Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Farm to Table 2013

Once again, I took the farm on the road to Pittsburgh's Farm to Table conference.  This year's event was last weekend.  As in past years, not only did I have a table in the exhibit hall, but I was one of the featured presenters as well.  

Our table was loaded with good stuff!

 

The theme this year was "do it yourself" so I spoke on home canning.  I called it "Home Canning 101"  and put it together for folks who may have been interested in the idea of canning, but really didn't understand the process.  It's hard to believe, but not too many years ago, that was where I was at.  I didn't grow up with any relatives who put up their own food, so the process was a mystery to me.  It's intimidating when you aren't familiar with the process, and haven't seen it done, and it's easy to make discouraging mistakes.  As I shared in my talk, my husband & mother-in-law encouraged me to learn, but my first time was full of mistakes.  Betty was in Florida and told me I was free to borrow her equipment, but I didn't exactly know what I was looking for.  After the jars were processed in the boiling water, I had a devil of a time getting them out of the canner, and burnt my fingers a bit.  It was enough to really discourage me.  When Dan came home from work and I told him all about it, he asked why I didn't grab the jar lifters, too!   Having someone explain the basics and show me the necessary tools would have been a great help, so that's what I aimed to do in my presentation.  I was amazed at the attendance, for a Friday morning when lots of folks are working or at school, the room was quite full!  I really hope I took some of the scariness out of the process and that some of the attendees will try it for themselves this summer!

 As in past years, I had my vehicle fill to the brim with yummy stuff to sell.  I'm pretty sure I'm known to plenty of repeat attendees as the "Carrot Cake Jam Lady", so I had lots of that on hand, plus other jams, mustards, pickles and other goodies.  I had some new things this year, too.  I had lots of Happy Mug coffee with me, and made the whole area around the table smell amazing, since it was roasted only 2 days before the conference began!  I also brought plenty of handmade jewelry, which was well received.  People really seemed to like the items that had glass pendants I made using stained glass scraps and old seed catalogs!   ( I like to call them the "Wear Your Veggies" collection)  I also brought a vase full of peacock feathers, since they are so eye-catching.  But I had no idea they would be a big hit, or I would have brought more!  I think just about every child that came on Saturday left with one, at least until I sold out!  

Again, the conference seemed bigger than the year before.  It's truly wonderful to see more & more people really motivated to eat better, and eat local.  As Liz Kanche (one of the organizers) said to me before my presentation "Who knew, a couple years ago, that local food would be sexy?"  and I do think we're getting there.  It's a trend that gets bigger and more popular all the time.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get to the point where it wasn't just a trend, or a movement, but simply the way things are done?

 Some thanks are in order: to Liz & Erin for another great event: to everyone who attended my presentation- I hope you give canning a shot!: to everyone who stopped by our table in the exhibit hall- we appreciate your business and hope you'll come see us this summer; and finally to my mom, Robin Shea, for manning the table with me both days.  I couldn't have done it without you! 

 

And if you missed the event, or are already out of Carrot Cake Jam and need more,  our online store is always open!

 

 
 

A Day in the Life of a Farmer

What is it like to be a farmer? Here's an example of a typical spring day. This is an actual journal of a real day, selected at random, in this case Monday, April 30, 2012.

Get up. As Dan checks on the large animals, I get up and check the incubator. Pull 13 chicks & 2 turkeys out and take them to the brooder pen, where food & water await under the heat lamp. When I open the pen, I sadly note a dead turkey poult- it looks like it drowned, as its head is still in the waterer. I never have understood how something 6” tall can drown in 1/2” of water, but it seems turkeys manage. The heritage breeds, like our Bourbons, are much smarter than the broad-breasted ones, but still, you lose one every once in awhile. Nature is not kind to the weak or dumb. Then I do the rest of my AM chores- making sure the rabbits, chicks, chickens & ducklings have food and water. Dan tells me to keep an eye on Finni, our Dexter cow- we let her and the new calf out of the barn yesterday, and although everything seems to have gone well so far, it looks like the calf got under the fence into another part of the pasture. If he can't find his way back, I'll have to take care of it.

Household stuff- take mail out to the box, grab newspaper, check email. While I'm online, I place a bulk order for pectin for my jelly & jam making. This should save money and keep my supply in stock for most, if not all, of the farm stand season, so I'm excited to have found a family-owned bulk supplier of the stuff. Head outside to get the load of jeans out of the washer & hang them up on the line outside (I don't have a dryer). As I'm hanging jeans, I'm relieved to see that the calf and Finni are together on the same side of the fence. He must have scooted back through whatever hole he went through in the first place. Before I take the hose away from the washer and take it back to the greenhouse, I decide to do another load, so I put in some sheets and towels. While that is going, I head downtown (to Tionesta, ~5 miles each way) to grab a few supplies. I get brown sugar and raisins at the grocery store, and more peat pots for the greenhouse at the hardware. While there, I talk to one of the owners- she asks what we've got growing in the greenhouse these days, comments about the snow last week pulling the trellis in the garden down, and asks what it's for- beans? No, peas, I reply, too early for beans yet, although we're both looking forward to the warmer weather coming this week. It's real small-town America- doing business and conversation with your neighbors, literally.

