For the love of the land, farming, and, most of all, family.

My farming friend Mark Bradley was one of the inspirations behind The Farmer’s Daughter (the farming part of it) and one of the reason I have a soft spot for farmers in general. He’s one of the good ones, the backbone of our country, salt of the earth, you might say. He’s worked hard all his life and works even harder now in a economy that hasn’t been very friendly to farmers the past decade or so. He posted this beautiful status update a couple of years ago on Facebook that helped launch me into a documentary photo project to capture the life of farmer’s in my area. The project fell apart over time, but I’d love to start it back up again and keep capturing the real people behind the industry that puts food on our tables, telling their stories.

Mark wrote another one of those emotional posts this week. I’m not on Facebook anymore but my dad showed me and I emailed Mark and told him how much I enjoyed it, and asked if I could share it here on the blog. Luckily he said that would be fine.

I also once wrote about his son and the amazing work ethic is instilled in farm kids by their parents.




I watched him as he made his way around the empty barn taking it all in. I could see the sadness on his face and hear it in his voice in all the questions he asked. “Why did they sell their cows?” “Why are they just letting the barn fall down?” I watched him peer up through the hole in the ceiling toward the hay mow that once would have been stocked full of enough hay to feed the cows all winter. Now all it held was the roof that had collapsed into it this winter and the melting snow that had accumulated. This was once someone’s dream, their livelihood, their everything. Now it is a thing of the past. Soon to be demolished the rest of the way and be gone forever.

It is hard to explain what it feels like to walk through an empty barn. For me, it’s very emotional and I could see that in Parker as well. I can stand there and picture what it would have looked like full of cows. It’s kind of like the scenes in the movie Titanic where they are exploring the underwater shipwreck and keep flashing back to a time when the ship was full of people in all her glory. I can picture little kids growing up in this barn, learning life lessons. I can see them in my mind petting cows, watching calves be born, carrying around their favorite kitties. I can see it full of light, life, and warmth on the coldest winter day. I can smell the feed, hear the cows contently eating and the radio softly playing… then I come back to what it is now. Cold. Dark. Wet. Musty. Empty…. it is a heartbreaking scene that is played out in tens of thousands of barns all across this country. Our industry has evolved over the years, and in its wake lies empty barns like this one in ruin.

After awhile of silence as Parker and I wandered around, he turns to me and says “Well, at least our barn will never look like this.” With a giant lump in my throat, all I could muster up was “I hope you are right.”

I don’t know what the future holds. I know farms like ours are becoming fewer and further between every day.

When we got home I headed straight to the barn. I walked in the door to be greeted by the familiar sights and sounds of my cows contently eating their hay and lounging in their stalls. I walk up and down the aisles of the barn with a smile on my face taking it all in, stopping to pet and snuggle some of girls.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for giving me this life. It’s a life that has its shares of ups and downs and constant challenges. A life that is definitely not the easy road. I can’t picture myself doing anything else. I can’t imagine raising my kids any other way than on this farm.

The passion I have for what I do is unexplainable, but is driven by my love of this land, my love for my cows, and most of all, my love for my two little farmers. Everything that I do, I do for them in hopes that they may one day be able to take over this farm if they choose to.

A little farm making special milk in Pennsylvania

There are a lot of little farms in our area trying to survive by diversifying what they offer and how they produce their product. The Warburton Farm, also called Sunset Ridge-Warburton Farm is one of those farms. What is now helping the farm survive is something that was started to help their youngest be able to consume dairy products after he was born with a condition that leaves him allergic to certain proteins, including those in milk. That’s an awkward and inconvenient development when the family owns a small dairy farm and everyone else can eat the yummy treats made from milk.

When Eileen, the little boy’s mom, heard about A2 milk through her oldest son, who was researching something else for a project for 4-H and read about it, she wondered if her youngest would be able to digest it. A2 milk refers to a type of beta-casein protein found in dairy cows. In A2 milk, the protein is broken down finely, which makes it easier for people with digestive issues to process dairy products. It is not the same as lactose-free milk, which those with a lactose intolerance can drink.

