Pleasant Valley Farm

  (Tionesta, Pennsylvania)
Real Family Farming in Tionesta, PA
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Tour Time!

If you live on a small farm, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll be asked to do tours from time to time. People don't have personal connections to how their food is grown anymore, and lots of people don't have connections to animals either, not even pets.  So it's no wonder that a farm like ours is a source of interest.  In my previous life I was in adult education, and I do think it's important to give people of all ages the opportunity to learn new things, and as farmers I believe we have a duty to engage those interested in learning more if we want to succeed both as businesses and as advocates for knowing and supporting where your food comes from.  It's really impossible to tell people that they need to take personal responsibility for knowing what they are putting into their bodies, but not allow anyone to ever look around our own farms.  That being said (and as I talked about in my last entry) my farm is also my home, and I'm not going to indulge everyone who just shows up and wants to walk around, I couldn't or I wouldn't get my farming done!  I am however, willing to coordinate with groups, especially for educational purposes, as long as we can get it set up far enough ahead of time.

So yesterday, I was excited to host a group of youth from Clarion University's Educational Talent Search program.  This is a program open to kids in grades 7-12, as a way to tour different places and give them some new perspectives on what careers are out there, perhaps introducing the kids to something they never thought of as a viable occupation before.  I had talked with their advisor and had set up that they would arrive in the morning, we would tour the barn and the animals, they would go to nearby Tionesta Lake for their bagged lunch (call me selfish, but I just wasn't willing to have 20-30 kids tromping through my house to use the single bathroom, so that was a nice alternative!) and when they returned we would take a look at the garden, talk a bit about the plants, they would plant a seed to take home, and we would have time for a question and answer session about anything they had seen before the bus pulled away.  The weather was perfect, not too hot, and sunny, and everything else went almost flawlessly.  Almost, in that the horses refused to come into the barn in the morning before the kids arrived, except Sara.  So I was able to let the kids pet her before turning her back out with the other (misbehaving) equines.  The cows were almost too friendly, sneaking into the open barn while we looked at the pigs, but the kids got to see them up close as well.  Even the rabbits seemed charmed by the kids, and Scotchie patiently ate blades of grass out of as many hands as cared to feed her.  The boys in particular seemed to enjoy looking at the horse drawn equipment.  The kids were great listeners and stayed together as a group, heeding my requests to watch where they stepped in the garden.  The kids all had the option of planting something to take home with them; basil, sage, chive or Swiss Chard, and I had enough that everyone was able to plant their first choice.  As we got to the Q & A, I got some thoughtful questions, like "how do you water your garden?"  and "Do deer eat your plants?" to some unexpected ones- "Are there any palomino colored cows besides Guernseys?" or "Do you trim the turkeys' beards?"  We talked a bit about the different careers a small farm like this encompasses- from horticulture to animal husbandry, to being an entrepreneur or a butcher or advertising & web design.

 We probably would have come up with many more, but some of the kids noticed that the big horses had come out of the far reaches of the pasture and were under the trees by the barn.  I was able to put all the horses in their stalls, so we ended the day by seeing all the horses up close, and all were gracious about letting many hands pet them, even Ponyboy, who can be quite skittish (even with Dan and I) at times.  The most popular question by far was whether it was possible to ride our impressively large Belgians, which I assured the kids we were able to do.  At that point, it was time to board the bus for the return trip, each youth armed with a planted seed and instructions for its care and use, as well as a paper listing resources for finding our more about farms and food.  I sincerely hope that the little seeds in the paper cups grow for each and every one who was here, and I also hope, even in a small way, I was able to plant some seeds in their mind, whether it is just to look for small farm to connect with instead of only shopping at Wal-Mart, up to introducing the idea that farmer is still an occupational choice, even in this modern age.  We need all the good ones we can get! 


A New Season Begins

A new season is here at our farm!  Yes, it's officially summer now, although it's been pretty hot with lots of thunderstorms for some time now.  As I mentioned in my last post, we're transitioning to a new season in our lives as well.  Tomorrow is my official last day of off-farm work.  I'm excited, optimistic, and yes, a little nervous about where this will lead.  I'm walking away from what I've known for the past five years, but during the "test run" of a 3-month layoff last fall, I came to know, without a doubt, that this is really where my heart lies.  Will I have to find another day job or will the farm be enough?  I don't know.  I do know I have a vision of what I'd like the farm to be someday.  A teaching place.  A place where anyone can learn about how food is grown. How it is possible to build up the soil rather than destroy it while producing your crops.  How to raise animals in a way that is humane, sustainable and healthy for the creatures, the people and the environment.  How to partner with horses to work the land like Americans have done for generations, before our dependence on oil put a tractor in nearly every field (and why this part of our lives doesn't have anything to do with being Amish).  What an heirloom plant or heritage livestock breed looks like, what it tastes like, why it's valuable and how we can save them.  I'm not sure exactly how this will work or what it will look like.  I am excited to take a small step in that direction July 24th by being part of the PA Buy Fresh Buy Local farm tour.  I'll be showcasing the poultry on a short walking tour, letting people see our birds and letting them know more about what we raise and why.  We'll see where it goes from there!

The garden is thriving in this weather.  My heirloom lettuces, Grandpa Admire's and Crisp Mint Romaine, have taken the heat well so far and didn't bitter like some of the other varieties.  Peas are here, both sugar and shelling.  The borage (a beautiful herb that tastes like a cucumber) is in bloom already.  The green onions are rapidly growing into big onions. Tiny zucchini and summer squash are appearing with the promise of being plentiful as always. Little green tomatoes have appeared, and so far no reports of the blight that plagued farms in our area last year.  More treasures appear every day.  I swear you can see the corn stalks' growth between morning and night!   The hay fields are also more than ready, and with a break in the predicted thunderstorms we'll be mowing hay Friday with any luck. A great time to be in the fields.

All the animals are thriving on pasture.  We recently got a couple more beef cows that have joined the herd without incident.  This weekend we're anticipating the loan of a Dexter bull along with a Dexter cow to milk and a calf to raise.  One of my doe rabbits just had 6 healthy babies.  The spring lambs are growing so fast on the lush pasture, some of the boys are nearly as tall as their mothers.  The turkeys are growing by leaps and bounds, with the males attempting some hilarious-sounding teenage gobbles.  While the peafowl are finished laying eggs for the year, the eggs are in the incubator and I'm anxious to see if we have a successful hatch. A wonderful time to have animals.

I've begun canning garden excess, so far I've made 2 rhubarb jams- one with oranges, the other with ginger and oriental spices.  I have new batches of homemade vinegars fermenting, and I'm excited to try some  herbal or fruit infusions with them when they are ready.  There are new mustard recipes to try, including my quest to master a good champagne-dill one.  I was trying to use Google to find an alternate recipe last night, and I had to laugh when my blog entry about my utter failure with this earlier in the year was the #4 result when I typed "champagne dill mustard recipe"! A superb time to use up the bounty of the garden, to try new recipes, to create my own.

Tomorrow, I'll come home and put the khaki slacks away.  (ok, I'll wash them first.)  I'll put on my jeans and barn boots, and begin a new day, a new season.  I don't know how long it will last or what storms lay on the horizon, but I'm excited.  I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be, and I can't wait to have more time to put my hands in the dirt. 

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