I get home and unload the car, then the washer. After the sheets are hung, I drag the hose up to the greenhouse and water any of the flats that look a bit dry. A few I hold off on- if I repot them this afternoon, it actually helps if they are a bit dry. The rhubarb is growing like crazy, and the groceries I picked up are for my Sweet & Tangy Rhubarb-B-Q sauce, so I pick enough to make up a batch. The stems pull out easily, and I have kitchen shears with me to cut off the leaves before I bring it inside- they are actually poisonous! I put on an apron and consult the recipe, then chop up 16 cups worth of rhubarb. Almost everything I do in the kitchen is by hand or with hand tools, and this is no exception. It's just me, the rhubarb, a cutting board, and a sharp knife. After the rhubarb, I chop an onion and then begin mixing the ingredients in the pot to begin cooking down.

Make some more coffee- that reminds me, I've got to talk to Dan about putting in a coffee order...we've got a new business partner, Happy Mug Coffee in Tidioute, and we need to get our order in so the coffee can be roasted, packaged & picked up before the opening day at the stand, which is less than a month away now! Stir the sauce, and then find a catalog for Welp's hatchery. I need to call and order the next batch of broiler meat chicks. All goes well, and I should have poultry in the mail next week. The canner begins to boil, so I add the pint jars I'll be using to sterilize them. Stir the sauce again so it doesn't scorch, them go out to get the mail. As I walk to the mailbox, I notice a turkey walking around the barnyard. The turkey hens have a funny walk just after laying an egg, and I see this, so I make a mental note to check the turkey nest in the bottom of the barn later, and if it is empty, to look around for a new one. As I get the mail, I see a white shape in the woods and hear a familiar yowling. It's Whitey the barn cat, whom I haven't seen for almost a week. Although my least favorite of the kitties (because of the constant yowling), I'm glad to see him. Cats are a favorite food of coyotes, and we've had plenty of kitties disappear without a trace, which always makes me sad. But, on the other hand, that means I can let the kittens hang around here. I have 3 kittens right now, I hear them on and off throughout the day as Little Girl thought that the best place to give birth would be in a cubbyhole under the clean towels in my bathroom. They're about 10 days old now, so before too long I'll relocate them somewhere more suitable once they get mobile. Mostly junk mail, but excited to see my renewal of National Geographic has come, and bundled with the newest issue is the back one (last month's) I missed! I had no idea they would send it when I renewed, but thank you, Amazon, I guess. This makes me excited, as we save them and keep them in our library upstairs (we have hundreds, literally) and now I won't have a missing one.

Stir the rhubarb again and clean up the kitchen, doing dishes. (nope, don't have a dishwasher either. On days when I'm canning a lot, I may do 4-5 sinkfuls by hand.) Eventually, the sauce is thick enough to be ladled into the hot jars and put in the canner for processing. Now I can relax a tad and have lunch. As I'm heating up some leftovers, I see the calf by himself, so I walk out into the pasture to see where his mother is. Turns out, she was just hidden from my sight by some trees, and looks at me as if to say “What are you worrying for? I have this under control!” But as I'm walking back, I feel a few sprinkles, so I take the laundry in. Luckily, most is dry already. I decide to eat first, then fold & put away. I eat quickly (I don't even take enough time to finish reading the paper), then fold the laundry. Next is taking the hot jars out of the canner to cool and seal. As I'm doing the second round of dishes, Dan stops in; he'd come to get a chainsaw & trailer for the next job of the day and dropped off the zip ties I'd asked him for.

After he leaves, I head to the barn, zip ties in hand. The net roof of the peafowl pen is sagging, and it is catching the males' tails as they show off. By bunching up the net at the edges, I can tighten it with the zip ties. I've been meaning to get to this forever, so I figured now was as good a time as any. The peafowl are the wildest of the creatures we raise- they go out of the barn if I come into their pen to feed, unlike everything else around here which pretty much runs up to anyone holding a feed scoop. But they are magnificently beautiful birds. I really don't spend as much time just looking at them, admiring them, as I maybe should. It's easy to take things for granted when you see them every day, even things of great beauty. I really try not to do that. After I finish up with the net, I see the water pan is empty, so I grab a bucket and head to the hydrant.