She looked for the milk in the United States, but instead only found it in Australia and New Zealand at the time. (It is produced on a large scale in the United States now.) Then she wondered if any of the Jersey cows from their small farm was carrying the A2 gene and since testing for the gene only takes sending a sample of the cow’s hair to a lab, she decided to check.

Cardinal was the first of the family farm’s cows to test positive for the gene and it turned out Eileen’s youngest could drink the milk, which made Eileen wonder how many other people might benefit from A2 milk from a local source. That launched the family onto a journey to obtain grant money for a bottling plant and pasteurization machine.

I took photographs for Eileen of Cardinal sometime last year (I think anyhow, since 2020 feels like 5 years in one) and that photo now adorns the labels for the milk they sell in local stores. Each of the last two years I have also taken a few photos of the family, her and her husband, the two boys and her in-laws, and of course, Cardinal.

It has become an annual highlight for me — seeing a family doing what they love, caring for their animals but also enjoying providing a locally produced product for their neighbors and others.

I lifted this photo from their Facebook page.

This year I dragged my dad along because he wanted to show me some of the family farms that have recently gone out of business (and there are quite a few, sadly). He enjoyed talking to Eileen’s in-law’s who he knows fairly well, we had a tour of the bottling plant, saw the new baby goats, and then set off at sunset to see one of the larger farms up the road.

It had rained while we were there and a misty fog was rising up from the valleys around us and the sunset was golden and magnificent. There is a local woman who posts beautiful sunset photos and I was determined to properly compete against her with a beautiful sunset photo.

I liked the sunset photo I got but was completely bowled over maybe a half an hour later when we ended up with a flat tire, along a tiny dirt road, and I looked across the field at an amazing sunset.

While Dad and The Boy changed the tire I climbed up a small incline, looked out over the field and watched the sunset change from bright golden to pink and purple and blue.

It appears a little darker in my photos than it actually was, but it was still spectacular. And to the left of it was the farm that only a few weeks ago had to sell it’s dairy cows, glowing a soft purple from the sunset.

I told my daughter, once the tire was fixed and we were on our way, that it is always an adventure when we head out somewhere with Grandpa. We never know what will happen or where we will end up. Luckily we ended up driving around a beautiful area and seeing a hard working farm family, some amazing scenery, a large herd of deer, rabbits, and an amazing sunset.

Fiction Friday: The Farmer’s Daughter, Chapter 9

We are on Chapter 9 already of The Farmer’s Daughter and I will tell you I’m not sure what’s coming after Chapter 11 because I haven’t hit a writer’s block but I have hit a challenge of where I want to put certain chapters or events and how I want to write a couple of them. I also worry about the chapters I share on the blog being too long, but well, if they are too long for you, just don’t read them. *wink*

Let me know in the comments if you’re falling in love with the characters as much as I am and what direction you hope to see the story take.

If you’re interested in other fiction pieces I’ve written you can find them here on the blog (links at the top of the page), or on Amazon and B&N.

If you want to follow the rest of The Farmer’s Daughter, from the beginning, click HERE.



Alex cracked open a soda and leaned back against the porch railing of the old farmhouse, looking out over the recently harvested fields and breathing in                             deep the smell of freshly cut hay. He missed his normal beer, but alcohol had become too much of a crutch for him these last few years. He was doing his best to drink less beer and more water and soda.

He rubbed his hand across the stubble on his chin and jawline, pondering if he should shave it off before he headed back to the barn after lunch. He’d been clean shaven when he first arrived at the Tanner’s farm, five years ago. He couldn’t even believe that next week would make it five years exactly. So much had changed for him since that day.

“Hey, Dad, this is Alex. He needs a job,” Jason had said a few moments after they had walked in the Tanner’s farmhouse, two years after their college graduation. He was grinning while Alex’s face flushed red with embarrassment. He felt like a loser whose friend had to find a job for him because he was too inept to find one himself.

Robert, sitting at the kitchen table, peered around the newspaper he was reading and looked Alex up and down, a somber look on his face.

“Know anything about farming?” he asked.

“No, sir,” Alex said honestly, shoving his hands down in his jean pockets nervously. “But I’m willing to learn.”

Robert laid the paper down, leaned back in his chair and frowned. He tapped his fingers on the table and then a smile slowly tilted his mouth upward.

