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!

 

 
 

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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