Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Feeding the Birds

Most people these days have lost any real connection to farms & livestock.  Years ago, most folks at least had extended family living on a homestead...perhaps not farmers, but Grandma or Uncle so-and-so had a garden, or a couple cows, or some chickens.  It was a touchstone to where food really comes from that has by and large been lost for most Americans.  

Our farm is located in Forest County, PA, which has the distinction of having the highest percentage of seasonal residences to permanent ones in the entire nation.  That means there are more summer cottages and hunting camps than full-time homes.  So, a good percentage of our visitors in the summer are “city folk”. For many of them, the main reason to come to the farm is for fresh tomatoes, or delicious sausage, or any of the other food we offer for sale.  For many others, though, a big part of the draw is just setting foot on a farm.  It's like a mini family field trip. They love that they can walk through the front yard and see the turkeys and chickens, or catch a glimpse of the horses and cows in the pasture.

Living here, it is easy to take for granted what we have.  It is easy to see the same landscape, and instead of beauty, to see work.  Manure that needs shoveled.  Water to carry, and the twice-daily feedings that never take a day off.  Sheep that need shearing. Weeding, mowing, picking, and all the other garden chores.  Fences and roofs to fix and all the other realities of life on a farm.  While it truly is a wonderful life, it is also a hard one.  But to our visitors, these daily chores are moments of magic.
  

When hosting friends or family with kids, I often have given them a scoop of feed and let them feed the chickens and other poultry.  It meant so much to the kids, and their parents as well, that I decided to incorporate it into the farm stand.  So, I filled up some paper cups with feed with a handmade sign saying “Feed the birds! $.50 per cup.  Chickens, ducks, turkeys & peacocks all love it!”.  I have been somewhat amazed by the response.  While it's very popular with families with children, it was a surprise that about 50% of the cups have been purchased by adults.  (A side effect to this is that now the birds are eternally optimistic that any human may come bearing food, so they run up to just about everyone who gets out of a vehicle now.  I've created an army of friendly feathered monsters!)  It's easy to think I'm a business genius, that I'm getting people to pay for food the birds need anyways, and doing my chores for me to boot.  But, I think, for many of these folks, it's literally pocket change for an experience that they will remember for a long time.  The act of caring for creatures stirs something deep within us all.  I can't tell you how many times so far someone has come back into the farm stand to return the paper cup so I can reuse it (unasked!) and to thank me for the opportunity.  

 Farm stand Saturdays are always long.  This time of year, we are literally up with the sun picking and washing the veggies, grinding sausage, setting up shop, and then it's 6 hours of nonstop waiting on the public.  By the time 4 PM rolls around, I'm eager to feed the critters and then eat a decent meal myself and relax for the rest of the evening.  Yesterday, as I'm in the midst of evening chores, a truck pulls up.  A woman I've never met before gets out and asks if her grandkids could get out and look at the birds. Part of me wanted to say no, come back when we're open, that I'm hungry and tired and want to get off my feet and just be done for the day.  But I said sure, let them out, the birds are eating their dinner but the kids can come into the yard for a look.  At that time, Dan had just let the horses out of the barn so they were close at hand as well.   So, after I put fresh water in the bird pen, I walked over and grabbed Montana, our Paint riding horse.  He loves attention, is very gentle, and is much less intimidating (size-wise) than the work horses.  I called over to the group that if they walked over quietly, they could pet him.  