“It’s a good thing Jason already mentioned you might be coming home with him. We need a hired hand to help around the farm. My wife’s parents’ home will be able to move into by the end of the week since they’re moving to a condo in town.”

Robert stood and reached his hand out toward Alex. Alex took it, shaking it firmly.

“Glad to have you on board,” Robert said.

In the next year, Alex worked hard, wanting to please the man he saw care for his family, day in and day out, rarely taking a break, on constant call with farm work, first with his father and brother and then when the elder Tanner passed away, his brother and son. He’d watched Robert try hard to help his fellow farmers, buying their land when they could no longer farm, offering them jobs on his farm or at the family’s farm store. He’d been there when Robert’s father had disappeared further into dementia, then passed away, and he’d watched the family’s farm store expand from selling organic meats and dairy, eggs and vegetables to now offering flowers, plants, and even farming and gardening equipment.

Over those years, Robert had become like a father to Alex, teaching him how to work hard, how to run a business, and more importantly, how to care for a family. So far, though, Alex wasn’t anywhere near starting a family, or ready to care for one on his own. There were days he wasn’t even sure this was what he wanted for his future – to work on a small family farm in the middle of nowhere.

But there were other days, when he looked back on a day filled with accomplishments, when he could sit back and smell the freshly harvested field, that he could imagine himself living his whole life growing food in the soil, caring for the cows that gave the nation its’ dairy, and helping a family support themselves through the work of their hands.

Annie had become the mother he’d never had in his own – caring, nurturing, and understanding. After six months of living in the home Annie had grown up in and working for her husband, he’d found himself sick with a cold and alternating between shivering and burning up as he cleaned out the stalls.

“Alex, you need to come inside and let me make you some tea and honey,” Annie said, standing in the barn doorway, dressed in brown overalls and a thick winter coat.

“I’m okay, Mrs. Tanner, but th – “

“Don’t argue, young man,” Annie said. “You’ll be no good to anyone if that junk gets into your lungs. Get on in here. Robert can do without you for a few hours. You’ll have some tea and lay down in the spare room. No use arguing.”

She turned quickly and began walking toward the house.

Robert stood up from where he’d been inspecting the underside of a cow and jerked his head toward his retreating wife.

“You’d better listen to her. When she gets something into her head, she won’t let it go. Besides, Henry is coming in at 10 and I know he can help us while you rest.”

Inside the house, Annie set a cup of steaming hot tea in front of him at the table.

“Try leaning over that and breathing it in. It will help your nose loosen up.”

Alex nodded and did as he was told.

“Did your mom do this to you when you were young? I bet she did. All my bossing around is probably making you feel like a little boy again.”

Alex stared at the steam swirling up toward him and thought about his mom, how she’d almost never been maternal, though he was sure she had loved him and his brother. When he and Sam were sick, she had sent them to their rooms and set toast and juice in front of them and turned on a cartoon. She never felt foreheads or took temperatures, but sometimes took them to the doctor if the illness hit them hard enough.

“My mom wasn’t really – uh- maternal,” he said with a shrug. “She loved me and Sam. She just didn’t know how to be . . . comforting, I guess you would say.”

Annie turned from the stove and looked at him with furrowed eyebrows. “I’m sorry to hear that. That must have been hard for you and your brother.”

Alex shrugged again. “In some ways. But we turned out okay. I always considered us lucky. We were well fed, had whatever we wanted, except the attention of our parents, of course. They didn’t beat us, so there’s that at least.”

Annie sighed and held her hand against Alex’s forehead.

“But a little love shown shouldn’t have been too much to ask. You’re burning up. I’ll get that spare room set up for you. I want you to sip that tea and then I’ll give you a dose of elderberry syrup and pull out the Vapo rub and put it by the bed. I’ll make chicken soup for lunch.”

Alex shook his head as she walked toward the stairs, amazed at her kindness, especially toward someone who wasn’t even a member of her family. It wasn’t long, though, that Alex began to feel like a member of the family. Jason had already been like another brother. Robert became his surrogate father, Annie his surrogate mother. Even Franny and Ned treated him like he was one of their own, or at least Ned did before he forgot who almost everyone was.

And then there was Molly.

Beautiful, sweet Molly.

