Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Conference Review

The second weekend of November, I attended the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's annual conference and had an absolutely wonderful time.  The ALBC's mission is to preserve rare breeds of livestock.  Most people think of tigers or pandas when they think about endangered animals, but the truth is that many farm animals are endangered, too.  Industrial agriculture favors only the animals that do well in the overcrowded, grain-based production systems that have taken over our food supply.  The ALBC lists over 180 breeds of livestock & poultry which all have great qualities, but are in danger of dying out because they only do well on small or grass-based farms.  It's an organization we wholeheartedly support, since we raise some of those breeds listed; Belgian horses, Dexter cattle, Bourbon Red turkeys, Toulouse geese and Delaware, Barred Rock and Golden Phoenix chickens.  

The conference was an amazing mix of people- everything from dedicated breeders to folk who just support the mission, but haven't yet made the leap to keeping livestock of their own.  I learned a lot from the sessions I attended, and I hope people learned from the session I presented as well.  Of course, speaking in front of a national audience is a bit intimidating (and I really hoped that the name of the conference room wouldn't be a bad sign, since I was speaking in the "Cape Fear" room!)  but I felt that I knew my material well enough.  After all, I was just sharing my story of how we farm with the work horses.

Friday night was an amazing dinner, full of meats from rare breeds like Mulefoot hogs and Pineywoods cattle, all donated by ALBC members. (Ironically, one of the best ways to save rare breeds is to eat them...consumer demand for rare breed products, like meat, eggs, milk & fiber, encourages more farms to raise them.)  And that enjoyable meal was made even better by a wonderful keynote speaker...Diane Ott Whealy.  She and her husband founded Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit farm dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds and plants- vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.  Their mission mirrors that of the ALBC, just preserving plants rather than animals, although they have incorporated some heritage breed livestock to their farm as well.   I've been buying seed from SSE for years, and hearing her story was amazing.  She has just written a memoir, called Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver.  I've been thinking about buying it anyways, and while I usually hate to pay cover price, this time all the proceeds when right to the ALBC!  I was really excited to actually meet Mrs. Whealy later in the conference and have her sign my copy.  We chatted for a minute, about seeds of course, and even have the same favorite lettuce, Grandpa Admire! I can't wait to sit down with my copy and read more about her story.

I felt a lot calmer Saturday morning once I got my PowerPoint loaded and ready to go. My presentation was titled "Horse Farming 101: How We Farm with Belgians" and as the title suggests, was a basic introduction to the use of draft horses on a small farm.  I talked about the advantages of farming with horses, both in sustainability and economics. The bulk of the presentation was just showing our machinery on the projector and explaining the use of the implements and what tasks they do on the farm. Although the crowd wasn't as large as some other sessions, I thought the speech went well, and I got some very positive feedback afterwards, including from ALBC staff.  

 My presentation featured lots of pictures of the team hard at work.

 

 I learned a lot at the other sessions about caring for and marketing rare breeds.   The keynote and pleneray sessions were inspiring.  I listened as some very distinguished folks talked about breeds and seeds.  Success stories of how parts of our farming heritage have been saved by these organizations, in very real ways rescuing the last members of a breed from the slaughterhouse door, or of discovering a rural gardener still growing a vegetable variety once thought extinct.  About how what we all, as stewards of rare breeds and seeds, do is important and how very much it matters. While I think networking with other small farmers or learning about research or marketing success stories are very valuable things, the inspiration of the importance of what we do as small farmers is what I hope to hold onto the longest.  

 Before Friday's dinner, I was chatting with a woman in the hallway who also raised horses.  We spoke casually about farming, family and our respective parts of the country.  During the dinner, her husband got an award from the ALBC for pretty much single handedly rescuing the Marsh Tacky breed of horse from extinction.  It's exciting to be part of an organization like this, because although I can't to much to save elephants or pandas,  every time I pull a Bourbon Red turkey poult from the incubator or plant a funky "new" (to me and my customers, anyway) heirloom pepper or watch a mother Dexter cow with her newborn calf, I'm making a difference, too.