Another task down, and I need to decide whether to clean the chicken coop or transplant seedlings in the greenhouse. I love greenhouse work, but cleaning bird pens is pretty much my absolute least favorite farm activity. I decided to clean the coop, mainly so I could not dread it tomorrow. Manure happens on a farm. I'll clean stalls all day without complaint. Manure powers our farm- it's how the pastures stay so green, and how we can grow amazing amounts of garden produce without chemical fertilizers. I have a deep appreciation for the stuff and its place in the circle of life. It's just poultry manure I find so unpleasant. I don't think that's unreasonable though, as it is either thick, heavy, and with an overpowering, gagging reek of ammonia, or dry and like a fine powder that becomes airborne when shoveled, coating your hair, skin, the inside of your nose. When I clean the pens, it's about a 50/50 mix of both types. I'd cleaned the peafowl & turkey pens yesterday, so if I just suck it up I'll be all done, I tell myself. The other downside to cleaning these pens is that it's pretty much impossible to get the horse-drawn manure spreader close enough. The best way, unfortunately, is for me to shovel it into a plastic bushel basket with handles, then carry the basket to the spreader and dump it in. Between the two pens yesterday, I carried 15 basketfuls, each weighing about 50 lbs, maybe more. Today's job will be a little bit bigger yet.

I dig in and got to work. By basket #12 I need a short rest and something to drink, so I go up to the house. The calf is up and about, but again, Finni is just out of sight. I begin to suspect the calf is stuck, sort of- he's in a small patch of pasture bordered by fence on one side & the creek on the other. It's where he's been all day. The creek there is small- just about 3” deep by 6” wide in most spots right now. But, I guess, scary enough when you're only 8 days old. I walk out with the idea to either shoo him or pick him up and set him down on the other side. He first runs up to me, then turns and starts running up the fence line toward mama. If he stops at the creek, I figure I'll just scoop him up (well, as much as you can scoop up anything weighing 80 lbs) and set him on the other side. Finni looks up and sees the scene playing out. Her maternal instinct must have kicked in, as she starts running in our direction. This is not funny or cute; this is about 1,000 lbs of mama cow, complete with a set of horns which are plenty big and pointy enough to impale a human. I wasn't close enough to see the look in her eye, but I wasn't taking any chance that she just wanted a cookie. I run for the patch of scrubby trees, the closest thing I could get to. She stops about 20 yards away from me, hollers at her kid, eyes me, and moseys back. Although she didn't come any further than the calf, I figured the only critter in potential danger was me, so I leave the calf to figure out the solution on his own and go back to the coop, where it is still stinky, but safe. Basket #19 is the last, whoo hoo! I walk down to the barn and get some pelletized lime to sprinkle on the floorboards, which helps to absorb the ammonia smell. I go upstairs to the hay mow to fill my basket one last time, this time with sweet, clean hay for bedding. I spy something white streak out of the barn as I startle it by opening the door. It's either Whitey again, or else Itty Bit, my prized mouser. I return to the coop and spread the lime & bedding, then grab the waterer. While the feed can wait another hour or two until I do PM chores, it's never good to leave the waterer empty. I put the waterer back, full, and open the coop doors. The chickens pop in from their outdoor runs, both for a drink and for the fun of scratching around in the new bedding.

By now, it's 3 PM. I'm sweaty and feel rather disgusting. All I want is a shower, but I look up at the thermometer for the greenhouse and see that it is 105 degrees, meaning I should really go open the other door for more ventilation. That done, it's shower time! Yay! Once I get out, I spy the lone cupcake left on the kitchen table from last week (I made some for a friend's birthday). I figure 19 bushels of manure x 50 lbs or more each = about half a ton of manure moved by hand today. That's certainly enough calories burned to earn a cupcake!

I hear Dan & Matt pull in; their workday is over. Dan is super excited because he's got a log splitting machine in tow behind the van. They got it at work, and it looks to be old and homemade.  It makes the models for sale in front of places like Tractor Supply look small in comparison.  The engine has a crank start, and looks a lot like the Wisconsin engine Dan rebuilt a few winters back. We could sure use a splitter since we heat the farmhouse with wood, and although the engine didn't fire right away, it seems as though it's moved to the top of Dan's project list.

I go inside and return a call to the man who runs Whispering Brook Cheese Haus in Chambersburg. We've been playing phone tag for a few days, so it's good to hear him answer. I finalize our order for raw milk cheese so we'll have it on hand opening day for the stand. We'll go pick it up in about 2 weeks, which works well...if we plan it right, we'll be able to take both our moms out for a meal for Mother's Day. Dan and I also discuss what we think will work for our new partnership with a local coffee roaster, Happy Mug Coffee of Tidioute. Dan and I are on the same page about what we think our first order should look like, but we both have questions, so I'll email the coffee guy tonight or tomorrow and go from there.

