was the perfect look out spot for our small owl friend, who was perched there, surveying the barnyard. A little thing like this won't hurt our large rabbits or hen, and I am sure it will find more than enough small mice to keep its belly fed, so I hope it stays. Who knows, it may be a she looking for a nice safe place to hatch a nest of baby owls!
Posted by Emily
@ 05:56 PM EST