 Meeting one of my inspirations, Diane Ott Whealy

To learn more about these wonderful organizations (Or better yet, join us and become a member!) visit:

American Livestock Breeds Conservancy-  www.albc-usa.org

Seed Saver's Exchange- www.seedsavers.org 

 
 

Thankful Time

I had a wonderful post typed out on the ALBC conference, but the computer ate most of it.  So, more on that next week...

 It's Thanksgiving week!  For most of us, it means food and family, and if we're lucky, some time off.  For me this year, it's craziness, though!  After the conference I attended in North Carolina, I took some much needed time away from the farm to hang out with three of my siblings (I'm the oldest of 6!).  I had a great time visiting and catching up with sibs, spouses and their kids and returned home last Thursday to all the post-vacation stuff...laundry, catching up on email, and juggling orders from customers looking to stock up on our meats before the end of the season.

 This week is our final week of the farm stand season, and we'll be processing the last of the chickens tonight and the last pig Friday.  It's the time where I start thinking about how our farm year went and all I have to be thankful for, but instead of musing that online today, the plan is scrubbing and baking.  

This year, for the first time, I'm hosting family Thanksgiving.  I've cooked holiday meals for Dan and I in the past, and had Matt over, too, but this year will be the first time I've cooked for my Mom and siblings.  Honestly, I'm a little nervous about it, which is a bit on the crazy side.  I cook from scratch pretty much nightly, and far more so than most folks, so a whole turkey is no big deal, and I'm already pretty skilled at making sure everything comes out at the same time.   Nothing that I'm cooking is difficult to me or something new, but I guess there is that little voice in the back of my head that worries that this will be the year Emily ruined Thanksgiving by (insert disaster here...no mashed potatoes, burned stuffing, whatever).  So today I'm continuing to scrub the farmhouse so it's fit for company and baking.  Since baking is my least-perfected skill, I thought it would be good to do it ahead so that I have a chance to adjust if things go wrong.  However, I'm feeling pretty good, as I'm making a pumpkin cheesecake recipe I've tried before, and it came out awesome the first time.  The other dessert is a Shea family tradition, but also pretty foolproof, and the last thing you'd expect to be served at an organic farm feast.  But the Candy Bar Pie, made with chocolate pudding, graham cracker crust, cream cheese, Cool Whip and Snickers bars requires no baking and just needs to be part of our celebration.  

For the big day, I'm going classic (in my opinion, now is NOT the time to try new recipes!)...roasted turkey and homemade gravy, Mom's famous stuffing recipe, mashed potatoes, my home-canned cranberry sauce, green salad, and a winter squash side.  Maybe some sweet corn, too.  When I talked to my mom on Sunday, she asked what she could bring, so I put her on beverage duty.  I'm excited to have my family sit around the table together, give thanks, and dig in. 

Wishing you and your family a wonderful holiday week filled with family time and great food!  Happy Thanksgiving to all! 

 
 

Packing Up

On a farm like ours, it is hard to get away because the livestock are always hungry, whether you need a vacation or not.  However, now that the garden is done for the year and the stand has only a few more weeks left, it is easier to plan to get away. 

I am so excited to be leaving for a trip to North Carolina this week.  Dan will be staying here at the farm and watching the stand for me this Saturday, as well as taking care of the animals and birds.  I will be on a working vacation of sorts.  I am headed to Cary, NC for the annual conference of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered livestock breeds.  I'm hoping to learn a lot and meet folks who are dedicated to small farming and heritage breeds, like us.  And I am beyond excited to actually be one of about a dozen presenters on Saturday! My presentation is titled "Horse Farming 101: How We Farm with Belgians."  I'll be sharing photos of us at work, explaining why we choose to farm with horses, what we see as the advantages to using draft power, and describing some of the tasks and antique machinery we use here.  I will be one of three morning breakout sessions running concurrently, so I have no idea how many conference attendees will choose to hear my story, but I think it is very exciting.  It's certainly the biggest presentation I've ever done...it's for a national audience!  So today, I'm putting the finishing touches on my PowerPoint and running through it.  I'm also doing laundry and packing my bags, because three of my siblings live about an hour away, so I'll spend a few days relaxing and visiting with them before heading back to the farm.  I'll be sure to post photos and details when I return! 

 

For more information about the ALBC, its mission, and the conference schedule, check out  http://www.albc-usa.org !

 
 
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