He let out a deep breath, clutched at his hair and lowered his head into his hands, trying to shake the image of her shapely figure backlit by the setting sun, standing across from him in the barn. He remembered clearly the day he’d first noticed how beautiful she’d become, how grown up she was looking. It had been three years ago and they had been talking about their favorite music, where they saw themselves in ten years, and what the future held for small family farms, a topic Alex never imagined he’d be concerned with.

“I guess I figured I would be writing for a major magazine or newspaper by now,” Molly said, leaning back against a hay bale, sliding her arms behind her head. “Maybe that’s just not what God has planned for me or maybe I messed up his plans by not finishing my degree. I don’t know. Do you think we can mess up God’s plans?”

Alex felt uneasy but tried not to show it.

“Not sure,” he said casually, leaning on the rake handle. “I’ve never thought much about God, let alone if He, She, or They, has ever directed my path in life. If a higher power is up there, it would have been nicer if he’d directed my life in a few different directions over the years.”

The sunlight pouring in from the window high in the top of the barn hit Molly’s hair and highlighted her red-blond curls. Her skin was smooth, her eyes bright, her shirt pulled tightly against her full, shapely figure. His pulse quickened and he quickly looked away from the curve of her throat, knowing his gaze would keep slipping lower if he let it. He mentally scolded himself, feeling like a dirty old man until he remembered they were still both in their 20s at the time, him only four years older. It wasn’t as if he was old enough to be her father.

Molly looked over at him, moving her arms from behind her head and leaning on her elbow against the hay bale.

He saw compassion in her eyes as she spoke. “But, don’t you think that one of the greatest gifts God could have given us is our own free will? We make our own decisions and sometimes we make the wrong ones because we don’t listen to what God is telling us so maybe it isn’t that he didn’t direct our life but we didn’t follow his directions.”

Alex laughed and shook his head. “I’m not the one you want to have a deep theological discussion with.” He tapped his temple with his finger. “There’s nothing deep in here.”

Molly smiled and his stomach quivered in a way he’d never felt before. “I highly doubt that, Alex Stone. I have a feeling there’s a lot more to you than you let on.”

She tossed a handful of straw at him and skipped past him on the way to the house. He’d watched her walk away, his eyes lingering on her retreating figure before he took a deep breath and softly exhaled a curse word.

“Dang, Molly Tanner, how’d you get so beautiful?” he’d asked himself out loud, maybe a bit too loud. He’d looked around quickly to make sure Jason or Robert weren’t somewhere behind him.

For two years now he had tried to ignore the way she was starting to affect him – the pounding heart, the rush of excitement that rumbled through his veins when he heard her voice or saw her walking across the yard toward the barn.

Why couldn’t he just make a move on her already? He’d never felt afraid to tell, even show a girl how he’d felt – until he met Molly. Molly was different, but he couldn’t really explain how. Maybe it was because he’d developed a friendship with Molly before he’d started feeling a strong attraction to her. Before meeting Molly, he’d always acted on instinct, moving into a physical relationship even if he hadn’t spent time getting to know the woman.

He knew it wasn’t only a fear of rejection stopping him from telling Molly how he felt. He worried how Robert, Annie and Jason would react. Would they see him as someone who had taken advantage of their kindness simply to get close to their beautiful daughter and sister? He couldn’t imagine losing their respect and love, yet he also couldn’t imagine his future without telling Molly how he felt.

Rejection and fear of the reactions of others, including Molly’s, wasn’t Alex’s only concern, though. He’d had a fear of attempting longtime commitment for years, always afraid he’d end up like his parents – in a loveless marriage of convenience. What if he told Molly how he felt, only to pull away from her in fear, refusing to open himself up to her fully and hurting her in the process? Could he even open himself to her? He couldn’t deny he was afraid to try. He’d never been able to do open himself up with any other woman. When they’d tried to go deeper than surface level, he’d broken it off and walked away from them, ignoring their calls or visits.

At one point he’d even considered leaving the farm, going back to Maryland, looking for work in computers, so he didn’t have to face his feelings for Molly. His attraction to her had always been stronger than the fear, though, and he’d stayed on, happy simply to be near her.

