Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Not Really Vacation

Today is my 4th day off in a row, and by "off" I mean not commuting to my day job, because as usual, I've been busier here than I am at work!  Friday, Dan and I worked until 1 AM getting the butcher shop finished.  Although the Stevensons have always done some of the processing here, the kitchen was in need of a good cleaning and a coat of paint.  Not only did we paint, but we also put down a new tile floor, added much needed shelving and built a larger butchering table.  It turned out wonderfully, will be easier to clean, and if yesterday was any indication, a better workspace makes the whole process easier and more efficient.  We'll be butchering 3 more hogs today with the help of Dan's father, Tom, and that will complete our freezer pork orders.  Soon we'll be moving on to hogs we'll be selling at our stand when we reopen for the season on May 29. 

Of course butchering hogs & making sausage makes for busy days, but I've also been working hard on getting other things ready.  This weekend alone I made Honey Mustard, Cranberry-Peach Compote (like a chunky jam, but with almonds too!), Thai Hot & Sweet Dipping Sauce and repackaged all of my flavored vinegars into the new bottles.  Today I hope to bottle a bit of the champagne vinegar I made, buy more champagne because it turned out so well, and split the mother of vinegar to make some real white & red wine vinegars as well.  I also have some Blueberry Basil Vinegar that's nearly done and will need bottled in a week or so as well as some Dried Herb Vinegar, so I think I need to order more bottles too!  I filled some of my new herb containers with dried chamomile and the oregano in the dryer should be done today, so I'll package that and set more oregano on the racks to dry.  

The baby turkeys arrived, but they must have had a bad trip because only about half survived the 48 hour period after we picked them up.  There was a guarantee though, so Welp's hatchery sent us replacements.  There weren't enough turkeys to ship safely, so they filled the box with extra chicks so everyone would stay warm.  They look like Barred Rocks, so I'll gladly keep any hens and add them to our egg laying flock, since that is a breed we have here.  To date, the new turkeys and the survivors from the last batch are doing great and growing like weeds! We also picked up a batch of broiler chicks Saturday, and they are all doing well too.  We've been getting to know our postal workers pretty well, because this morning we went to the office before they opened again, this time to pick up hatching eggs.  We're going to try raising Cortunix quail for eggs and meat, so if they hatch well we may be offering those products at the stand by the end of July!

Most of our plants survived the early frost, so we're anxious to be offering things like rhubarb, spring onions and lettuce when we open.  But for now, I've got to go, we've got lots to do today! 


Our First Beef

While we knew it was time to send our first farm-raised beef cows for processing, Dan and I did a lot of thinking about how we were going to process them.  The butchering facility is more than happy to cut, wrap and freeze the meat for you, but of course they need to charge for their time and effort.  While we have gotten quite efficient at processing a pig or two or three ourselves in a day, a whole beef is a LOT bigger! So we debated both the economics and what we thought we would be able to handle, plus logistical matters like refrigeration.  In the end, we decided that we would have Hirsch's cut up the beef we would be selling to the public and do the other, which was going to our personal freezer and to Dan's parents, ourselves.  The first half, which was for Dan's parents, we had the help of Dan's father, Tom, who is a professional meat cutter as well as Dan's brother, who has been helping us out a lot these days.  With the help of a book devoted to processing meat at home and his years of experience, we got it done and Tom was able to take it home when he returned to Chambersburg.  We decided that we would do our own, just the two of us, and since we aren't picky, any mistakes could be wrapped up as-is or ground into burger.  

Half of a cow, even cut into 2 pieces, is a big thing to haul in a 4 door car like mine, but somehow we got it situated and home.  Thank goodness for old bedsheets to keep the seats clean!  While not all the steaks were picture perfect, we were really proud of how it all turned out.  Dan and I got everything cut and wrapped that first night, and cut the meat we wanted to grind for burger cut up and bagged into the fridge.  Beef needs to be run through the grinder twice, unlike sausage, so we let it sit in the fridge overnight to break the work up over two days.  80 pounds of meat takes some time to grind twice and package, and we were hungry for dinner after all the cutting and wrapping the first night.   What to cook?  Steak, of course!  I had heard that some consider pasture raised meat tough since the animals move around much more during the course of their lives, and there is a lower amount of fat marbled through the meat, which some think detracts from the flavor.  I cooked our first steak simply, in a pan on the stove with just a bit of cracked pepper and Worcestershire sauce.  It was by far the most tender and flavorful steak I have ever eaten, and was really something to feel proud about producing ourselves! Not only was it delicious, we could also feel good about the conditions the animals were raised under...I really believe you can taste that the animal was raised in a natural, low stress way, without chemicals and with respect for the animal's needs. After packaging the burger the second night, we were able to relax and reflect on a big job well done.  I would never believed myself capable of doing anything like this even a few short years ago, but it really is amazing what you can accomplish with an open mind and the ability to be ok with a less than perfect outcome if necessary.  A few mangled steaks will still taste great and gave us a wonderful amount of practice and the confidence to do it again ourselves.

