Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

It's hard to believe 2010 will be history in a few short days.  What a year it has been!  It was exciting to be open for a full season, which was a first for me.  It was a big leap to go from a full time job away from the farm to being here full time, but I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and the elimination of my work position was just a way to show me that I was ready for this new challenge.  It gave me the time to expand the different products I make here, and it's amazing to look back (or in the pantry!) and see the variety of goodies that came from the garden and the kitchen.  Making vinegar was a new adventure, and one that turned out very well.  I really got more comfortable in the kitchen with old and new recipes and have really come to enjoy cooking with cast iron, something that was pretty much foreign to me at this time last year.  I only hope to get a good industrial blender for mustard making in the new year, as I ruined not one, but two this past year trying to blend up experimental new batches that were a bit on the thick side!

We had a nearly ideal growing season for almost everything this year.  While the nights didn't get quite cool enough for the sweet corn and we did get hit by the late blight (thankfully it was at the end of tomato season anyway) the garden was amazing.  It's nearly unbelievable how much food came out of such a small space.   We had heaps of beets, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, rhubarb...the list could go on!  Of course, there is always room for improvement...I'd like to hope I'll do better weeding the garden next year, and find a better way to keep the birds (sparrows and the like, not my birds) from carrying off the blueberry crop.  All in all though, the hardest part of the garden this year will be the same as last, and that is narrowing down all the seeds I'd like to buy to a list we can afford, both financially and with garden space!

There were changes in the livestock, too.  We got out of the goat breeding business but added heritage turkeys.  We doubled our permanent Dexter cow herd to two brood cows.  Peachicks (baby peacocks) hatched here for the first time.  The sows continue to deliver healthy litters of piglets and the sheep had a nice crop of lambs.  I continue to get more comfortable driving the horses and using different machinery.  Running the plastic mulch layer was a fun first this year.

 The meats went well too. Our little farm produced not only a nice variety, but an amazing quantity as well.  We couldn't keep our chickens in stock, which is a great thing! I have really improved my plucking skills, too- practice makes perfect!  Pork continues to be our #1 meat, and folks come looking for the Italian sausages now too, which is neat.  The beef and lamb also sell well, and I think I've gotten to the point where I really understand each cut of meat, how to prepare it, and what cut to recommend if a customer is looking to make a particular recipe.  That was something completely overwhelming to me not that long ago, but since we rely on what we raise for our own groceries, I can say I've learned how to use everything by trial and error in my own kitchen!  We also renovated our meat processing kitchen, putting down a new easy-to-clean floor and repainting.  We also made a huge improvement when Dan installed an industrial sink & spray faucet and built a new, larger meat cutting area.  Those improvements will serve us well for years to come.

So after all this success, how can I possibly hope for more next year?  Because I want to continue to grow, both as a person and as a business.  I'm looking forward to hatching our own little Bourbon Red turkey poults and transitioning to only heritage turkeys for sale at Thanksgiving.  We'll also be butchering a Dexter for beef at some point (Lil's male calf from this year, not one of the girls), and again, we're looking to make a transition towards farm-raised heritage breeds.  Lil and Finni are both expected to have a calf in late spring or early summer, which is also really exciting.  I've never seen a calf born here, and Dan misses it from the days when this was a dairy farm.  And speaking of dairy, we're expecting to transition our household to Dexter milk when this happens, so milkmaid (and possibly amateur cheese artisan!) will be yet another title to add to my job description.  We'll try more heirloom vegetables in the garden this year.  I hope to finally build a new rabbit hutch.  Dan is working on setting up a place to do blacksmithing here.  There are always lots of repairs to be done and although we did lots last year, there is still a long list of things we'd like to see completed in the coming year, like repairing the milkhouse, replacing the steel roof on the upper side of the barn and painting everywhere-house, barn, hog house, etc.  I'm sure some of it will get done and some will be on the list for 2012, we'll just wait and see which is which!

Finally, I have a new challenge/adventure for the coming year.  I would love to incorporate what I do now with the skills I have from college and away-from-farm work.  I'd love to be able to supplement the farm income by going out and speaking about why farms are important, why how your food is grown matters, and all the things that I, as an educated adult, really never thought about or knew anything about before I came to the farm.  I'd like to be not only a speaker, but an advocate for farming.  It's an idea I've tossed around for a while, and I'm really excited to announce that this too is coming to fruition.  In March, I'll be putting on an hour-long presentation about Heritage Livestock breeds and why they matter at the Farm to Table conference in Pittsburgh.   I'll be sure to post all the details when I get them, and I hope some of you will come out to see me there.

