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!

 

 
 

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 

 
 

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 !

 
 

Sliding towards Spring

It's the halfway day of February already! Winter seems to be just flying by. Although, the fact that it has been warm and snow free for much of the time probably has a lot to do with that feeling. But as we start on the downhill of the month, I can't help but feel like things are going to get crazily busy before I've had a chance to get around to my winter projects!

The cold and snow have kept me inside most of this week, but I'm already thinking spring. I lugged a big bag of potting mix into the kitchen to thaw out, and by tomorrow I should be filling flats with seedlings for early tomato, pepper and cucumber plants for the greenhouse. I should be getting some herbs seeds very soon, and am hoping to be able to offer a few potted herbs when we open for the season.  Plants for the main garden will follow in a few weeks. I'm excited about rehabbing the small greenhouse near the house over the next week or so, and using it to start more of our own plants than we have in the past. I'm also excited about getting a big greenhouse up, and planting the plants right in the ground inside. This will be new for me, although Dan did it for years. We had hoped to last year, but it didn't happen, mostly because of the incredible amount of rain we had last spring. But, we're determined to get it up and operational this time around.

Another thing that has me busy is preparing for the Farm to Table conference in Pittsburgh, March 23 & 24. I'll be speaking once again, this time on Heirloom plants, so I've got an hour long speech & Powerpoint to put together. I'll also have a table in the main hall both days, so I've been planning on how best to fill it. I've bottled some vinegars, made some mustard, and have been working on plenty of feather jewelry too.

In addition to my talk on Heirloom plants, it's looking like I'll be involved in a couple of other educational presentations. The local Lions Club is putting on a walk & educational program about diabetes awareness, and they reached out to us to partner with them. There is a meeting next week to plan it, but I know that usually if someone volunteers, they are put to good use. Also upcoming is to do some education on nutrition, organic foods and shopping local for families in a nearby town in a health & nutrition program. I am looking forward to helping out local groups, but also trying to get a good outline of what I want to say, as well as any handouts I might want to pass out, because I know better than to put off my homework until the middle of spring. It's impossible to stay inside in the spring on a farm, but for now, it's nice to stay warm and dry here in front of the keyboard.

 
 

Farm to Table

What a weekend! I was so happy to be a part of Pittsburgh's Farm to Table conference, but it sure made for a few long days. I'm fortunate that one of my sisters lives just a few miles from downtown, so I was able to stay with her and have some help setting up Friday morning. My greatest worry about the conference, since this is an entirely new venue for us, was if I was bringing enough stuff. I wanted the table to look full all the way to the end. I also wanted to have a profitable weekend, so part of me wanted to sell out completely!


 Always a family affair- sister Laurel and I finish setting up

 

Friday started out slowly, as many folks had to work, but it did get busier as the day progressed. I had a nice time talking to a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper, so I was hopeful that we'd get a mention in Saturday's edition. During the afternoon, more people we in attendance and stopped by. It always makes me smile, about half of the people had no idea where Tionesta was (or how to pronounce it) while the other half knew from coming here to a camp. Many even described in painstaking detail how I could find their weekend getaway! I sold some jams, talked to some lovely people, and got ready for the evening food tasting by setting up an electric roaster and cooking a leg of our pasture raised lamb. By the time 5:00 PM rolled around, the tasting hall smelled like my lamb. I set up my table with a selection of jams & mustards to sample and purchase, along with thin slices of our farm-raised ham. I put on my apron and gloves, got out the cutting board, and began slicing lamb for samples as well. We were told that the tasting was sold out (all 500 tickets!) and I had a line of people around the table pretty much all night. I got lots of fabulous feedback on everything we offered, especially the meats. I was even told our lamb was better tasting than a local farm, also doing the tasting, that is a high-end restaurant supplier and locally well respected around Pittsburgh. That really made me proud of what we do. People also couldn't believe that I cooked both the ham and the lamb in pans with nothing more than some water because they had such great flavor. I let people know that I cooked them as simply as possible because I wanted to showcase the flavor of our meats, not my cooking skills. All in all a great day, but after 12+ hours on my feet (in heeled boots, no less) I was ready to head back to my sister's and relax for the night.

