Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Saturday was tour day, so last week I spent much time finishing cleanup, laminating signs, and sorting the poultry into separate pens (which they did not stay in!). Unfortunately, between the high heat & humidity and the fact that most of the stops were in southwest PA, it didn't really attract many new folks. But I am glad we gave it a try, it was a good learning experience for me. But I always say either my house or my barn is clean, and since last week was devoted to rarely-completed chores such as washing the windows in the chicken coops, Sunday was a day to get the house back into shape.
As July turns toward August, the garden is really producing an amazing amount of food. My goal today and for the next few days is to get some serious weeding done. Today I'll be picking off zukes & cikes to make pickles, relish, and to try and prevent having only ones the size of baseball bats on Saturday. We planted a pretty good assortment of hot and bell peppers and I cannot believe the production of our "inferno" banana peppers! Not only are they very hot, they are just loaded with beautiful peppers, so I've made some extra-hot pepper rings along with some really great flavored hot pepper jelly. As soon as I have some extra tomatoes, I'll definitely be using them to flavor my hot pepper salsa as well. I love the challenge of seeing what is producing in the garden or leftover after we close on Saturday, and then trying to find an amazing recipe to can. If it passes a private taste test here at the house, I'll put it out for sale. So far I've had very few that didn't make it to the stand, and most of them were due to the fact that they were delicious, but too time-consuming to make a regular part of my canning menu. Dan usually hopes something doesn't seal properly or that I have only half a jar so that it can go into our fridge instead! I'm also grateful to Betty, my mother-in-law, for being gracious enough to share some recipes for farm stand favorites she made in years past, like her pickled beets. So I'm off to weed, stake tomatoes, and generally inspect what's going on out there...I know there is a lot that's been happening while I was busy cleaning the chicken pens!
Posted by Emily
@ 10:25 AM EDT
We are busy preparing for July 24th, as we are a stop on the Western PA Buy Fresh Buy Local farm tour. We will be open extended hours that day, from 10 AM to 6 PM. We will also have a short walking tour so our guests can get an up-close look at the poultry we raise, fun facts, and a better idea of what it takes to successfully care for birds in an organic, cage-free environment. We're excited to be a part of this year's tour, and wanted to give some helpful ideas on what we, as farmers, expect from you, our visitors. Becoming a valued customer of a local farm doesn't take a lot of money. It involves following some basic etiquette rules. Here is the inside track! (These apply the farm stand visits on non-tour days as well, and are good to keep in mind no matter what farm you are visiting.)
Know what time the tour is going on/stand is open. Arrive early, and we'll be in the fields picking the day's fresh produce or tending to morning chores. Arrive late, and we're likely to be tired or just sitting down to a meal. Neither is ideal. Respect your farmer, and if you absolutely can't make it on time, at the very least call to see if you can make alternate arrangements, and stick to them. Don't show up Sunday at dinnertime if we agreed to a Monday morning pick up because you were in the mood to take a drive. If you don't know your farmer well enough to expect them to drop by your house unannounced for a cup of coffee, don't drop by the farm unannounced because you're in the mood for bacon.
Butt Out. Unless you see a designated area, assume smoking is prohibited. Wooden barns, hay, sawdust and the like are all flammable and fire is one of a farmer's worst nightmares. Animals don't know what a cigarette butt is, and, still smoldering or not, may try to eat it. It's also not a nice smell around the fresh food we have for sale.
Respect Privacy. I'm a private person. I really don't like strangers wandering though my back yard and don't imagine you would enjoy it either. Please remember that a family farm is a home as well as a business, and if you're unsure which areas are private and which are public, please, please ask before taking a self-guided tour. "I'm from the city" is no excuse to wander around without permission, even if you think you might get a better view of the cows from under my laundry line. Especially if it's after hours and you're smoking a cigarette.
Find a Pet Sitter. We love animals, that's why we choose to farm. However, we can't guarantee the safety of your pet when you bring it here, nor are we sure it won't get loose and chase the livestock, which can cause injury to our animals or a day of fixing fences for us. I also don't want to feed my table full of free samples to anyone other than the human visitors, so please leave your pooch at home, or at least in the car.
Ask before you taste. Unless it is a U-pick farm, please don't help yourself to the produce. (and even then, be sure to follow the rules of where to pick and how to pay for those tasty treats!) A farmer might just be happy to give you a free sample of something, but please don't pick up a pint of blueberries, taste a few, and then put it back. The next customer will thank you too.
Kids are welcome. But please, make sure you are supervising them. That wide open space that looks fun to run across may just be a freshly planted field that would be harmed by little feet. Little ones can be in danger if they get through a fence near large animals or wander towards farm machinery, and no one wants to see anyone get hurt on a visit.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. We are really proud of what we do, and want you to understand where your food comes from and how it is produced. Don't see what you are looking for? Ask when it will be available, since many times it depends on the weather, unlike a grocery store. Understand that a late frost, hot weather, or hungry wildlife may have changed the date when the crop you are looking for will be ready.
Some of these ideas may sound silly, or like I'm making things up, but every single one has happened to me in the past year. I don't think any of the folks meant to cause problems or bad feelings, they simply didn't think. I promise, this will make you stand out in the mind of your farmer, but we'd much rather remember you for pleasant conversation and great questions about how your food is raised. Follow the easy steps above, and you're well on your way to being a farm stand V.I.P.!
