A gentle snow is falling here at the farm. The animals take it all in stride. We tried to bring the horses into the barn last night for a warm bed & a manger full of hay, but they preferred to stay outside. Even now, with more than a dusting of snow on their backs as I look out my kitchen window, they are standing contentedly just beyond the pond. The cows are black shapes through the flakes in the pasture up by the woods. The warmth of wool is evident on the sheep's backs, as they have much more snow on them than the goats do. Even the turkeys are carrying little white patches on them as they wander through the garden, looking for any stray kernel of corn, forgotten squash, or other morsel. All is calm, all is bright. This is my peaceful corner of the Earth, or at least until the geese begin fighting or Ponyboy tries to chase the cows again.
The Christmas cards have stopped coming, but the seed catalogs are arriving daily now. In the next month or so, it will be time to really sit down and plan out what next year's garden will include. But for now they wait on the bookshelf.
This is the lull in the holiday season for most of us, sandwiched between the celebrations of Christmas and New Year's. I find it a time to be reflective about the almost-over year, and look forward to the new one to come, as I'm sure many of you do as well. This year, I'm amazed at the things that have happened in the past year, and how much Dan and I have to be thankful for. I'm so pleased at how my first year farming full time went. I loved it, and our business grew because of it too. Leaving the working world (and those steady paychecks) seemed like a big jump, but I couldn't be happier, and no one can put a price tag on that. I'm proud of all the processed products that came out of my kitchen, and it is such a great feeling when someone tells me they drove to the farm just for one of my creations, like Carrot Cake Jam or my secret-recipe Dill Pickles. I truly believe we have the greatest customers and I look forward to seeing them again next year!
There were lots of fun firsts as well with our first turkey poults hatching this year, and the birth of our first two Dexter calves. I don't think there is anything more joyful (although sometimes exhausting!) than baby season on the farm, and we're looking forward to more calves and poults next year, too. Despite the wet-dry-wet extreme of the growing season, we did well overall. Of course, not everything in the garden grew as hoped, so for next year I'll make a wish for a better season for corn & cucumbers, but for the most part we had a great growing season. We also planted crops last year that take more than one season to be productive, so this coming year we're anticipating seeing our first harvests of asparagus and garlic. The strawberries didn't do well, the few that sprouted got eaten by a pesky deer, so it's on the list for the year to come, as are more blueberry bushes (we hope!). Our plans for 2012 also include finishing the butchering pavilion we started this year by pouring a concrete floor and putting more washtubs there. Getting the greenhouses up & producing not only seedlings but crops like peppers, cukes and tomatoes is another thing high on my list, as we hoped to already have that done but the extremely wet spring didn't allow that to happen this year. One of the wonderful things about farming like we do is the endless options, and we're always brainstorming new product possibilities...we've talked about everything from smoked quail to rabbit meat to selling handmade items from Dan's blacksmith shop. The winter off-season is a wonderful time to reflect and to then plan ahead and experiment with the possibilities.
Another fun first this year was my first invitation to speak as a guest expert. I had such fun at the Farm to Table conference in Pittsburgh! I loved meeting new friends at a table where I had delicious farm goods for sale, and also during my presentation on heritage livestock breeds. I was excited about both the number of people that turned out to see me, and the in-depth questions that followed. It was such a good time, it looks like we'll be doing it again, and I can't wait to get all the details so I can let everyone know.
The final big milestone for the farm in 2011 has been setting up an online store. We have had so many requests to ship our products or sell in other markets, we decided to try online sales. This time of year is perfect to launch it, since it's a time when money is a little tighter and I'm spending more time indoors anyway. So far, we've had a good start, a few sales and good feedback from our customers. I've listed canned products like vinegars, jams and mustards, and have been having a lot of fun making and listing some feather jewelry I've made with feathers from our peacocks and turkeys. (Check us out online at http://www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa !) Right now I have everything from cat toys to earrings, necklaces and hair extensions, and I'm having a great time creating these items. I also am excited about the custom option I have on the store, so I can work with a customer to create just the gift basket or piece of jewelry they had in mind! (And it's really useful to combine different items so I can try to save my customers on the shipping cost, too.)
Thanks to all of our customers and friends for supporting us in 2011, and we hope to see you back again in the coming year. We hope your 2011 was as blessed as ours. All of us here at Pleasant Valley Farm send you wishes that 2012 is a healthy and happy year for you and your family!