Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

It's hard to believe we're over a week into 2013 already! Looking back, 2012 was a year of great successes, but also great sorrow. Putting up the greenhouse was a major achievement, and I had far more success in starting seed than ever before. Despite the craziness in weather, the garden produced bountiful amounts of delicious produce, including tomatoes from June into October. We grew some awesome new flavors in the garden; winners included Pineapple Tomatillos, Fingerling Potatoes and Jimmy Nardello's Italian Frying Peppers. It was a more successful year for melons than I've seen before. Plenty of babies were born (sheep, rabbits, calves, chicks, quail, turkeys, kittens), including the first calf to be bred here at the farm from our bull. Yet again, I was able to be home on the farm full time, a major achievement in itself. I created new favorites in the canning kitchen, making Pineapple-Jalapeno Jam, Rhubarb Marmalade, and Bread & Butter Pickles. Dan and I (with some help from our friends) put up a new building, creating a blacksmith shop which also included some space where I could set up a stained glass studio. Dan has improved his smithing skills and has also learned to make some fantastic knives and other blades, while I taught myself both jewelry making and stained glass this past year. Off the farm, I shared what we do at Pittsburgh's Farm to Table conference and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy's national conference in North Carolina. Closer to home, I talked about the importance of healthy, local food to a United Way group of families and at a luncheon for diabetes awareness, and also at a meeting of our local Lion's Club. I got to learn all about roasting coffee thanks to Matt Shay at Happy Mug Coffee.  I was interviewed and featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article for the Farm to Table conference (complete with a picture of me and our team!) and my blog was even features in an issue of edible Allegheny magazine! Whew! A LOT of great things!

But there was heartache too. In July, my cat Puff, a companion of 11 years and self-appointed farm stand mascot, was lost. All that was found was some fur in the woods, as though he lost a fight with something large and with teeth. Six weeks later, my beloved Morgan mare Sara, my best friend for 20 years, passed away in my arms. On a farm with lots of animals, there will always be losses, and life does go on for the rest, but these were the two creatures that were part of my life before I met Dan and became a farmeress, and losing both so quickly was not easy. But as life moves on, other special creatures arrive. I hope to take more time blogging in the near future and tell you all about Little Puff the cat and Montana the horse, both whom arrived on the farm last year but haven't made it into my writings yet. In the garden, sweet corn season was disappointingly short, and the salsify proved to be tricky as well, and by the end of the year there were more weeds than I like to admit (and something I vow to do better at each new year!). I also wish I'd have put up more corn and peppers in the freezer and saved seed from a few more plants. But, I need to remember that there will always be things that don't quite measure up to the standard of perfection in my head.  After all, finding happiness in life involves celebrating the successes and moving forward, not dwelling on what could have been done better.

2013 so far has brought lots of snow, meaning we had much work to do in keeping the snow off of the greenhouse. Letting snow build up on the plastic will actually lead to the metal supports inside bending and can bring about the collapse of the entire building, so it's one of those things that HAVE to be done, even if it means setting the alarm clock for the middle of the night, just to check. But we're already looking forward to growing again. I spent yesterday inventorying seeds so I have an accurate picture of what we'll need to order. Dan says it's too early to be looking at seed catalogs, but it feels like time to me.  With the success of the sprout house last year, I'm eager to try new and exotic flavors that are only possible when you start your own plants, with special attention to tomatoes, peppers and melons. I'm always excited to try new herbs, and am kicking around the idea of starting some flowers before too long, with hopes of having them blooming by Mother's Day. I'm excited to be incorporating stained glass into my jewelry making, especially the new things I've been making by recycling old seed catalogs. I think the pendants made with pictures of flowers, herbs, and vegetables are really fun! My online store continues to grow, featuring lots of both jewelry and canned goods, which is a great help this time of year. (Check it out here!) Although it's cold and snowy, lambing season is little more than a month away, and soon the incubator will be humming and hatching. It's also time to round up some of my free-ranging yard bunnies so we can offer Easter bunnies as well. I've got two speeches lined up for March, one for an event put on by a group of Master Gardeners, the other at this year's Farm to Table (on heirloom seeds and canning, respectively), so I'll need to prepare for those soon, too.

I'm confident that 2013 will be full of farm babies, sprouts, delicious produce and tasty local flavor. I know there will be great successes, but that they will also be tempered by things that don't go as planned, but that is the nature of farming, and truly, of life in general. I'm excited to pursue all the wonderful things I so enjoy doing here- caring for the animals, gardening and growing, canning and cooking, and making beautiful things like jewelry and stained glass. Maybe this will be the year I learn to sew more than just curtains, really play the guitar, get back into yoga, write a book (or two!), get back into oil painting, or start a new hobby- I'd like to try woodworking, leather crafting, or making soaps, lotions, scents, and candles. As always, there are a stack of books I want to find time to read. Maybe I'll get around to training Ponyboy to do something useful or painting the room we've worked on turning into a library.  While I know not all of these will happen (this year, anyway), there is no harm in dreaming big.

This year, as every year, my most sincere wish is to dream and then do, to create and to love. I wish that and a very happy 2013 to all of our farm stand friends, and to all of you who take time out of your busy lives to read my ramblings. May the coming year be joyous and productive for you all.


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 !)  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!

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