For more information on the Buy Fresh Buy Local farm tour, which is taking place Saturday July 24 and features 24 Western Pennsylvania farms and 11 restaurants for just $10 per carload, check out http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=116297249299054396449.000488370651d72096061&ll=42.803462,-77.871094&spn=4.247492,9.876709&z=7 for an interactive map with all the details!
Posted by Emily
@ 03:13 PM EDT
The heat wave is still here. It's 9:15 in the morning and it's already 85 degrees with 66% humidity, so I'm planning to be inside as much as I can today. Although it's not supposed to get as high as the 98 degree weather we had earlier this week, the humidity is apparently going to make it feel even hotter. It's weather like this that makes winter seem like a good time!
Hay making is still ongoing. I will be forever grateful to my husband and my brother-in-law for taking over that hard work. I just don't handle the heat too well, so I get the equally important job of rounding up ice cold drinks and making food for a good meal afterward. The large field that we've been working on is so thick and beautiful it will nearly take care of our hay needs for the year. There is another main field to cut, but it has gotten rather weedy over the past few years and we may just make the nicest hay from it and mulch the rest. Or the second cutting from this field later in the summer should be more than enough to fill our barn. Either way, we look to have plenty of hay for all the animals we overwinter. This year the number of horses will be the same, the sheep and pigs roughly the same number as well, with probably an additional cow or two than we overwintered last year but significantly less goats. So, we have a pretty good idea of what we will need, and although a full season of winter seems so far away right now, this is when the planning and work happens that enables us to get through it.
The garden is growing fantastically! I swear, if you look closely, you can see plants like corn, melons and sunflowers grow throughout the day. They love the heat! I've already been out there this morning. Although some things could use some irrigation, we only use underground drip line during the day. The sprinklers will be moved around later in the day so as to lose as little water as possible to evaporation before the plants have a chance to make use of it. But this morning, my main task was to thin the cucumbers and zucchini. Both are best if picked small to medium sized, so we need to thin them out every few days to avoid the baseball-bat sized ones on market day!
My favorite fresh vegetable is the cucumber. I love the crisp, fresh taste. The soggy, waxy ones you find in the store can't hold a candle to the goodness from a local garden. So I was thrilled to finally see lots poking out from under the leaves last night when I went out to round up whatever I could find for a nice dinner salad. This morning, I returned to the house with half a bushel, so one of my projects for today will be making pickles. It's just in time too, because we had just opened the last jar from the pantry, and who doesn't go through more pickles during summer grilling season? Not only will I be restocking my pantry, but I'll be having some for sale at the stand too! We'll also have fresh cucumber for sale beginning this week, so you can make all your favorite dishes! I have a recipe for a great summer pasta salad using them. If you get out newsletter, you already have the recipe to try out, but if not you can get it here: http://pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com/newsletter.html
Posted by Emily
@ 09:45 AM EDT
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July is here, bringing hot weather and a number of rain-free days in a row. That means it's hay making time! For us. it's as much a normal part of July 4th weekends as picnics and fireworks. We've been fortunate to have a stretch of dry weather, so we have been able to spread the work out over several days. At this point, we've filled one side of the barn up and are working on filling the other mow. Although the weather is 90 + degrees today, we're going to try and push to get the rest of the field in. Even though there is only a slight chance of rain, the longer the hay lies in the field, the more it gets bleached by the sun. So we're in for a long hot day, but hay making is one of the most crucial farm activities for us. The amount and quality of the hay we put in determines how many animals we are able to support over the winter months. Doing it ourselves is not only a significant cost saver over buying hay, we also know what quality we're feeding and that the hay is organically grown. We are also able to complete the entire process with our horses, using no tractors or motorized equipment. We use the horses to cut hay, rake it, and pull the wagon across the fields to pick it up. Instead of running a baler, we put it away loose. Dan uses a pitchfork to load it while I walk back and forth packing it down for a nicely balanced load. Both jobs are physically demanding. Unloading is the easy part, as we have a hay claw on a trolley that lifts large amounts of hay, that carries it along a track and drops it in the mow. If you'd like to see more, we have pictures and descriptions on our website at http://pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com/hay-making.html. This picture shows our mares, Dolly & Dixie, with a nearly full wagon load of loose hay.
Although this stretch of dry weather means we need to irrigate the garden and the creek is running low, it did give us the rare opportunity to take a day off yesterday and enjoy a rare summer holiday. Since we were confident that the mowed hay wouldn't be rained on, we had time to relax and have a cookout here. July 4th is all about freedom and independence, and without our farmers, this country wouldn't be self sufficient. So it made me smile as we sat down to our meal, to see how much of it we'd produced ourselves. The steaks were grass fed beef from a cow who was standing in our pasture just a week or two ago. The potato salad made great use of new potatoes dug from the garden just hours before, and was flavored with homemade mustard and dill from the herb garden. I made deviled eggs as well with eggs I'd hand collected from my chickens. A truly enjoyable meal, and I feel so fortunate that eating fresh from the garden isn't an isolated experience. I'm frequently able to make an entire meal using just what we make or grow ourselves.
We hope you & your family had a safe and enjoyable holiday weekend too!
Posted by Emily
@ 11:36 AM EDT