PM chore time comes next. Check the incubator again, a few more chicks & another poult. Time to carry feed for the rabbits and chickens, each in a 50 lb bag that must be moved from the stand. My arms scream in protest at the thought, but Dan takes pity on me and carries them for me tonight. Rabbits fed & watered, ditto for the quail, ducks, chickens, peafowl and turkeys. As I feed the rabbits, I notice Finni & the calf are with the rest of the cows, by the pond. He's made the creek crossing, so that's one less thing to worry about. Eggs are collected now too. I don't have as many chicken eggs as normal, but that is OK. I figured shutting them out of the coop for a couple hours this afternoon would have that effect. Next I go across the street, to the woods to check turkey nests. My heart sinks as I see the feathers. We've already lost two hens to nighttime predators this year. I try to be diligent about counting heads in the evenings, and this one wasn't sitting on the nest the last I checked yesterday, but there weren't tail feathers everywhere the last time, either. Back I go, to see if by some chance she escaped. I'm only counting 5 hens...one is missing. But the hen perched on the fence by the gate has about 5 tail feathers left. Bingo! We have a broody hen...and she's alive. I walk up and grab her by the ankle. I carry her off to the backyard and put her in a chicken tractor, one we usually use for meat birds. It was empty, so now it will be a sort of turkey jail. I'll keep her there a few days to a week, until she stops sitting across the road. I feed her and walk away. She clucks unhappily, but she's alive. As I walk away, I see another turkey hen, returning from a nest just beyond the blacksmith shop, so all turkeys are now present & accounted for.

Next, dinner time for us. I'm making a favorite recipe of Dan's, pork chops with caramelized onions. I sear the chops (home-raised, of course) in a cast-iron skillet, and caramelize an onion in another. Then I put the chops in an ovenproof dish and top with a bit of butter, some sage (homegrown) and the onion, then put in the oven for about 45 minutes. Then I slice a few potatoes into wedges and toss with butter, Parmesan cheese and some seasonings. I place those on a baking sheet, and into the oven they go as well. As it cooks, I do dishes. Again.

After we eat dinner together, more business. It's time to sit down with the mushroom spawn catalog and figure out an order. We're very interested in adding edible mushrooms, like shiitake and oyster, to our market lineup. This will be a new process, but it seems low-maintenance, with the possibility of fruitings over several years after the initial investment. Dan has some fresh logs that will be suitable, so we're eager to get this project underway. We talk about what to feature for the May newsletter, which I need to finish and send out in the next day or so. I mention ordering strawberry plants as well, and Dan shows me a part he took off the log splitter motor which will need taken out for repairs tomorrow. By now, it's about 9 PM. Time for bed.

While this day had more completed projects than most, it's really not unusual for us to do so much in a day. Doing as many different things as we do, you have to work hard, but also smart, or you'll never get it all done. And it's always necessary to pay attention to the critters, the plants, and what is going on. It becomes second nature to be alert, as it is often far easier to prevent a problem than to fix it, whether it is an invasion of cucumber beetles in the garden or an issue with the animals. In plenty of cases, like the broody turkey, you can't fix it after the fact. One she becomes something's dinner, there is no undoing. And yes, I do cook from scratch pretty much every night. While it is so easy to say, “I don't have time,” I'm pretty sure I'm just as busy as you. In fact, I know I'm busier than when I worked away from the farm. If I can do it, you can too, it just comes down to a matter of importance- is it more important to be quick & easy, or healthy and sustainable? It's a question everyone has to answer for themselves. Anyways, I hoped you enjoyed a detailed look into what really goes into being a farmer.  It's so much more than just being outstanding in your field.

 
 

New Flavors

It's Monday morning, and once again I'm doing a bit of stuff online while the canner heats up and my day in the kitchen begins. I'm still trying to can as much of the produce as possible. While I have popular favorites I try my best to keep on the table at the stand, for me, some of the most fun is trying new things. I'll be doing pepper rings and pickled beets this week, because they are so popular. But lately I've tried (and succeeded!) at some new stuff as well.

I love growing hot peppers, and I sell lots of canned products that use them. I have hot pepper jelly, hot and mild pepper rings, and of course, salsa. But a few weeks ago, I expanded my mustard line to include a hot pepper mustard! Although my other mustards are thick, whole-grain creations, this one is different. It's bright yellow, and kind of thin. I had to play around a bit with it to get it to thicken at all, and it's still on the thin side. It's been a big hit with my friends though, who love the flavor and said that the texture is just right for sinking into a bun when you're grilling out. And as the garden slows down even further and I have more time to experiment, I'm also hoping to begin playing around with a few more mustards. I'm still trying to replicate a champagne-dill mustard I love, but I just haven't gotten the results I want, at least not yet. And as fall moves along, I hope to have an Oktoberfest beer mustard, which I think will be fun.

Another new thing I've created recently was a plum preserve. Dan has worked for years for a man who has a small, private orchard and sometimes Dan comes home with a bucket of some kind of fruit or another. Last week, it was some apples and plums. Apples will keep, so I wasn't in as much of a hurry to use them. But what to do with the plums? I found a great recipe, so simple it called for only pitted, halved plums, sugar and water. No chopping the fruit, no adding pectin or lemon juice or anything. I've made lots of jams and jellies, but this was my first time making one without the pectin, so I had to figure out how to do a gel test to figure out when it was done. (A gel test involves putting some metal spoons in the freezer, then dipping them in the jam and observing how it runs off when tilted. It will run off in drips at first, then as it thickens it will look more like it's coming off in a sheet.) The fruit flavor was super intense, and I think it's a great new addition. Time consuming to make, as it needs to cook for a good long while, but in the end I think it was worth it. I may have to try and source some local plums to make more of it!

