Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Turkey Time

Are you ready for Thanksgiving yet?  Me neither.  Although there are always lots of things keeping us busy here on the farm, right now seems especially hectic.  We have only 3 more days where the stand will be open- tomorrow and next Saturday, along with special Tuesday hours.  As the season is short and Thanksgiving is near, I have lots of orders to organize. Christmas hams are being picked up now. Also, our last day coincides with an influx of visitors to the area coming up for deer hunting season, and I've already got orders for that as well. Keeping track of who is picking what (and how much of it) when is more complicated right now than it has been all season long, but it's a good problem to have.  Thank goodness for post-it notes and colorful markers for color coding!  And somewhere amid all this madness, I also need to find the time to make the 4-hour drive to Harrisburg to see my own family for the holiday, including meeting my brother's baby boy for the very first time!

 We processed the first of our turkeys yesterday, with more to be done today & Monday.  Turkeys are not my favorite meat to process, and I'm thankful we only offer them once a year.  While the chickens start out just as cute and fluffy as the turkeys in the beginning, they quickly turn into mindless eating machines, and ones that will eat themselves into a heart attack or a broken leg if not properly cared for.  They have no personalities, unlike my other birds, and while it's never fun to kill anything, the chickens don't really bother me much anymore. I know they literally wouldn't survive into an old age. I do feel a bit bad about the turkeys- they are funny, adventurous, and beautiful.  The breeding stock is long-lived.  Unlike the hybrid meat chickens or the industrail turkeys most folks serve up, they can reproduce naturally. (The Cornish-rock chickens are industrial hybrids, and broad-breasted turkeys used by  Butterball and all the other industrial producers literally grow too much white meat to breed- every single egg must be artificially inseminated.)

But before I get too upset about these turkeys' fate, I remember that this is why we raise them.  I couldn't afford to feed the flock year-round only for their beauty.  And not only am I offering my customers healthy meat that's been raised on grass and forage, without hormones or antibiotics or chemicals to enhance growth, I'm also giving them a chance to support the comeback of a heritage breed, the Bourbon Red.  The paradox of endangered farm animal breeds is that they are in danger of extinction because they are no longer as valuable economically as some of the industrial creations.  To save these breeds, and the genetic diversity that they represent, they need to be more than just beautiful or intelligent or capable of rearing their own young...they also need to be of use financially to the farms that raise them.  Thus, we need to eat them to save them.  Hopefully, my customers will appreciate the flavor and history as a part of their holiday meals, and seek out heritage breeds again in the future.  

Although plucking turkeys by hand is a royal pain, I take pride in doing it well, knowing that I'm preparing something that will be the centerpiece of a feast devoted to friends, family, and thankfulness.  We'll be closing the farm stand next week because the cold makes it too hard to continue to offer much produce without drastically altering our farming methods, and it's nice to have our weekends back for a time.  But it's also a fitting end to our season, marking the end of another great year on the farm by offering turkeys, squash, potatoes, and other farm-fresh products to help make many Thanksgiving meals more healthy and sustainable for both the eaters and the environment.  While I don't take for granted the job of producing quality, wholesome food, it seems especially important when you know it's going to be a meal shared with many, the kind of day where food is not just eaten on the go, but savored.  A day where food shares the stage with family, friends, memories and thanks.  


We send out our warmest wishes to our friends, customers, and blog followers for a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!  


Hop, Hop, Hop


  What is a hop? No, I'm not referring to something the rabbits are doing, I'm talking about a plant. I think most people are familiar with hops, although they might not even know it! Combined with water, malted barley, and yeast, they are one of the basic ingredients used in making beer as they add flavor, and can also act as a preservative. Hops are also considered an herb, one useful in making potpourri, as an all-natural brown dye, and in tea as a digestive aid or appetite stimulant. Placing the cones in a small satchel under your pillow is supposed to promote dreaming. The flowers can be added to a bath as a relaxing infusion or in dried flower arrangements. The young leaves and shoots are even edible. (I love perusing my herb never ceases to amaze me how many uses can be found for the plants we grow!) Unfortunately, despite our best efforts at watering them, the summer was just too dry and we didn't get much of a harvest of hop cones for me to play around with.

