Pleasant Valley Farm

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


Thoughts on Eating Seasonally

As I finished setting up the store this weekend, I really noticed how the look of it has changed from the beginning of the season.  Gone are the piles of zucchini  and summer squash. Taking their place are a colorful selection of winter squash and pumpkins.  Tomatoes are nowhere to be found, except in the homemade jars of salsa for sale.  Sweet corn has been replaced by corn shocks and ornamental corn.  Heads of lettuce have given way to heads of cabbage.  Even the sunflowers we placed on the table for decoration have ceased to bloom, and are now being sold, full of seed, as all-natural bird feeders.

Even though I grew up away from farming, I still lived in the country enough to have an awareness of seasonal eating.  Sweet corn from the store was never good, it was best bought from the back of a pickup, especially if that pickup happened to be at the ice cream stand just a block away!  As children, my brothers, sisters and I knew when to roam the woods looking for blackberries and blueberries.  It was, to us, just something everyone knew was true...those store bought blackberries in January were no match for the good stuff that left your hands stained after a day of picking in the summer sunshine!

 When you stop and think, it is an amazing thing that any fruit or vegetable you want can be found, year round, at any local grocery store.  Do you really need to have tomatoes available all year?  It seems many Americans would answer "yes!" without pausing to think about where the vegetables and fruit are coming from, how they are transported across the globe just so we have the option of having them any given week of the year.  It's a luxury we don't even think about.  The longer I am on the farm, the more my eating habits turn with the seasons...while summer is for chicken salad on a bed of fresh greens with tomatoes and cucumber, fall leans more toward a baked squash with sausage and onion stuffing.  While this has been a process, it's one I wasn't really aware I was making.  Sometimes it's kind of a jolt to realize that not everyone is so aware, and that happened a few times today.  An older gentleman asked me where my sweet corn was.  I explained that October is too late in the year for that vegetable to grow here, and the look on his face said that he couldn't understand what farm stand wouldn't offer corn on demand like any self-respecting grocery store.  Another woman commented that it must be fall since there wasn't much on the table.  Both walked out empty handed.  I though about her comment, then tried to see my table the same way...but the potatoes, onions, peppers, cabbage,squash, etc got in my way.  All I could see was a bountiful harvest.  To be sure, there were items that were missing from the grocery store's standards, but to me those vegetables taste all the sweeter when they are fresh and in season, even if that means missing them for months out of the year.  After all, there's always something else in season to make a delicious meal from! 



First Taste of Summer

Summer is officially here! The garden is so close to full production I can almost taste it when we go out in the evenings. Actually I guess we have tasted it- I've been able to make a few small salads with fresh greens, spring onions and a few baby radishes, served with a delishious bluberry-basil vinegrette from vinegar I made myself! Delicious!  The peas are blooming, as are the tomatoes and zucchini and last night we put up trellis for our rapidly growing pole and lima beans.  I have a few hot peppers that are getting to pickable size, now I'm busy looking over my canning cookbooks for a good hot pepper relish. If you have a good recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  I can't wait to get started canning for the summer! 

Hay production is going well, as of last week we had 2 entire fields dry and put up in the barn, which put us exactly 2 fields ahead of where we were last year! Dan spent yesterday cutting more, and if the weather is as beautiful as the forcasters are predicting, we will hopefully be done with our first cutting hay by the weekend, including the oat hay which I cultipacted much earlier in this blog.  The fields that have already been cut are growing back at an amazing rate, and we fully expect to be getting a good second crop later this summer.

Our broiler chickens have done so well out on grass, despite the unpredictable weather, that they've reached butchering size in just 7 weeks.  We started processing the first ones last night and hope to wrap this batch up by the weekend.  Chicken is the one thing we butcher start to finish here at the farm, but I don't mind too much.  Dan and I each have jobs to take care of during the process, and it runs pretty smoothly.  We have had orders rolling in for our chicken so if you are interested, contact us soon.  We're already sold out until mid to late August, so don't miss out!   For me, the first real taste of summer comes with some absolutely fresh chicken cooked over our charcoal grill with a wonderful garden salad. 

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