Now, though, he wanted to be more than near her, more than simply a co-worker. He wanted to be her confidant and her to be his. And he wanted to hold her, to show her he felt a tenderness for her he’d never felt for anyone else. More than simply wanting a relationship with her, he somehow felt he needed it.

***

Mavis Porter was already busy giving orders in the church basement when Molly arrived with the Tanner’s contributions of chocolate and carrot cakes two days before the sale.

“We’ll need someone to man the purse and the shoe areas,” Mavis said, clipboard in hand, her blue-gray hair piled on her head in a tight bun, her face long and mouth pursed together.

“I’m available,” Dixie West said, though Molly noticed the reluctance in her voice.

Mavis scribbled on the clipboard.

“Dixie in purses and shoes,” she said, focused on the clipboard. “Perfect.” She spoke to Molly without even looking up.

“Molly, are those the cakes from you and your mom?”

Molly opened her mouth to answer.

“Good,” Mavis said before Molly could answer, her eyes still focused on the clipboard. “Put them over in the kitchen with the others. I have you down to watch the table from 8:30 to noon on Saturday. Will that do?”

Molly opened her mouth to answer.

“Good,” Mavis said, again before Molly could answer. “Make sure you’re on time this year, please.”

Mavis swung around and marched across the basement floor, never looking up from her precious clipboard.

Molly sighed and carried the box with the cakes to the kitchen. One day she was going to find a way to stand up to Mavis Porter, but today was apparently not that day.

“On bake sale duty again?” Maddie Simpson asked, unloading her own cakes onto the counter in the kitchen.

“Of course,” Molly said. “At least she only put me on for four hours this time, unlike last year when I had to sit there all day.”

“I’m on kids clothes again this year,” Maddie said with an eye roll. “I have the morning shift.”

Molly winced. “That might be worse than the baked goods table.”

“All those moms ripping apart the table, looking for the cutest clothes in the just the right sizes,” Maddie said, shaking her head. “And then the pushing and the shoving when two moms grab the same outfit. Last year I thought we were going to have to call Reggie to break them apart.”

Molly laughed, thinking of Chief Reggie Stanton pushing his way between two battling moms, his large belly a barrier between them. Reggie led a small police force of five police officers, including himself. The small town of Spencer was lucky not to have a high crime rate, but the Spencer Police Department was there to break up fist fights, respond to car accidents and fires, and answer the call if someone locked themselves out of their car or a cat got stuck up a tree.

The chief was there to oversee it all and sometimes he even managed to do something. It wasn’t unusual to see Reggie standing to one side shouting orders to one of his officers.

“That’s right, Sgt. McGee. Get him down and you can cuff him while I read him his rights.”

“Don’t be afraid to stand up to, ‘im, Billy. He’s not that much bigger than you.”

“If you keep running that mouth of yours, I’ll have Officer Wilson here take you outside and read you your rights, you understand?”

Reggie even managed to yell orders for the driver to stop when Officer John Vanfleet was dragged down Route 220 at 25 mph while trying to open the car door of a suspected drunk driver.

“Stop! If you don’t stop, I’ll have you up on charges of attempted murder!” he yelled, not even bothering to try to chase the car.

It took two other officers to jump into the passenger side window and rip the car into neutral, finally stopping it.

For all his moments of laziness, though, Reggie was still the glue that held the force together, always willing to go to bat for his officers at the borough council meeting, asking for better healthcare or raises or even new uniforms or equipment.

Alice Bouse walked into the kitchen and sat a box of pies on the counter.

“What duty did you get this year?” she asked Molly.

“Manning the bake sale, like every year,” Molly said

“She’s nothing if not predictable,” Alice said with a heavy sigh. “I’m stuck on the register for the first half of the morning. I hate that job. That’s where people try to haggle us down in our prices. Every year I have to remind people ‘this is for charity.’ It really gets old after a while.”

“We’re all old,” Helen Maynard said slinging her box onto the counter and pulling out bags of homemade cookies, already labeled for sale.

“No, I said, the price haggling gets old,” Alice said.

“That too,” Helen said.

Emily Fields, Pastor Joe’s wife entered the kitchen with a box of pies.

“Is this where I should put the baked goods?” she asked softly.

“This is the place,” Molly said with a smile and a lavish gesture toward the counter.

