Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Reflections of 2011

A gentle snow is falling here at the farm. The animals take it all in stride. We tried to bring the horses into the barn last night for a warm bed & a manger full of hay, but they preferred to stay outside. Even now, with more than a dusting of snow on their backs as I look out my kitchen window, they are standing contentedly just beyond the pond. The cows are black shapes through the flakes in the pasture up by the woods. The warmth of wool is evident on the sheep's backs, as they have much more snow on them than the goats do. Even the turkeys are carrying little white patches on them as they wander through the garden, looking for any stray kernel of corn, forgotten squash, or other morsel. All is calm, all is bright. This is my peaceful corner of the Earth, or at least until the geese begin fighting or Ponyboy tries to chase the cows again.

The Christmas cards have stopped coming, but the seed catalogs are arriving daily now. In the next month or so, it will be time to really sit down and plan out what next year's garden will include. But for now they wait on the bookshelf.

This is the lull in the holiday season for most of us, sandwiched between the celebrations of Christmas and New Year's. I find it a time to be reflective about the almost-over year, and look forward to the new one to come, as I'm sure many of you do as well. This year, I'm amazed at the things that have happened in the past year, and how much Dan and I have to be thankful for. I'm so pleased at how my first year farming full time went. I loved it, and our business grew because of it too. Leaving the working world (and those steady paychecks) seemed like a big jump, but I couldn't be happier, and no one can put a price tag on that. I'm proud of all the processed products that came out of my kitchen, and it is such a great feeling when someone tells me they drove to the farm just for one of my creations, like Carrot Cake Jam or my secret-recipe Dill Pickles. I truly believe we have the greatest customers and I look forward to seeing them again next year!

There were lots of fun firsts as well with our first turkey poults hatching this year, and the birth of our first two Dexter calves. I don't think there is anything more joyful (although sometimes exhausting!) than baby season on the farm, and we're looking forward to more calves and poults next year, too. Despite the wet-dry-wet extreme of the growing season, we did well overall. Of course, not everything in the garden grew as hoped, so for next year I'll make a wish for a better season for corn & cucumbers, but for the most part we had a great growing season. We also planted crops last year that take more than one season to be productive, so this coming year we're anticipating seeing our first harvests of asparagus and garlic. The strawberries didn't do well, the few that sprouted got eaten by a pesky deer, so it's on the list for the year to come, as are more blueberry bushes (we hope!). Our plans for 2012 also include finishing the butchering pavilion we started this year by pouring a concrete floor and putting more washtubs there. Getting the greenhouses up & producing not only seedlings but crops like peppers, cukes and tomatoes is another thing high on my list, as we hoped to already have that done  but the extremely wet spring didn't allow that to happen this year. One of the wonderful things about farming like we do is the endless options, and we're always brainstorming new product possibilities...we've talked about everything from smoked quail to rabbit meat to selling handmade items from Dan's blacksmith shop.  The winter off-season is a wonderful time to reflect and to then plan ahead and experiment with the possibilities.

Another fun first this year was my first invitation to speak as a guest expert. I had such fun at the Farm to Table conference in Pittsburgh!   I loved meeting new friends at a table where I had delicious farm goods for sale, and also during my presentation on heritage livestock breeds. I was excited about both the number of people that turned out to see me, and the in-depth questions that followed. It was such a good time, it looks like we'll be doing it again, and I can't wait to get all the details so I can let everyone know.

The final big milestone for the farm in 2011 has been setting up an online store. We have had so many requests to ship our products or sell in other markets, we decided to try online sales. This time of year is perfect to launch it, since it's a time when money is a little tighter and I'm spending more time indoors anyway. So far, we've had a good start, a few sales and good feedback from our customers. I've listed canned products like vinegars, jams and mustards, and have been having a lot of fun making and listing some feather jewelry I've made with feathers from our peacocks and turkeys. (Check us out online at http://www.etsy.com/shop/pleasantvalleyfarmpa !)  Right now I have everything from cat toys to earrings, necklaces and hair extensions, and I'm having a great time creating these items.  I also am excited about the custom option I have on the store, so I can work with a customer to create just the gift basket or piece of jewelry they had in mind! (And it's really useful to combine different items so I can try to save my customers on the shipping cost, too.)

 Thanks to all of our customers and friends for supporting us in 2011, and we hope to see you back again in the coming year.  We hope your 2011 was as blessed as ours.  All of us here at Pleasant Valley Farm send you wishes that 2012 is a healthy and happy year for you and your family!

 
 

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.   

 
 
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