I got back to the conference center Saturday morning with a Post Gazette. After I made sure my table was ready for the masses, I took a quick look for the promised article about Farm to Table. It was really nice, and I couldn't believe how much of it came from my conversation with the reporter. He detailed when I would be speaking, what the topic was, where & how we farm, and even gave a fantastic description of my Carrot Cake Jam! (To read it for yourself, click here:http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11085/1134851-34.stm) Saturday was much busier, and I had a number of folks excitedly ask if this was the jam featured in the paper, and it was very cool to be able to say yes. I even had one lady who told me that she had no intentions on coming to Farm to Table, but changed her mind and came just to get her hands on my jam. Wow! Not surprisingly, I sold out of Carrot Cake Jam. I also sold out of Ginger-Garlic mustard, pickled beets, and the hot and mild pepper rings. By the end of the conference, I didn't have much inventory left of anything, really, but the table looked respectably full and I made far more than I had dared hope.

Saturday was also the day of my big presentation, titled “Heritage Livestock Breeds: What They Are, Why They Matter, and How to Find Them.” I was really impressed that people stopping by the table would get excited when they realized I was the speaker, and they let me know that mine was one of the things they had planned on attending. I was very pleased with the turnout. My Powerpoint full of animal photos loaded without incident, and the speech itself went well. For those of you who missed it, basically I started out by defining a breed of livestock, emphasizing that these were created by people for a specific purpose in a specific place. Heritage breeds have become endangered not because they don't do their jobs well, but because agriculture has changed so dramatically. There simply isn't demand for family milk cows or draft horse power like there was 150 years ago. These breeds are becoming endangered because of habitat loss, and that habitat is small, family farms. To understand what industrial agriculture has become, we looked at a few photos and touched on the basics of beef (feedlot conditions), pork (confinement & gestation crates), dairy (inbreeding of the Holstein breed), chicken (broiler hybrids and heath issues), turkey (Broad breasted whites & their inability to breed), and eggs (confinement in egg cages). I then had photos of the heritage animals that call our farm home. I talked about Barred Rock, Polish, Phoenix, Blue Cochin & Delaware chickens, Toulouse geese, Bourbon Red turkey, Dexter cattle and Belgian draft horses. I talked about the strengths of each breed and why we raise & how we use them on our farm. I mentioned the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy and the work they do to conserve and protect these animals. I gave reasons why people should care about these animals- the fact that biodiversity means food security, because a larger gene pool will be more resistant to new diseases and climate change. That supporting heritage breeds will mean supporting smaller scale & family farms- these breeds are endangered because they don't do well on industrial levels. Although I'm no nutritional expert, I talked about the benefits of heritage breeds-they are virtually always raised in pasture-based operations, so I used some studies from www.eatwild.com to talk about nutritional benefits. I talked about taste and about the Slow Food Ark of Taste program. I let the folks in attendance know what they could do to help these breeds, first and foremost being supporting them by purchasing the heritage products directly from farmers. That they should feel free to ask for them at restaurants-if enough people do, change will happen. I let my listeners know that they can join groups like the ALBC without being a farmer if they find that saving endangered livestock is a cause they want to support and get involved. For those interested in starting a backyard flock, or other livestock, to consider heritage breeds. I let folks ask questions, and was amazed that they were less about the topic in general and more about our farm. I think people have a real desire to become more connected with the manner in which their food is produced and with the farmers who are producing it, and that is great. 

All dressed up & ready to present!

 

After the speech, it was a short downhill slide to the end of the day. I had a wonderful time, but I was ready to pack up, drive home and trade in my dress pants for jeans, and get back to the spring routines of hatching, caring for seedlings, farm babies, and waiting for the day when we can begin prepping the fields with our team.   

 
 

A Very Successful Weekend

It was a very busy weekend here.  Thursday night I heard the first peeps coming from the incubator, we kicked off hatching season with a Delaware chick followed by many more Delawares, some Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons and a few Polish and Blue Cochins.  My favorite part of hatching season is opening up the incubator in the morning or after I get home from work.  When I pull out the hatching tray, it's just amazing to see little fluffy chicks where solid eggs were just a few hours prior.  Even after hatching hundreds of chicks, it never grows old for me.  In fact, this is later in the year that we started hatching previously, and I really missed it!