And this week, I hope to get to those apples. Last year I offered a jam called Apple Pie in a Jar. It was a great flavor, and I plan on doing it again this year. Also, Dan and I bought a cider press, so we're hoping to get to that and make our own cider, at least for ourselves. I'm also hoping to make enough cider that I will be able to set some aside, ferment it, and be able to offer real cider vinegar, which will probably not be done before the stand closes. But vinegar will keep until spring, and if nothing else, I'm excited to have it for my own cooking. I'm also hoping to partner with a local farm to be able to offer fresh apples to our customers in the near future.

Well, the canner is starting to bubble so it's time to get the jars sterilized and begin with the peppers and the beets. Then I also hope to get some sauerkraut started, get the Apple Pie in a Jar done, maybe make some more Bruschetta or Garden Relish, and who knows what else will be canned and for sale by the weekend!

 
 

The End-of-Summer Rush

Hello again, blog!  It's so easy to neglect you this time of year...

 

August is rolling by mighty quickly, it's hard to believe we're already halfway through!  It has been a typically busy late summer so far, and it's set to get even more hectic.  The end of summer is always exciting in Tionesta, as it brings the Indian Festival, our community's week-long celebration.  That started on Saturday and will run through this coming weekend.  The following weekend will also bring lots of visitors, as it's Rumble on the River, a motorcycle rally that takes place at Wolfe's Corners fairground, only 2 1/2 miles from the farm.  We are sure to have busy weekends because of this, both with increased traffic at the farm stand and also because friends & neighbors will be gathering to share food and fun.  

But in order to have a little free time on the weekends, that means I need to stay extra busy during the week!  It seems the canner goes nonstop through the week, usually except for one day which I use to run errands like going to the feed store or picking up more canning jars to hold all the garden goodness!  Last week alone, I made cases of Carrot Cake Jam, Emily's Own Dill Pickles, Pickled Beets, Sweet Garden Relish and added my medium-spicy Fiesta Salsa to the product lineup down at the stand.   Today I'm packaging sun dried tomatoes to offer this coming weekend, plus this week I'm sure I'll be doing some of the previously mentioned products, plus Hot Pepper Rings and Bruschetta in a Jar, possibly Dilly Beans, and whatever else I can come up with to preserve what is in the fridge right now. I have a new batch of Mulled Blackberry Vinegar that is ready for bottling, and I need to check on my first-ever batch of Malt Vinegar as well.  I'm also busy freezing things like chard and zucchini for my own personal use over the winter.  And of course weeding, drying herbs,mowing the yard, working in the garden and taking care of the livestock & poultry.  And did I mention I'm experimenting with some artistic projects that I hope to have on sale soon, possibly even this weekend?  (More details to come on that when I actually complete them!)  So it's crazily busy here right now!

 We're also butchering.  It's nice to have a break from doing chickens right now, but I can't believe how demand has gone up since just last year- I can't keep them in stock, which is a great problem to have!  We'll be doing pork again the next couple of weeks, with sausage this week and the return of chops and roasts next, with ham & bacon returning the week after once the curing process is complete.  

So even though that is more than enough to keep us busy, I'm also excited to be adding a new crop to our farm.  I place my order with Seed Saver's Exchange this morning for a quantity of garlic, something I have not grown before (but Dan has).  It will ship the middle of next month.  We'll plant it then and look forward to offering garlic scapes early next spring and garlic next summer. I'm always excited to offer new things, and garlic has been something we've had requests for from our customers.

Well, I best get back to the canner...stop by and see us if you're visiting Tionesta over these busy, fun weekends! 

 
 

Rain, Finally!

Another crazily busy week here on the farm, but that is just July for you!  We were so happy that the oppressive, 100+ degrees temperatures broke, but most days we're still seeing upper 80's and into the 90's, so with the humidity it sure feels like summer anyway.  But I can't complain, because finally we got some summer rains!!  The ground was so dry here that the creek through the pastures dried up and the garden soil on the unirrigated parts was about bone dry as well.  Between the heat and the dry creek, we've spent much more time than usual hauling water to the livestock- up to 5 times per day in the worst of the heat, up from our usual schedule of 2x per day (morning and evening).  The tomatoes and peppers have been doing great with the drip irrigation under them, but we were starting to worry that we'd lose the entire sweet corn crop if we didn't get some rain.  Fortunately, we got a plentiful amount, and over a few days, not all at once in a single, severe storm. Dan swears the corn stalks grew a foot one day while he was away at work as a result of the rain.   The creek is even showing feeble signs of life again!