A sincere thanks to everyone who has supported our farm over the past year through your patronage or just by following our adventures here online.  We couldn't do what we love without you!  We hope to see you again in 2011, and send our wishes for a healthy and happy New Year to your family! 



Giving Thanks

It's (almost) Thanksgiving, and we have had so much to be thankful for this year.  Both Dan and I and our animals are healthy, which is always the biggest thing to be appreciative of.  Considering the less-than-ideal growing season, our garden did splendidly overall.  We were able to put up enough hay not only to get through the winter, but with enough extra we had no worries about buying another cow. Virtually every jar I canned sealed up, and all the new recipes I tried this year turned out to be delicious.  A majority of both the goats and sheep born this year were girls, so we're building up our herd and flock faster than expected.  And we are especially thankful that so many people remembered our farm and came back as customers after a 3+ year hiatus, and we also met many new friends this year.  I'm thankful for LocalHarvest giving me the space to write this blog, and grateful to all of you who take time out of your busy lives to read it. 

Although you might expect us to be having a feast of homegrown food tomorrow, we are traveling.  Both Dan's parents and my mom live in the middle part of the state, so it can be tricky to plan how to make an 8-hour round trip, have time to enjoy family, and make sure the animals are fed as well.  Unfortunately this year, Dan and I won't be together, but we'll each be spending precious time with our own families, and we can cook a homemade feast another day.  Dan and his brother left today to see not only their parents, but their grandfather as well.  He's getting up in years and is not in the best of health, so every holiday is precious. I will get to do some heavy lifting to burn off all of that turkey, as my mom just bought a house, and since the closing was this week, my siblings and I will pay for dinner by helping her move. Although she told me more than once that she wants us to enjoy our time together, she's also excited about boys with trucks coming!

 It's hard to leave the farm, you always worry that something will happen and whoever you left in charge won't be able to handle it.  Dan tried to make things as easy on me as possible tonight by filling up all the self feeders, bringing the cows in early, and making sure there was plenty of firewood in the house for me to keep warm.  I came home from work, optimistic I would have an easy night, just collecting eggs and feeding a bit of hay to the critters in the barn.  As I walked to the barn in the drizzling rain, I noticed Dixie seemed a bit upset.  This made sense because Dixie is afraid of pigs, and Wilbur and Charlotte were near the pond, which is part of the pasture but NOT part of the hog run! So I've got nearly a ton of loose pork, and I'm not sure where Fern was lurking.  Bribery is always the best option in these situations, so I grabbed a feed scoop, opened the hog house door, and nearly had a heart attack when Fern jumped up on the boards inside, looking me in the eye and waiting for her dinner.  I fed her, opened the inner pen door, and went outside rattling my feed scoop and calling the other two pigs for dinner with the "Woof, woof, piggies!!" they are used to hearing.  Char gladly trotted right behind me and into the pen. Wilbur didn't want to come in the building, he wanted through the fence, and it is now pouring as hard as it's rained all year.  As the water drips down my sleeves and collar, I'm chasing the 750-pound boar around with a feed scoop.  Mildly annoyed, he uproots a part of the fence and heads for the feed inside.  After making sure all doors and gates are latched, I need to figure out why he didn't get shocked by the electric fence during this stunt. I replace the fence post he knocked down as best as I can and head for the fencer up by the house.  It's not clicking, so there is a problem.  Following the extension cord, I find it's not p[lugged in.  So that is an easy fix, and I'll hope all is well when I leave in the morning for my turkey day journey.  Dan will be home by evening chore time, and I'll have a few days to spend with my family. Dan will even be running the stand for me on Saturday so I don't have to hurry back.  I do feel bad that I'll miss our last open weekend for the year, but I know Dan and Matt will be just as capable of running it, so feel free to stop by and stock up for winter!

From our farm to your family, we wish you safe travels, plentiful tables, and quality time with the ones you love.  Happy Thanksgiving! 



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