Another successful event this weekend was Friday's Farm to Table conference.  We only got a little lost on our way to the convention center!  It was great to finally meet Mia from PASA, I feel like I know her since we've exchanged so many emails.  She was really great in person, truly excited about local foods, and I look forward to meeting her again.  We had samples of my Black Forest Preserves, Carrot Cake Jam, Horseradish Mustard, Ginger-Garlic Mustard, and Thai Dipping Sauce available to all who walked by the PASA table.   Although all were well-received, the Carrot Cake Jam was the hands-down winner.  My favorite quote from the conference was a woman who not only wanted to buy a jar, but wanted me to make a whole bathtub for her so she could "just soak it all in!" I was amazed, even in a big place like Pittsburgh, about half of the folks who stopped by knew where Tionesta was.  We hope to see lots of them at our stand this summer!  It was a great place for farmers and other vendors to network as well.  Although I had quite a few requests to carry my products at other locations, for now the only place they will be available is at our stand here at the farm.

I was pleasantly surprised by the edible Allegheny table as well.  The magazine had contacted me last year about advertising in it.  Although it was a bit too expensive to fit into our current advertising budget, I offered to host them if they ever cared to do a story here.  I was told that only farms that advertise would get stories published about them  This really soured me on the magazine, because it is a beautiful publication that states its purpose as supporting local farms and seasonal eating, but I felt that if they only profiled advertisers, they were misleading the audience about the true availability of local food by ignoring small producers.  One of the women at the booth asked if I had heard of the magazine before, and when I relayed this story, she told me that it was not true at all, and that she was in fact the editor of the publication.  I gave her one of my cards, and whether or not they ever want to do a story here, I'm excited about the magazine now.  I'm looking forward to sitting down with the issue they handed out at the conference and to seeing the subscription come to my mailbox.

 
 

Farm to Table

It's a crazily busy week here, I'm on a break but won't get away from my day job till well after dark today & tomorrow.  It all works out for the best though, as I will have enough hours in that I won't need to use a precious vacation day to be at the Farm to Table conference on Friday.  Dan and I will be leaving Tionesta bright and early after chores are done to head down the the David L Lawerence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  We're going to be one of a only a few farms featured at the PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) table.  They'll be helping us display some of my mustards and jams, and I'll have a small supply on hand for folks to purchace while I'm manning the table.  It looks like we'll be present pretty much all Friday morning, so if you attend, be sure to stop by and say hello!  Just look for the table with the big "Buy Fresh, Buy Local" banners!
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Lots of Excitement!

The weather here has been beatuiful, the mud is drying and we have even more beautiful farm babies!  Lambing season continues, we now have a total of 6 healthy little lambs...5 rams (boys) and one ewe.  Last years we fininshed the season with 4 ewes and only 2 rams, so I guess it's just the boys' year this time!  We also have three more ewes who we are watching closely, as they have yet to deliver.

Both our sows have delivered their piglets, with Fern giving birth a few days after Char.  We have a grand total of 19 healthy little piglets!  Wow!

The incubator is filling with eggs and our first chicks of the season will hatch next weekend.  I've missed the soft peeping of chicks, so I'm excited about that, too.  I also spotted the first goose egg of the season this week.  This goose found a nice spot under the rabbit cages in the back yard.  It's fairly out of the way, but I can watch from my kitchen window, so I'm hoping she sticks with this spot for hewr nest this year.  I noticed this location as I moved the bantam Japanese chickens from that rabbit cage back into their summer home.  It is a bottomless pen called a chicken tractor, and now that the snow has melted, I can put those birds back out on grass.  It sure is nice to see them in the yard again!

The plants are coming to life as well.  I noticed the first glimpses of crimson popping up through the mulch covering our rhubarb patches.  The blueberry bushes are showing little buds and it looks like my rosebush survuved the winter.  A few early leaves of green mark where the oregano, thyme and lemon balm are in the herb garden as well. The daffodils are poking up and I'm sure the forsythia and lilac bushes will be blooming soon, as the buds are starting to swell on the branches.

Besides all the spring excitement, I'm also looking forward to the Farm to Table conference set for next Friday & Saturday at the David L. Lawerence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.  While the cost of a table for the 2 days was a bit out of our farm's advertising budget this year, we belong to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, aka PASA.  They are featuring member farms and giving free samples of products at a table there, so I've already sent them a box of our jams and mustards.  Dan and I are planning on attending on Friday as well, and if all goes according to plan, we'll be at the PASA table when our farm is featured to answer questions and have some of our products to sell.  I think this is really neat, but I'm also just as excited to check out what other farms in our region are doing.  When I find out the actual time our farm is scheduled, I'll be sure to post it so that you can stop by and say hello if you're there!

 
 
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