But hauling water isn't the only thing that's kept me busy.  I love to find great canning recipes to use up the garden bounty, and the canner has been getting a workout lately.  I've got dilly beans (green beans pickled with dill), hot pepper rings, pickled beets, and my popular dill pickles, made with my own secret recipe.  Those have all been great things to make, and I've enjoyed doing that over the last few years, but I also love to see what else I can find to make-  every cook gets bored with the same old things day after day!  So this week, I made something I'm calling "Sweet Garden Relish".  It's like a sweet pickle relish, but instead of using cucumbers (the heat has not been kind to them) it uses zucchini, onion and bell pepper.  A combo that really works for what the garden is producing right now, and it tastes amazing! I admit, as I was finishing canning it and tasting the final product, I started craving a hot dog or burger from the grill, anything on which I could pile this relish!  

Meats have been keeping us busy, too.  I got to visit my friends from Hirsch's today as I picked up a whole carload of ground beef.  After reading my post about saying goodbye to Buzz, you might imagine that it was an awful trip, but it wasn't.  It was hard to say goodbye, but there is almost instant closure to it, at least for me.  I'm not going to cry about it anymore, or refuse to sell, handle or eat that meat- I respect my animals by treating them with kindness and dignity while they are alive, and not wasting the food they provide later.  If I had trouble moving on like that, I doubt I could farm the way we do.  

We also have been busy processing chickens.  Although it's still just Dan and I, hand plucking and processing, we're trying to up our output a little bit, as we have the wonderful problem of selling out of chicken every week we offer it.  We've talked about making a nice processing pavilion, one that would streamline the process a bit, and we've gotten that underway. If you have wondered what the new building with the green roof is behind the greenhouse, now you know!  We do have some siding up now, which was so nice in this heat to be out of the direct sun.  The gravel floor is down, and now the next step will be to pour cement.  We'll also be running some lines for a sink and the cooling tubs soon.  It's already much nicer that before, and I can't wait to get it all done.  I've been trying to take pictures of the construction process, so hopefully soon I can post a whole start-to-finish slideshow of that project.

I also took a rare day away from the farm this week to attend a field day put on by PASA, the PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, along with WAgN, the Penn State Women's Agriculture Network.  (I know, it's a mouthful!)  The even was in nearby Brookville at Quiet Creek Herb Farm and focused on Chantrelles and exotic PA mushrooms.  I learned a lot and was really happy to attend, the folks there were amazingly knowledgeable. The workshop was a fun mix of mushroom hunting for personal fun and use (which Dan & I started just last year), cooking with mushrooms (and an amazing lunch!) and a bit on growing & selling mushrooms to the public.  It's something we may like to try in the future, we are always looking to keep up and expand the diversity of our farm stand offerings.

 So, it's been more than enough to keep us busy, but we don't expect any less from the summer months! 

 

 

 
 

Happy Fall to All!

Happy fall to everyone!  It has been so busy around here,  I feel as though I've been neglecting my blog.  So here is my attempt to get you caught up with our goings-on!

I've meant to mention that Finnbar has gone home to Muirstead Farm.  He was the Dexter bull we had on loan for the summer.  He is a beautiful example of the Dexter breed; well muscled, docile and compact.  Although I was nervous about having a bull here, as they can be dangerous animals, we had a wonderful experience with him.  I'm always grateful to breeders who value not just production, but temperament as well, and the Muirstead Dexters are joys to work around.  Having Finnbar around for a few months also gave me the confidence that if Dan and I ever expand our little Dexter herd enough to warrant keeping a bull around all year, that with proper care and handling it would be no more stressful than having the other intact males here, like Rambo the sheep or Wilbur the hog.  And speaking of expanding our Dexter herd, we did do just that.  In addition to the calf we'll expect from Finni early next summer, we purchased another cow.  Lil came on loan with Finnbar, so we could have a chance to milk a Dexter this year.  We liked her so much that we chose to purchase her.  She is a former show ring champ and has had quite a few beautiful Dexter babies.  The Muirs have enough of her lineage in the breeding herd they maintain, so they agreed to let us purchase her.  She'll also be due with a calf in late spring or early summer, so we are so very excited!

Today is the first day of fall.  The official first days of summer and winter always seem to arrive a bit after the season starts in my opinion, but fall is right on time.  The leaves are starting to change and the garden is transitioning as well.  Our tomatoes finally succumbed to the blight, but we had a wonderfully productive year anyway.  While we won't have fresh ones at the stand again this year, I have lots of packaged sun-dried tomatoes available and I'm working today on making some more Bruschetta in a Jar with the last of the Romas.   But as I say good-bye to the tomatoes of summer, I'm saying hello to our fall crops.  We've been digging onions and potatoes and last week were able to start picking some winter squash as well.  This week we'll be able to offer acorn, buttercup, butternut and sweet dumpling squash, plus a few pumpkins and a blue hubbard or two.  Later, I'll have some really neat looking gourds (a frost will really bring out their colors) as well as kabocha and giant pink banana squash.  We also tried planting a bit of Bloody Butcher corn, an heirloom deep red corn, this year, so once it dried I'll be excited to try grinding it for cornmeal and see what color we end up with.