Kids without farm experience generally want to run & scream in all this open space, but I'm always pleasantly surprised that just by telling the kids that running and being loud scares the animals and makes them run away, their behavior changes pretty much instantly.  So the kids came over quietly, and I couldn't help but notice that the young woman with them was walking on two prosthetic legs.  Not that her handicap made her any more deserving of my time, but it kind of helped to crystallize a concept for me.  Today's kids (and many adults, too!) are farm handicapped.  There has been research into what has been called “Nature Deficit Disorder”...the idea that as a society we're so tuned in to our TVs, our smartphones and  iPads that we don't see nature, we no longer understand nature, and we don't value what we don't see or understand.  I think the same is ultimately true with our food system.  We don't see it, and we don't understand it, which has led to factory farms, high fructose corn syrup, GMOs, Monsanto, and all the other evils of the industrial food system.  What will it take for real change to occur?  I think it has to start one eater at a time, and it has to be something that is meaningful- something personally experienced.  What will it take to take the happy out of a Happy Meal for our kids?  I think it has to start with something they can relate to- a flurry of feathers as they feed some chickens, or soft equine breath on a hand as they pet a pony.  I don't necessarily think that I'm changing the world a cup of chicken feed at a time, but hey, it's a start.  So if you're in the neighborhood, stop by.  Feed the birds and see for yourself.  And if you're lucky, maybe you can meet Montana, or the Dexter calves, or one of the other friendly beasts that call our farm home.  Just remember to speak softly and walk slowly...which, if you think about it, is pretty good advice, no matter where you are...

 
 

Almost Open

This is generally the time of year when I usually start to panic.  As I write this, I only have 3 days left to prepare to open the farm stand for the year, and there is still so much to do!  The grass needs mowing, I have 2 cows worth of beef to pick up and organize in the freezers, a pig to butcher and sausage to grind and package, and I'm roasting coffee tomorrow.  A farmer gets used to never having a day off, but it's a lot, even for me!  

I tend to let myself get overly stressed this time of year, as I often feel like I won't have enough things to fill the tables.  It's been a challenging spring for gardening, with lots of cool temperatures and dry spells.  It snowed here and the overnight low was 24 degrees on May 12.  We may even get another frost over the weekend. So, realistically, I won't have much produce outside of rhubarb, spring onions, and greens this first week, which seems like nothing. Although I always have a customer or two ask where the sweet corn or tomatoes are the first day, most folks are very understanding.  I think more people have a better grasp on what seasonal eating means every year, which is wonderful!  

But folks stop at our farm for more than vegetables.  I actually think meats are a bigger draw, and while the broiler chickens just won't be big enough to process this week as we had hoped, I feel OK about one less major thing to do this week! We will have lots of steaks, roasts and ground beef, plus pork chops and our homemade sausages.  And while I sold much of my inventory of canned goods at the Farm to Table conference, I do have a selection of things- 5 or 6 types of jam, 3 mustards, 2 barbecue sauces, an assortment of pickles and other things.  There isn't a huge inventory of any (well, except things made with rhubarb...I've been busy canning that already) but there will be a nice selection to set out, probably 15-20 varieties.  Plus I'll be roasting coffee tomorrow and we'll have a wonderful selection of that, and Dan is picking up 6 varieties of raw milk cheese (Smoked Cheddar, Longhorn, Havarti, Dill & Bacon, Italian and Garlic & Chive) from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus tomorrow.  And this evening, one of our newest partners, Hummingbird Cafe of Tidioute, brought some of their delicious salad dressings for us to offer for sale as well! So there will be plenty of delicious, local edibles.

There will be other things as well...we've got chicks & turkey poults for sale, and they are always fun for everyone to check out when they visit.  I've got some stained glass items and lots of jewelry, and there are also some things Dan has made in the blacksmith shop we'll have for sale.  I've also been doing a little sewing, turning empty feed bags into cute recycled tote bags.  In fact, once I started setting things up in the stand, I began to wonder where I'm going to put it all, which is the best problem to have! It really helps me to relax and feel like we will be ready by Saturday at 10 AM.  But not too relaxed...there is still plenty to do before then!

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More Than Rhubarb

It's hard to believe, but by Sunday our opening day of the farm stand season will be behind us.  Now is the time where I get a bit antsy, worrying that I won't have enough things ready to fill the tables.  It's really hard to have fresh produce on May 26, especially when we've had a frost as late as June 2! (and yes, that was only two or three years ago, not ancient history!)  Although I know that we've been doing prep for months, there is only so much we can put in without running a near-certain risk of losing the plants to frost damage.  So it gets to be a little nerve-racking when opening day arrives, because it seems as hard as we try, we never have just the right weather to have a bounty of produce to fill the tables.  Yet it's bad business to have lots of empty space, so I usually spend the last couple weeks fretting about having enough for opening day.