The majority of butchering is done, we've gotten a good start on the field corn harvest, and most things are winding down for the winter.  While my mind has been turning to all sorts of things I consider winter projects, my time as a full time farmer has also come to a close as I was called back to my away-from-the-farm job beginning today.   I'm happy for the individuals that rely on our non-profit agency who are able to better themselves by reaching educational goals with our help, but I sure hated to hear the alarm clock and leave my beautiful farm on a sunny late fall morning.  My time here was a great beginning to what the farm can be for my husband and myself, and I'm sure I will be finding ways to make it a success and spend as much time as I can here.  How that will shape up for next summer, I don't really know yet, but if nothing else, my layoff time showed me the possibilities of being here! 


First Taste of Summer

Summer is officially here! The garden is so close to full production I can almost taste it when we go out in the evenings. Actually I guess we have tasted it- I've been able to make a few small salads with fresh greens, spring onions and a few baby radishes, served with a delishious bluberry-basil vinegrette from vinegar I made myself! Delicious!  The peas are blooming, as are the tomatoes and zucchini and last night we put up trellis for our rapidly growing pole and lima beans.  I have a few hot peppers that are getting to pickable size, now I'm busy looking over my canning cookbooks for a good hot pepper relish. If you have a good recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  I can't wait to get started canning for the summer! 

Hay production is going well, as of last week we had 2 entire fields dry and put up in the barn, which put us exactly 2 fields ahead of where we were last year! Dan spent yesterday cutting more, and if the weather is as beautiful as the forcasters are predicting, we will hopefully be done with our first cutting hay by the weekend, including the oat hay which I cultipacted much earlier in this blog.  The fields that have already been cut are growing back at an amazing rate, and we fully expect to be getting a good second crop later this summer.

Our broiler chickens have done so well out on grass, despite the unpredictable weather, that they've reached butchering size in just 7 weeks.  We started processing the first ones last night and hope to wrap this batch up by the weekend.  Chicken is the one thing we butcher start to finish here at the farm, but I don't mind too much.  Dan and I each have jobs to take care of during the process, and it runs pretty smoothly.  We have had orders rolling in for our chicken so if you are interested, contact us soon.  We're already sold out until mid to late August, so don't miss out!   For me, the first real taste of summer comes with some absolutely fresh chicken cooked over our charcoal grill with a wonderful garden salad. 


Butchering time is here again...

It's a beautiful spring day here in Pennsylvania.  I'm looking forward to a productive weekend on the farm. 

My husband's parents are kind enopugh to help us with the butchering of our hogs, so I am looking forward to seeing them this weekend.  We are doing 5 hogs this weekend, so I'm not sure whether I'll be grilling pork chops for dinner or if we'll all want chicken!  This will be my 3rd time helping with this particular farm activity, and since we send the piggies to a USDA facility for slaughter, the sides of meat we pick up from Hirsch's don't look like any creature I'm used to feeding.  That makes it a bit easier for a new to farming girl like me. (I never even had a vegetable garden until I met my mom can't believe that I pluck my own chickens now!)  This will also be the first time I'll be doing hogs that were born on the farm...the last 2 times we raised up feeder pigs that we bought.  I am looking forward to this weekend though, my freezer was quickly emptying after a long winter.  I am excited to make sausage this time.  I was let in on the 2 "secret family recipes" for sausage, a brown sugar breakfast type and a sage variety, and as a cook I can never just follow the recipe without trying to make my own adjustments.  I grew my first ever herb garden last year and dried some sage that I'm excited to used in the sausage.  If it turns out well, I'll use it in all the sage sausage we make and sell in the future, but for now I'm only going to try it with what my husband and I will be eating.  Lucky for me, he really enjoys sage, so if it comes out a little strong it won't go to waste.

We also have 15 adorable little piglets that will be 2 weeks old this weekend.  Our 2 sows, Fern and Charlotte (yes, the boar's name is Wilbur...I'm a family literacy teacher by day so some of the creatures get literary names) have done a great job with thier piglets, both this time and with the last litters.  We give our piglets iron shots at 3 and 10 days of age to make sure they don't become anemic.  I was happy to finish that up last night.  Char is as sweet as can be and makes some noise when you handle the babies, but dosen't cause any trouble.  Fern, on the other hand, well, you have to admire her motherly instinct.  On the other hand I really don't want a 350 lb sow biting me for trying to handle the babies.  So what works for us is to lure her just outside the hog house with a little feed and shut the door!  We can quickly give the babies the care they need, clean out the pen and no one gets hurt.  She's ready to come back in when the door is opened. 

Other than that, I plan to keep up the spring cleaning and help Dan in the fields if possible this weekend.  He hopes to finish up planting the hayfield today before I get home.  This weekend is the opening day of trout season in PA, which means lots of campers and former customers will be driving by.  It always amazes me how many people will stop on the road so they can talk to you...I guess seeing someone working a team of horses in the field dosen't register to most people as work, but rather something you do for fun.  It sure makes it hard to have a productive day though.  We bought a work collar and adjusted a harness to will fit my little Morgan mare, Sara.  I hope to try and work her in the garden this weekend. (it dosen't border the road!)  She is my baby, I adopted her from a rescue society when she was 6 and I'm proud to say she is an unbelieveably healthy 23 now.  I hope to teach her to do some light field work to keep her in shape as I don't get to ride as much as I used to. She's been a 4-H show horse, a trail horse, a pet that didn't get ridden when I was away at college, we taught her to pull a buugy and sleigh in the past few years, now it's time for something new for both of us!

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