Hops are a neat plant in that they are a perennial vine which grows to a length of up to 30 feet. But although the roots overwinter, and can be propagated by division much like bulbs such as iris or daffodil, the vine dies back to the ground each year. That means they grow 30 feet every year! This makes them a popular plant for a leafy screen or other floral focal point when grown on a trellis. Our vines climb the side of the small house and face the garden & road. As they can grow up to a foot a day in the spring, it really is possible to note a difference in the plants between morning and evening, which never ceases to amaze me. But, at the end of the year, after a killing frost, (we have had several at this point) the vines die. It's best to remove them to give the young shoots a fresh start in the spring. You can wait until the vines are dry and brittle, but if you cut them down just as the leaves start to die, the vines are still yellow and pliable. At this stage it is possible to use the vines for weaving into baskets or wreaths. The wreaths look much like a traditional grapevine wreath. I'm still learning to identify the perfect balance between cutting late enough that the roots won't be affected and waiting until the vines are too brittle. But I was able to make a few wreaths from our vines this year, and I'm offering the nicest ones up for sale. I love artsy stuff, I actually got a minor in studio arts in college and I think it's fun to find ways to be creative around the farm. Weaving the vines into a wreath was a new thing for me, and as I practiced I started to get a feel for what worked and what didn't. To me, though, the best part is that, once again, I'm finding a use for something that otherwise would have been wasted (well, not completely, they could be composted, but this is cooler!). And for our customers, they can pick up something that is 100% organic and sustainable. Part of me can't wait for next fall so I can try my hand at them again, but that is one of the best parts about being on the farm- each season brings its own distinct and different tasks and activities.  

 The finished product, on display at the stand.



Slowing Down

November is here. It's very much a turning point in the year for us. It always feels like the month where fall leaves us and winter moves in, even though the calendar says winter won't officially arrive until well into December. At this point, the garden has had a killing frost and we've seen snow on the ground, so all the vegetable picking is over, with a few exceptions, like the Swiss chard and the beets. Saturday mornings have become much less hectic. I can enjoy a cup of coffee without worrying that I'll run out of time before I get all the vegetables picked, washed and displayed before we open at 10 AM. Although when the frost does come, it's always a bit sad to see the basil turn black and the pepper plants shrivel, the truth is that after six months of planting, weeding, hoeing and picking, the break is welcome. In a few months I'll be busy selecting the seeds that we'll purchase for the 2012 garden, but for now, I'm just fine with taking a bit of a break.

November is the last month that our farm stand is open as well. Although it's got walls, a roof & concrete floor, it isn't heated and some of the Saturdays lately have been more than just a bit chilly. I love visiting with everyone who stops by the stand, but the chilly mornings won't be missed when we close for the year. And, truth be told, having worked every Saturday since May 28, I'm ready to sleep in just once!

Meats are coming to a close for now as well. Hirsch's trailer has picked up the last of the beef & lamb for the year. We'll do a bit more pork, a few more chickens and the Thanksgiving turkeys. After that, all the critters will be with us for the long winter. Although I am proud of what we produce, and feel that our meat animals have the highest quality of life possible, it will be nice to take a break from butchering. I think having that break allows you to avoid being too hardened about the process. It will also be nice to be able to accept an invitation to go out to dinner with friends on a Thursday or Friday evening without having to say “I'll try to make it, depends on what time we get done plucking chickens/grinding sausage/etc.”

Canning isn't as frenzied either. No overwhelming amounts of peppers to can, tomatoes to turn into salsa or cucumbers waiting to be pickled. I get to be a bit more creative right now, instead of just trying not to waste anything. Lately I've had fun making vinegar candy (similar to hardtack), apple butter, and an Oktoberfest mustard. I've made a number of git baskets featuring our processed items as well. I have a few more things I hope to try, either before the end of the stand season, or possibly over the winter. It's never a bad thing to prep some inventory before the season begins again!

And while it is a slower time of the year, there's never a time when we're not busy. Lately we've been working on some temporary fencing. We hope to get the critters out into the hayfield near the garden when the grass runs low in the usual pastures. Stockpiling this grazing will allow us to go longer into the winter before we need to start feeding hay. That means the hay we put up will feed more animals, and we are hoping to increase our beef herd over the winter months, as well as purchase more pigs. Demand for our meats has increased incredibly, so we're already planning on how to have more available for our customers next year!

Winter is a time we look forward to because we can get indoor projects done during those long evenings. We have a room we're remodeling into a library, and I look forward to progressing on that. Dan wants to do more blacksmithing, and working over a hot coal fire just isn't fun in the summer. And I have lots of projects, too, from trying to get back into oil painting to becoming a better baker to keeping this blog updated a bit more frequently. I'm in contact with the Farm to Table folks in Pittsburgh, and it's looking likely that I'll be prepping another presentation for them, to be given in late March.  End of year records will need finishing, and it's never too early to begin planning for the next season!

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