I spent the better part of yesterday setting up the stand.  Dan rented a power washer Monday night, so the heavy scrubbing was done, but there is still a lot involved getting the tables set up, putting up tablecloth and skirting, wiping out fridges and freezers, and figuring out what I had in stock and where it all should go.  While I put the tables back in pretty much the same spots they were before, I quickly realized that, instead of worrying about how to fill all this empty table space, I needed to get creative to find a space for everything we have!

The cheese will no longer be sitting on ice, with just one example of each kind.  Thanks to my mom letting me have my old dorm fridge back, cheese will now be self-serve.  We're hoping to fit a plexiglass door on the front, but it's just not likely to happen before Saturday.  So I squeezed that next to the “free sample” table.  Also on that table is a new feature for the stand...the feather jewelry I created over the winter.  I also have cute wreaths I made from the hop vines last year.  And I have lots more canned goods starting off the year than ever before- 5 kinds of jam, 4 kinds of mustards,  6 different vinegars, dill pickles, hot pepper rings, corn relish, sweet relish, apple butter, Thai dipping sauce, 2 BBQ sauces- one made with peaches and the other with rhubarb.  Non-canned edibles include sun dried tomatoes and a couple kinds of homemade egg noodles, plus honey.  

Today I'm picking up coffee...three regular flavors plus (ground or whole bean) and an assortment of flavored coffees.  I'm really excited about getting a tasting tour of Happy Mug's coffee.  We are very excited to have a local roaster who uses organic, fair trade and farm direct beans!  We're also looking to put our own stone grinder at the stand, so folks who want to grind their own coffees can!

We'll also have meat.  The broilers may be a bit smaller than usual, but we'll have some ready to go.  We'll also have pork chops, ribs, roasts and three or four varieties of our homemade sausage.  Bacon, ham and beef will be in the very next week.  We'll have some chicken eggs, and new for this year, quail eggs as well.

Outside the stand, we've got an assortment of bedding plants.  A wide variety of herbs, plus a few tomatoes, flowers, hop vines and whatever else I started but ran out of room in the garden for.  Come Saturday, I'll bring down some of the baby chicks, turkey poults and quail.  Maybe some baby bunnies too.  There are peacock feathers, and some cat toys made from those feathers too.  I'll also have bouquets of some fresh herbs...I just need to find a place to set them!

I know since it's a farm, I'll get at least one request for fresh sweet corn or ripe tomatoes, even though I do think that folks are getting better about understanding just what seasonal means.  But even if we only have rhubarb and spring onions to pick out of the garden, I think we'll still be off to a great start for our farm stand season!

We hope you'll join us as we open for the season!  Brave the heat and stop by to say hi this Saturday, May 26, from 10 AM- 2PM.  

If you can't make it this weekend, we'll be open all the way through November!
 
 

Excited & Overwhelmed

Saturday is the official start to our farm stand season. I'm excited and overwhelmed, as usual.  Excited to see our returning customers, excited to make new friends as well.  I love being able to provide wholesome, responsibly grown food for my neighbors.  Excited to see what this growing season will bring, how new vegetable varieties will fare, what new canning creations will come out of my kitchen.

 But overwhelmed, too...I've been slowly freaking out about the garden.  The things I had planned on having for sale this weekend, by and large, just aren't ready to harvest.  We planted them at what should have been the right time, but chilly temperatures and too much rain means they are taking longer to mature.  Dan says not to worry, that folks will realize it's been a hard year to farm, they won't expect much this first week. But then I remember the lady who asked me if I wasn't hiding just a couple tomatoes behind the counter opening week last year.  Despite the fact that we just set out the transplants Monday, I'm pretty sure that I'll hear that again this week.  And I do see part of my job as a farmer/farm stand manager as educating customers about what is possible when you are growing and eating seasonally.  In education circles, this is not a crisis, just a "teachable moment".  But at least my rhubarb isn't letting me down- if nothing else, I'll have tons of that!

