2019 In a Nutshell – Farm, Life, Love

WELL I’ve never had a year fly by so fast and yet so memorably.

Its going to take a bit of backtracking and hopefully 2020 brings more time for blogging to stay up to speed throughout the seasons, but 2019 started with a new career move for me, and planning our wedding for fall. Not only planning our wedding, but planning our garden to grow most of the flowers for it too!

I couldn’t have done the flower planning without my bff Kate, who runs her own Dahlia operation and supplied dahlias for our wedding also. ( Check out Cold Water Flowers in Greencastle, PA!) Early in the year we sat down and planned out spacing, timing, supplies, and everything I’d need to transition from veggie farmer to florist for the year. And guess what, I caught the bug. Hard!

Florals turned out to be an incredible supplement to our heirloom veggies for local sales, and the added bonus of a beautiful harvest to look at/flower rows to walk through daily isn’t bad either! It was a constant reminder in a time of hectic chaos during summer to stop and take a breath, and appreciate the beauty around me. The blooms were a perfect fit to our wedding (see wedding post!) and tied in with most things being either from our farm, our families, homemade, etc. Yes, it was a little stressful every time a bad storm would hit… I anxiously would run out to check on everything, but if I had to do it again I’d only grow more. Oh wait, that’s this year….

Now aside from flowers, we still grew all our usual organic heirloom veggies this summer. In addition to our roadside stand at the farm, we also started taking produce to a local cooperative store, “Beyond the Blend” market in Berwick, Pa. This adorable shop is right next to a coffee bistro, and sells all things homegrown/homemade/local to the area. They turned out to be a wonderful outlet for us to not only sell our product, but meet so many new farm friends and local patrons in the process! Networking is something I hadn’t had much time for when working full time, wedding planning, and setting up our own farm operation so it was a blessing to meet a few new friends this way. It did take a bit more effort and chunk of time for me to be solely tending, harvesting, washing/prepping, and transporting to market, but I was able to manage it by using one day a week for harvesting / prepping (usually the day before), and having everything ready to deliver the next day. Eric was a great help on his days off tirelessly caring for all the plant babies we put so much time and effort into!

We’ve had time to consider how things went since the growing season and will be making a few changes to this year that will hopefully alleviate some stress and make more time to dedicate to market presentation and preparation, and I can’t wait to share our plans with you all!

Flowers weren’t the only thing that we added this year… as our first three sheep joined the farm in spring, only to have two more added by the end of the year! The girls we added in first are Tink, Belle, and Jasmine – all three Katahdin Ewes. Katahdins are a great first breed and are ‘hair sheep’ meaning they do not need to be shaved. They are primarily a meat breed and are excellent pastured on a grassfed diet which is our plan for all ruminants on the farm. They weren’t enough for me once I fell in love with sheep though, and after taking a spinning class in fall I craved a more multipurpose breed. Enter Wall-E and Eva, a breeding pair of Icelandic sheep. Eva is already bred and due in spring 2020. Icelandics are a wild breed with superb parasite and disease resistance and are similar to katahdins in that they excel on pasture, and used for both meat, wool, and milk. Milking sheep are something I have long researched and hoped for, but did not want to use East Fresians, the ‘milking’ breed in the US due to their overall complications being a less hardy breed. The icelandics fit in perfectly with the gang, and my hope is to continue to grow our fiber flock slowly but manageably while gaining more and more knowledge, experience, and a market for all three uses! Sheep truly are magical creatures and have the ability to regenerate unusable land into beautiful pasture and woods while sustaining soil health and providing a resource for us to market locally. I’m so excited to have them here!

Now, I want to celebrate what was one of our milestone steps for the farm in terms of sales, networking, and growth. PIGS. We have raised them before but this year, after meeting and chatting with neighbors of ours that also run a farm-to-table Italian style dining experience and vegetable CSA out of their home at Old Tioga Farm, we entered into a contract to raise heritage breed pork for their restaurant.

Part of my career involves extensive amount of livestock calculations, so before we even took this step there was plenty of math at the drawing board to see how, where, what food, and costs pertaining to all raising of the livestock. We agreed upon a price based off estimated costs and yield, and were able to come extremely close to what was figured vs final product, which I was very pleased with!

I’ll save the pork raising calculations and details for another day also since that can get quite extensive and as all farming goes, isn’t an exact science, but I was pretty proud of how things worked out this time. The restaurant owner, our friend Justin Naylor, invited us to partake in the butchering process which I was delighted to do, as this is something I have a great interst in when it comes to quality cuts of the best meat. Justin will be using some of the pork in his fresh dishes with the restaurant, but also for curing to make some excellent charcuterie, as he has spent many years teaching and learning traditional cuisine in Italy.

After receiving our own meat back from a new to us local butcher we sourced to trial their packaging for sale, it was fun to compare this season’s pork to some leftover meat we had from a different, smaller breed. Overall we were very happy with both breeds and have taken notes that will go into our future breeding program.

If you’re interested in learning more about the process and our results, feel free to message me directly as this is one topic I love helping others with when considering their own operational needs!

Post-harvest of our contract and personal feeder harvests this year, we were also able to get our hands on a mangalista gilt to raise for breeding. She has been affectionately dubbed ‘Dolly Porkton’ and has the most personality of any hog I’ve ever encountered! She loves being scratched all over, will lay down for belly rubs, and gets the zoomies just like a pup. She’ll have a fellow companion as we are able to acquire and settle on another cross – tamworth /duroc, and as piglets become available to purchase locally. She’s spent some time on pasture, and even ended up with the sheep after escaping one day only to fit right in and almost fool us for a sheep with her long locks! Honestly, I can see why some people choose this breed for pets, seeing as how they are so personable. Our reasoning is different though, and we will be crossing her with different heritage breeds to come up with a pork blend of our own desires which includes marbling for taste and texture, melt-in-your mouth fat, growth habits, charcuterie qualities, and hardiness. She’s expected to be bred late 2020!

Lastly (though I’m sure to be missing a billion things in here) we wound up raising monarchs on the farm this year. The area we live in is filled with milkweed, most of which gets mowed down or sprayed around us. I took it upon myself to collect eggs throughout the year, raise caterpillars into beautiful butterflies, and release them in our flower garden and pollinator wildflower patch. Some of them were even released at the wedding! It was a wonderful experience I expect to carry on yearly now, and I highly recommend everyone try it! Monarchs truly have a low survival rate in the wild (less than 10%!!) and we were able to release 20 this year. Saving one pollinator at a time to help create a better world to live in….

If you didn’t pick up on it already, 2019 was a bustling year filled with joy, hard work, and growth. All of this came, of course, with added stressors and new challenges which we will continue to tackle day by day to make our operation as best as possible. The year went out with a bang and after losing two of our beloved cats, Eric also lost his job right at Christmas. We’ve used it as a way to move forward and grow even stronger, and will be tackling many new curveballs in 2020 as the year has just begun and provides so much opportunity for us both. For the 2019 year though we still managed to continue harvesting, preserving, curing, making pastas and breads, trying out some cheese recipes, and enjoying our wholesome food this life provides. That’s the most we can ask for really.

My personal goals for this year as well as our farm goals is to build on existing infrastructure- fencing and a designated pen/paddocks for pig rearing, a rotational grazing system, working on the interior structure and exterior condition of the barn, and creating an efficient growing space for food, flowers, and most importantly make even more time to soak in life surrounded by the farm and our friends.

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