As the season goes on, I have more and more neat things I've dried or processed.  Something new we'll have this week is dried sage from the herb garden.  I'm also finishing up processing some peaches into a recipe called zesty peach barbecue sauce.  It's more like a hot peach salsa, so I'm thinking about what name to put on the labels as the jars are bubbling away in the canner.  Either way, it's a favorite here at home, Dan especially loves it with ham so I think ham steaks are going to be dinner tonight! (it's great on chicken or pork chops too.)  Then it's on to making the  Bruschetta and possibly, if the rain lets off, I'll be digging some horseradish to prepare and sell.  I might make some horseradish mustard before the week is up too!

 I'll also be cleaning up the brooder pen in anticipation of our layer chicks which are due to arrive Friday. As the seasons change, I'm always realizing how farming truly is a year-round occupation.  While most of the produce arrives within a fairly small window of time, we're always planning and preparing.  In addition to the hens, we're also deciding what kind of garlic to plant now and what we need to do to keep our fields, buildings and livestock in good shape over the upcoming winter.  It's always a busy time here!

 
 

Saving Summer

Although Labor Day weekend is supposed to be summer's last big celebration,  this weekend sure seemed like an introduction to fall instead with rain, cooler temperatures and the first leaves coming down.  We're really glad it didn't stop folks from coming out to see us on Saturday though, as we had a wonderful day at the stand, seeing lots of old friends and making some new ones.   

Although I hate to let any produce go to waste, it seems even more critical now as certain plants are reaching the end of their season.   At one point, I felt inundated by cucumber, and while I pickled what I could, I didn't feel terrible about feeding some to the pigs as well.  Now each is like a final green gem from the garden, and I'll miss their cool crunch for many months once they are done. Cukes are actually my personal favorite garden veggie, I like them more than the ever-popular corn and tomatoes, but once they are gone I fall back on my pickles.  I won't buy a tastless, slimy one coated in wax from the store.  Although it's a long wait between the end of  the season in September to the first new ones in June, there are also so many tasty foods we grow or that I preserve here, it doesn't ever feel like deprivation.  It's more like a decadent overabundance when the season is here.

I really hate to waste tomatoes, they seem especially precious after the blight destroyed almost the entire crop last year.  This year we're selling them by the literal bushel and I'm still looking for ways to preserve the rest.  If you've visited us, you've likely seem the hot and mild varieties of salsa and our sun dried tomatoes for sale.  I have also run quite a few through my food mill and frozen the results.  Late in the year or early next, I'll defrost the squished tomatoes and spend a day making chili and spaghetti sauces for myself.  I'll enjoy the all-day process of boiling it down when it's warming the house from winter's cold.   But for now, I still have tomatoes, so I'm always looking for something different, and something that doesn't contain hours of processing...a summer recipe!  Last week, I found one for Bruschetta-in-a-Jar.  Chop the tomatoes, pack in hot jars, and fill with a boiling mixture of wine, vinegar and Italian spices.  Easy and delicious, but not one you could really get a taste of before processing.  One of the labels was rather lumpy-looking, so I told Dan Saturday morning he could have it.  He asked what exactly it was supposed to be.  I replied that he should imagine spreading it over warm garlic bread, possibly sprinkled with cheese.  He popped the jar open and sampled it with a tortilla chip I had set out for salsa samples.  I warned him as I had made it just days before, it may not have had time to fully incorporate the flavors.  He argued that it couldn't possibly get much better and when he offered me a taste of the finished project, I had to agree.  I'll be making lots more of it this week!  Along with another effort to let no tomato go to waste, I'll have lots of other projects as well.  The hot peppers will either be made into hot pepper rings or a batch of salsa.  I'll be making dilly beans and pickled beets.  Also, the dehydrator will be running full of herbs, tomatoes or anything else that seems like a good candidate.  And who knows, I may find another wonderful recipe during the course of the week like the Bruschetta.  While it can be overwhelming to try to put up all the food the garden produces, it's a wonderful challenge and one that's filled with nearly limitless possibilities of flavors and colors! 

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Garden Bounty

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!

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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! 

 
 

Sweet!

As the year goes on, I'm finding more and more of our home-canned goodies are selling, but I've had a few comments that too much of it is hot for some tastes.  I like a good spicy sauce, but I realize not everyone appreciates it and some people have bigger a sweet tooth.  So I went back to my big book of canning recipes to see what inspired me.  I found a great recipe to use up carrots that hadn't sold over the weekend...a carrot cake jam!  Spreadable carrot cake was just too intriguing to past up, so I collected all the necessary ingredients and went to work.  I must confess, I was fearful of a flaming disaster when, after the 20 minutes of boiling was up, I still had a pot of fruits and veggies without much visible liquid.  I expected it to look more syrupy, and thought there was no way in the world that the large amount of sugar I had would ever dissolve without adding water or something my recipe didn't call for. But there was nothing to do but grab the big bowl full of sugar, dump it in and stir. To my surprise and delight, it stirred right in and the result makes a plain piece of toast into dessert!  