 It's also overwhelming to think that I won't have another free Saturday until December, but that is farm stand life.  I'm just fortunate that I no longer work away from the farm, and that Dan works with his brother, so we can take time during weekdays to do things that most people have to save for the weekends.

 The table won't be bare, either.  I have a nice selection of canned goods- flavored and home fermented vinegars, a variety of jams, mustards, and two barbecue sauces, including a brand-new creation.  When spring hands you rhubarb and you're sick of making jelly, you get creative...and end up with Sweet & Tangy Rhubarb-B-Q Sauce!  I'll have fresh herbs and even a few pots of chives after thinning my own bed. We're heading to Chambersburg today to pick up our raw milk cheese (it's the only thing we sell that we don't make ourselves) from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus.  I'll also be heading to Hirsch's to pick up our beef and our lamb kielbasa on Friday.  We'll have eggs too.  

It's a busy time.  I also hope to can just a few more batches of things, maybe dry some herbs.  The stand needs scrubbed, tables recovered, signs and price tags need to be made.  Maybe weed the garden, definitely mow the grass...which means blogging any more thoughts will need to wait til next week.

We hope to see you at the stand on Saturday! Come visit us between 10:00-2:00, right here at the farm! 

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Retiring Canned Products

I truly enjoy canning.  I love the process of creating something wonderful from scratch, something that will last for months or longer until I open it up to savor a flavor of something that was plentiful seasons ago.  I love playing around with recipes and trying out new ones.  For years, my mother in law made the stand famous with her pies and baked goods.  While I don't share her talent for baking, nothing is a bigger compliment to me than when someone says they stopped by just for my dill pickles or some carrot cake jam or any one of the products I work so hard to create.

Taking stock of what has been produced over the course of this year, I've made 9 kinds of jelly, 3 mustards, 2 salsas, various vegetable pickles using cucumbers, beets, beans and peppers, 6 vinegars, some assorted stuff like Bruschetta, Thai dipping sauce, prepared horseradish, or peach barbecue sauce, plus an assortment of dried herbs.  Now that the farm stand season is winding down to the final month, it's been on my mind to take stock and see if I want to continue all of them into next year.  

The answer is...no.

 Most of my canned products are the result of trying to preserve something I have a bounty of during the growing season.  If I have to buy all the ingredients, it may not make sense for me to expect to make a profit, especially when I factor in my time and now that I have built up a selection of recipes tailored just to what we grow.  (That's why, to the disappointment of some, I don't offer blackberry or elderberry jams...we don't grow those here!)  So that is a consideration.  The next is how time-consuming the process is, as the more involved it is the less time I can spend on the numerous other things I may need to be doing in the course of a day.  Some of the really messy or hard ones never even make it to the stand, as Dan and I will eat them when I know it's not a project I would look forward to doing again.  I had a recipe that made both blueberry butter and a blueberry ice cream sauce.   Both turned out to be delicious, but took forever, only produced a very few jars of each, and by the time I was done, everything in the kitchen was stained some shade of bluish-purple, especially me. Not a winning recipe in my book.  

But the final and most important test is whether they sell.  If my customers just aren't interested in them, it makes absolutely no sense to spend lots of time and materials making more of whatever it is. I know many folks don't want to spend their hard-earned money on something they've never heard of and might not like, so I have offered free samples of something or another all season long.  While I have a pretty good sense of what's being purchased since I work the counter every week, I also kept track of how much I made of each over the year.  If I only made a batch or two and still have most of it left, it's a good candidate for retirement.

So, I know you're curious, and yes, decisions have been made.  Fans of Carrot Cake Jam or Black Forest Preserves (chocolate & cherry flavored), don't worry.  It looks like these will be around a long, long time.  However, if you're a fan of the Gingered Pear Preserves or the Oriental Rhubarb Jam, you may want to stop by before the close of the season since you won't be seeing them in the spring. The pears don't really use much of anything produced here, even if they are tasty and not especially hard.  I can use up my rhubarb in the Orange-Rhubarb jam, which is much more popular.  This is the first time I've discontinued any of the products I make, and it is a little hard.  But I want to have room to find new recipes that I love and hope you will too!  So come by and stock up on your favorites now so you won't have to miss them over the winter, and be sure to check back next year to see what new things have been dreamed up in the meantime!

 
 

The Lack

Saturday at the stand, we had beets, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow zucchini, pattypan and crookneck squash, bell peppers, jalapeños, sweet banana & inferno banana peppers, Swiss chard, heirloom lettuce, red & white new potatoes and plum tomatoes.  We had fresh herbs- basil, Thai basil, mint, chamomile, chives and cilantro plus 4 kinds of herb seeds for growing at home, dried oregano, chamomile, and coriander.  I have personally canned and offered for sale my secret-recipe pickles in two sizes, extra hot pepper rings, 2 kinds of whole grain mustards (honey & ginger garlic), 3 flavored and one home fermented vinegar (blueberry basil, dried herb, mulled blackberry and champagne) and seven kinds of jelly (mint, hot pepper, black forest, carrot cake, cranberry-peach conserve, gingered pear and oriental rhubarb) and a sweet & hot dipping sauce.  We had free range eggs, pastured pork (bacon, ham, 4 varieties of homemade sausage, roasts, chops, ribs, ham steak & ham hock), whole farm-raised and -processed chickens, and our grass fed beef (ground beef, stew meat, sirloins, T-bones, round steaks, rib steaks, chuck roasts, R.B. roast, rolled rump roast, tip roast).  We also had (but do not make ourselves) six different flavors of raw milk cheese (cheddar, smoked cheddar, jalepeno, dill & bacon, horseradish and goat's milk) from a family-run farm & cheese house in Chambersburg, PA.  As I set up, things looked full and prosperous to me.  I feel that it is an amazing variety for a 50-acre farm worked by hand and by horse, with just 2 employees (Dan and myself- no hired help!) making sure everything gets done.

 

Imagine my frustrations then, when about 1/4 of our visitors asked variations on the question "Don't you have much of anything today?" Our sweet corn will be ready this coming weekend, as will lots more tomatoes, including the big beefsteaks.  For a quarter of my customers this past weekend, apparently that is all that is worth going to a local farm for.  Some folks were just disappointed that they had to alter the weekend's menu. For others,  "We'll have it next week"  was greeted by "but I want it this week!"  It sounded like a preschooler's tantrum, minus the foot-stomping, and was immediately followed by demands for directions to another farm that might be more cooperative. It was also a slower day, and that made it easy to feel a bit discouraged.  While I realize that as farmers, part of our responsibility to our customers is to help them understand what local and seasonal really mean, not everyone is going to be interested in that lesson, especially if it means they can't have exactly what they want whenever they want it.

 It reminded me of a speech I heard a while back at a forum on dealing with folks in poverty...the speaker addressed "the lack."  Her use of it was basically if someone is poor, they are often seen as lacking anything to contribute, but if you truly look at the person they often have non-monetary things in their favor- creativity, compassion, a good work ethic, etc.  God-given gifts that as humans we often fail to see.  I saw my farm that way this weekend; some of my folks couldn't see the bounty for the lack of corn.  I understand the seasons here and know we did everything in our power to get the corn and tomatoes to ripen (organically!!!) as soon as possible.  But I also know what an amazing meal I had last night using things that were on the table over the weekend- a ham with a glaze made from mulled blackberry vinegar, with sautéed julienned zucchini smothered in cheese and fresh herbs.  Certainly we didn't fell any lack at the table last night, other than a lack of restraint when it came to second helpings!  My beautiful plum tomatoes, which were soundly rejected as being "too meaty" by a customer looking for tomatoes, perfumed my living room as I turned them into sun dried tomatoes in my dehydrator.  So this weekend, as you patronize your favorite farm, try not to be too disappointed if you get there and don't see the product you initially came looking for.  Instead of lamenting the lack, try to celebrate the possibilities!

 
 

Open for the Season

We survived our grand opening yesterday, and I'm happy to say it was a success!  Thanks go out to all who stopped to see us, your support of local, organic food allows us to spend our time doing what we love- farming!