Since we're all but done with butchering, I feel like I have more time to create in the kitchen.  Even though I'm not home all day now, it gets dark out so early that canning a batch of something seems like a great way to pass a chilly evening.  Also, with the garden being done I feel like I have more freedom to choose what I'm doing.  Although I try my best to let no tomato, hot pepper, green bean, etc, go to waste, the only home grown veggies I have left to can are tomatoes I've already run through the food mill and frozen.  So there is no hurry to get to them before they go bad.  We try to be as self sufficient as possible, but sometimes it's ok to buy some of the ingredients, so I'm looking for tasty treats now instead of a way to use up all these hot peppers or whatever I was overrun with at the time during the growing season.  Next up, I have my eye on a Black Forest preserve...cocoa and cherries and sugar! Yum!  It should go well with the ice cream maker that arrived via FedEx today that we're excited to try out. Or maybe I'll do gingered pears, or a recipe for spiced pumpkin that sounds like a holiday treat.  I'm going to try to set aside time for canning tomorrow, as I have the day to spend at home, but Finniat is coming in the morning and I'm not sure how much of my day will be wrapped up in that!  

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The Canner is Bubbling Again

I love this time of year in the garden, everything is so plentiful!  We had our first sweet corn this weekend and a few ripe tomatoes as well.  The plants don't look great, but they don't have the killer blight and the tomatoes are finally turning red! It must be the sunshine, which has finally reappeared. As I type, I'm keeping an eye on my canner as I am making salsa with the leftovers from the market- tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers.  Growing up, no one in my family canned, but I taught myself a few summers ago and I really enjoy it.  I love knowing what's really in my food and being able to control the amout of chemicals, salt and sugar that goes into whatever I'm eating.  I love trying new recipies, and I love finding ones that use the herbs and vegetables I have just out my back door! I do make some other things, like mustards, that I need to buy most of the ingredients for, but they are so much better than anything store bought!  I enjoy canning so much that I have started putting some of my sauces and other things for sale at the stand.  If you stop by, along with 2 kinds of mustards I have flavored vinegar, a sweet & sour dipping sauce, hot pepper jelly, dilled green beans and this weekend, salsa!

 Opening the stand has made us so busy, getting laid off was really a blessing in disguise.  People remember our sausage and we have sold quite a lot of the secret family recipe breakfast sausage.  Dan and I introduced a mild and a hot Italian sausage 2 weeks ago and they were so popular, we're going to have them again this weekend.  So Thursday I'll be busy stuffing sausage and packaging it.  

 Another thing keeping me busy lately is working on the website.  I've added a lot on new pictures of the animals and the stand.  I'm also working on a page with pictures and descriptions of the various polutry we raise, which is taking some time and isn't live yet.  If you'd like to check it out, the address is www.pleasantvalleyfarm.weebly.com.

If you're planning on being in Tionesta for the Rumble on the River Bike Fest, stop by and see us!  We always enjoy meeting the people who follow us online.  And if it isn't too hot, you can meet Puff, our cat who thinks he is the farm stand mascot.  He love to be the greeter and be petted by everyone!  

 
 

Super Scruff Hen Returns

What is a scruff hen? At our farm it's a hen that came to us that we weren't really looking for.  As in, I buy a particular chicken at an auction and it comes with another, less desireable chicken.  One such gal came to be know as "Super Scruff Hen" as she looked to be molting when we got her, and was in no hurry to get her feathers back.  She's a small gold and black barred bird that lays white eggs quite consistantly.   I think she's probably a Campine.  We were going to take her back to the auction, but she just kept laying eggs.  Then we moved her to a pen that, unlike the first, was not completely enclosed, and she became a barnyard bird as she could figure out a way out of the pen daily, no matter how short her wings were clipped or what you did to the fence.  But, being the extremely cagey bird she is, she would see me at chore time and follow me back into the coop, where she would safely spend the night.  Several weeks ago I stopped seeing her, and I was sad, but we had lost quite a few hens to the predators, and all seemed to be my favorites! We found out what happed to Super Scruff Hen this week...she had relocated herself to a secret location in the haymow and made a nest to sit on.  I found a rather soggy chick last night and put it under the heat lamp to dry, but we couldn't find its mom.  Super Scruff Hen reappeared today, with two more tiny chicks in tow!  Now if I can just lure her back to the henhouse...

I sit typing this as my first "full time farmer" activity.  Tomorrow is my first day of being laid off, so I am keeping my head up and making the most of it...it's a great time of year to be home on the farm!  Tomorrow Dan and I plan to put the finishing touches on shed cleanup and we'll be set for the grand reopening on Saturday from 10-2.  I've canned some dilly beans, blueberry basil vinegar, and a Thai sweet and hot dipping sauce to sell and I intend to get some mustard made in the next day or so.  I hope to see some of you there, but I must go now...time to mow while the sun shines to make the place look presentable!

 
 

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. 

 
 
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