I admit, I have been pretty stressed about opening.  We did open for a partial season last year, but opening August 1 means lots more veggies are in season.  However, the table was NOT bare looking even though it is only May!  I've been busy with my jams, mustards and flavored vinegars, we have a nice assortment of raw milk cheese, and in addition to early crops like spring onions and rhubarb,  I also have some hardy herbs that are already needing to be cut.   We also had lots of pork and our first chicken of the year.  While we did sell out of one or two things, overall we had enough to keep the table filled all day.  My other fear was that no one would come, but we had a wonderful turnout.  So now that the opening is over, I'll be much less anxious about the coming weeks.  

The garden is looking greener every day.  Last week we put in 10 flats of transplants, so the plastic I put down is now filled and then some!  It's hard to believe, but our last killing frost was actually in June last year, so as much as we wanted to plant earlier, we also hated to take the chance of losing all our seedlings one chilly night.  Here in northwest PA, the general wisdom is that it is safe to garden after Memorial Day, so here's hoping that it will be great gardening weather from here on out.  We're planning on putting in some of our least frost tolerant seeds later today as well as planting beans and lettuce again so we can continue harvesting them throughout the season.  The peas are blooming, so they will be ripening quickly, and I know we'll be overrun with zucchini before long.  We've got more rhubarb than I can even describe right now, so I'm going to try and come up with something fun to can this week, so who knows what will be new for sale by next Saturday!

We hope you have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend, and we hope you'll be able to visit us on Saturdays! 

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Counting Down to Opening Day

Only 9 more days until we reopen for the year!  I'm excited and overwhelmed all at the same time.  I'm glad I was able to take 2 more days away from my day job next week, because as it is I put in almost a full day every evening after I get home.  There is so much to do!

I bottled my first homemade vinegar this week.  It's champagne vinegar, made with nothing but champagne (ok, domestic sparkling wine) a little water, mother of vinegar, and time.  It's fantastic!! I'll have a few bottles for sale and I've already started the next batch, but it will be a few months before it's ready.  I've been drying herbs in my little food dehydrator, so far I've packaged chamomile and some oregano.  I need a bigger drying space!  

We got some quail eggs and set them in the incubator last night, along with some Delaware chicken eggs from my girls here.  If all goes well, we'll have quail eggs & meat for sale by mid summer.  The Delawares will be to increase my laying flock, because those are my most productive and favorites of all the breeds we raise.

I was going to transplant some zucchini and pepper plants just now, but I see a wild turkey at the edge of the garden right now.  They are so neat to have around, I'll let him clean up some insects before I go out to plant, as I still have a few hours of daylight left. 

We still need to clean up the stand, but the fridge is plugged in and full of cheese.  Tom, Dan's father,  picked up our first order of raw milk cheese from Whispering Brook Cheese Haus, so we're set to go with that again.  New this year (for us) is a cheddar made from goat's milk and an Italian cheese with sun dried tomato chips, basil, and garlic.  We also got a lot of the Dill & Bacon cheddar which was so good we sold out of it the first day we had it last year.  We also have Longhorn (Colby), Mild Cheddar, Smoked Sharp Cheddar, Jalapeño, and Horseradish again this year as well. So now I just need to forget it's down there so there is some left to sell!  

I've been working on updating the website page with products and prices.  A good portion of it is already live, but I'm holding off on listing the veggies yet.  I don't want to advertise things only to find they just didn't ripen in time for the first weekend.  I do try and go out to the garden nightly while I'm tending the rabbits... maybe if I just stare hard enough, I'll magically make the peas ripes or something...

I've also been working hard on getting the June e-newsletter completed.  It's almost ready to go out, hopefully I'll have the time to get that out next week.  We also participated in donating wool & hair for the oil spill, but that's a story I don't have time to type out tonight!  There is still so much to be done, and I won't get it finished if I'm blogging.  We hope to be seeing you next weekend! 

 
 

Butchering Season Begins Again

The trailer from our local meat processor just left with some of our pigs on board.  By law, we're required to send them to a USDA-inspected slaughtering facility.  We are able to process the sides of meat here at the farm, which means a busy week next week.  I'm usually in charge of the wrapping & labeling of our pork products, as well  as mixing up the herbs & spices for our multiple sausage varieties.  Some of the pigs that left today will go towards filling last fall's freezer pork orders, and the rest will be frozen for sale at the stand when we open at the end of the month.  We'll have fresh pork as well, but we like to have some frozen on hand too, and this allows the necessary time for the smoking & curing of the hams and bacons so we'll be able to have those as well.  It was nice to have a break from meat processing over the winter, but it's that time of the year again. It really takes a lot of planning to get everything scheduled properly!

We moved our broiler chickens to a larger pen today.  We want to get them out on pasture as soon as possible, but it actually snowed here today and these birds just don't handle cold & wet weather well.  To keep them healthy without pumping them full of antibiotics, we decided it was best to put them in another indoor pen with a raised floor, but we'll be watching the weather to get them out on grass as soon as possible. Unlike the pork, we are able to process our chicken start to finish here at the farm, so that will take place just a couple of days before our opening day.  Not only will we have some chicken available at the reopening of the stand, we also have a new batch of broiler birds arriving this week.  They will be able to be out on grass for a longer period of time, as we hope the weather will cooperate when they no longer need their heat lamps in a few weeks. 

The cold continues tonight, with frost forecasted.  We're a bit concerned about some of the crops, like sweet corn and blueberries, but the majority of what's in the ground, like lettuce and onions, won't be damaged if it gets nipped by frost.   It's so exciting to actually see veggies up, and I even have some early radishes to incorporate into our dinner tonight.

I was delighted with the new bottles that arrived this week and have been in the process of filling them with flavored vinegars.  Our Thai Sweet & Hot dipping sauce will be in them as well, so be sure to check them out when you stop to see us! 

 
 

Closed for the Season

This was the first weekend our farm stand has not been open for business.  It's just too hard to grow much produce in December in northwestern Pennsylvania, and there comes a point when the butchering is also over for the year.  That point would be now.  All the creatures still here will be with us over the winter, either for breeding or providing meat for the stand's opening next year.  We are tentatively planning on being open for Memorial Day weekend, 2010, but that sure seems far away! 

Although I'm a big fan of sleeping in on the rare occasion I can, it sure seemed strange not to wake early to an alarm yesterday.  I felt like I should be gathering things to take down to the stand, and straightening up what was there already.  I can't say I was truly sorry to be in my nice warm house for those 4 hours though, since the temperatures ranged from mid 20's up to a high of about 32 yesterday. We've removed all the products and stored them ourselves.  Things like potatoes or winter squash will keep in the basement nearly all winter, but aren't much good to eat if they freeze sitting down on the concrete in the stand.  All the jars are safely put away in the pantry as well.  But there is no such thing as empty space on the farm, as within the week the stand was full again...but this time with animal food! We had a large amount of feed delivered which, along with our homegrown hay and corn, should keep the critters happy and full for quite a while to come!

 I'm often asked these days if the work is pretty well done for the year.  It sure hasn't seemed like it lately, but that probably has more to do with being called back to a full time job than with what's really going on here.  While we are busy every day, it isn't with major farm activities like plowing, planting or hay making.  Now it's cleaning up around the hog house and doing some home improvement projects we've talked about for months. I've even pulled out some Christmas decorations, and if it ever warms up above 25, maybe I'll get outside and finally take down the sagging cornstalks on the porch and replace them with some festive lighting!

 Thanks again to everyone who stopped by our farm stand these past few months.  If it weren't for people like you, who appreciate food that is local, organic, home-grown, hormone-free, and fresh,  we wouldn't be able to do what we love. We hope to see each and every one of you again next year, and in the meantime I'll be blogging so you can stay connected to what's going on here!

 

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Opening the Stand

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to see us at the stand's reopening on Saturday!  After being closed for over 3 years, we weren't sure what kind of turnout we would have.  Once the stand opened, everything ran smoothly, but we did have a little more craziness than expected that morning.  Frankie Blue Eyes, a rabbit, has been on the loose for about a month, but as he was doing no damage, we didn't try real hard to catch him.  Of course, Saturday morning he discovered the cabbage transplants we had set out 2 weeks ago and was systematically eating them all. After catching him, which required both Dan and I and a large net on a pole, we had to catch the other 2 boys from that pen.  They have not been out since we put wire on the floor of the moveable pen months ago, but not only were they hopping through the yard, but the cats were chasing them.  Now the cats have never chased Frankie, but the other boys must have looked like lunch because the cats were really being aggressive.  Finally the rabbits are put away, the stand is stocked, and I go to change into something a little nicer than muddy jeans and wet sneakers.  Having a few minutes to spare, I thought I'd go into the barnyard and cut a bit of chammomile to pretty up the checkout counter.  As I, in a skirt no less, am cutting stems, around the corner of the building comes Wilbur, our boar hog.  Now the last thing I wanted was a mud covered 800 pound creature coming to rub all over my nice clean clothes, but Wil thought I might be interested in scratching his back like usual.  I'm not sure he understood my threats of turning him into bacon if he got any closer, but we settled on a compromise...I scratched behind his ears and decided that I had enough flowers!  

I got to the stand and hoped my animal excitement was over for the day.  However, Puff had other ideas.  Puff is a great big fluffy housecat that I raised by hand after his mother was killed on the road.  Puff was 3 weeks old then and is now 8 years old and spoiled rotten.  Puff strode into the stand as if he owned it, and being carried back out several times did not deter him.  He thought about jumping up on my table of sauces, probably because they are all in glass jars and they'd make a great mess if he knocked them onto the cement floor.  Luckily for me, that was too much work for a lazy cat.  Then the people started coming in.  I was excited to have customers and Puff was excited to have visitors!  He lay in the very middle of the floor and seemed quite pleased to have new friends to pet him.  Apparently there were too many new friends because he jumped into the horse drawn sleigh and went to sleep.  After awhile he'd feel more sociable and be back down oon the floor, then back to the sleigh again.  I will be back at the stand on Saturday from 10 am-2pm and I imagine "Puff the Farm Stand Mascot" will be too.  We hope to see you there!

 

 
 

More Maternity Ward News

The official opening of the farm stand is set for Saturday, August 1st from 10 AM-2PM!  We will then be open every Saturday through the fall during those hours. We are excited to see some of Pleasant Valley's returning customers and meet some new ones!  We will still be carrying fresh, organic produce and a limited amount of chicken and pork.  I'll be introducing my fresh organic herbs and some sauces, including the blueberry-basil vinegar I prepared over the weekend. I also want to thank my mom, who came to visit over the weekend.  She gladly helped us clean out the stand.  Since it has not been used by the public in 3 years, it was full of stuff and dust!  Mom's organizational skills really did wonders putting it in order and we'll have it ready to go in no time now!

The goats' "maternity ward" is getting even busier.  On Saturday, Caramel, Mocha's twin sister, delivered her own set of twins, bringing the total number of kids born up to 9.  Another first time mom, Caramel is doing well so far taking care of her babies.  She is still in a pen in the barn, but we hope to let her out soon.  The smaller twin, a female, was pretty weak at birth, but seems to be hungry and growing, but we want to give her the best start so we'll wait until she is a bit more steady on her feet before turning them out with the other babies. As for the rest of the kids, they're growing like weeds!  Even the little triplet, who we were so afraid wouldn't make it, is happily bouncing about the pasture.  All the babies have discovered that it is fun to climb up on a pile of firewood stacked between two trees in the pasture...it is really amazing to watch them do this, knowing they are less than a week old when they are able to use it as a jungle gym!   Mocha has craeted her own schedule when it comes to her kids.  Unless we keep her locked up inside, she jumps the gate and trots out to join the rest of the goats in the larger pasture.  I thought she missed her twin, Caramel, but even with Caramel in the small barn, Mocha still escapes out to the fields.  However, in a few hours she hops back in and calls for her babies.  The twins spend the time she's gone either playing or napping and don't really seem to mind.  As long as everyone is happy and healthy, I'm willing to let her keep this up.

 
 
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