“So glad you are contributing, Mrs. Fields,” Helen said. “Your pies are fantastic. That blueberry one you made for the potluck supper for the graduates at church was outstanding.”

Emily’s straight auburn hair pushed back off her face with a dark blue head band, highlighted her pale skin and bright green eyes.

She laughed and her cheeks flushed red, making her skin even more iridescent. “Oh, thank you. Pies seem to be the only thing I can bake. I have the innate talent of ruining even boxed cakes and burning all cookies. And please call me Emily. Mrs. Fields makes me feel so old.”

“You’re definitely not old,” Maddie laughed. “You’re one of the youngest pastor’s wives we’ve had at this church since I first started attending as a child.”

Alice started stacking Emily’s pies next to hers. “But you know who is old? Millie Baker. Did you all hear about what she did?”

Molly and the others shook their head.

“Well, she thought she was hitting the brake in her car this morning outside the Dollar General but instead she hit the accelerator and drove right into the side of the building.”

“No!” Maddie said. “Is she okay?”

“Yep, but the store isn’t,” Helen said. “Lew Derry was behind the counter and Lanny Wheeler said it was the fastest he’d ever seen him move, considering he’s usually high on that weed he smokes.”

“My goodness,” Alice said, shaking her head. “Someone is going to have to tell Millie she can’t drive anymore. She’s not safe on the road. That Dollar Store could have been the playground and that brick wall could have been a child.”

Helen shook her head. “Well, I’m not telling her. She’ll probably hit me with that cane of hers. Make her daughter do it.”

Molly laughed. “I should have my Aunt Hannah do it. She’s the one who told my grandmother she shouldn’t be driving anymore when she drove into the back of that garbage truck.”

“How did she take it?” Maddie asked.

“Not well,” Molly said. “We caught her behind the wheel last week.”

“So maybe Hannah isn’t the best person to talk to Millie,” Alice laughed.

“It’s not Aunt Hannah’s fault. Grandma is terribly stubborn.”

Helen took a chocolate chip cookie out of one of her bags and bit into it.

“How’s your grandma been doing anyhow?” she asked. “Besides driving into the back of garbage trucks. Since your grandpa passed, I mean.”

Molly took out the last of her cakes and sighed. “She’s struggling, to be honest, but she wouldn’t want me to share that with anyone else so I probably shouldn’t be. . .”

Emily laid her hand against Molly’s arm. “We’ll be praying for her.”

“Thank you,” Molly said. “I’d appreciate that. Losing Grandpa was hard enough but now having to admit she doesn’t see as well as she used to — it’s just been hard on her.”

Joe huffed into the kitchen carrying a cardboard box filled to the top with pies.

“Are those more of Emily’s pies?” Alice asked.

“Sure are,” Joe said. “Best blueberry pie around.”

“Oh wow!” Maddie said. “You must have been baking for days! These look great. I am definitely going to be picking up one.”

Across the room Mavis gestured, showing Jeffrey Staples where to move the tables and chairs for the sale.

Pastor Joe glanced through the open window as he unloaded the pies. “So, I see Mavis’ organization skills come in handy for this rummage sale. What a blessing to have someone with that gift in our church.”

“I didn’t realize that being bossy was a God-given gift,” Maddie said with a snort.

Pastor Joe laughed. “Well, I think maybe it can be. Even if we don’t always see it that way. Those with that gift often keep us on track.”

Molly smiled as she helped the pastor stack the pies. “They also keep us closer to God while we pray for him to give us strength to deal with them.”

The other ladies laughed and nodded their heads in agreement while Pastor Joe just smiled and shook his head, deciding he would keep his comments to himself.

My all-time most popular blog posts so far – or things that make you go, “uh… okay?”

Have you, if you are a blogger, ever looked back at your most popular blog posts and thought “that one? Really? Why?” My blog is not very popular. Most days I have two visitors – my dad and my husband. I continue to write because I figure I need to practice my writing skills and because – why not? I don’t really have a life so blogging gives me something creative to do.

I understand why two of my three most viewed posts are popular but there was one that had me scratching my head – primarily because I had no idea where the traffic to it was coming from for a few days.

I posted a post about David Phelps, a singer who is simply phenomenal, and within a few hours, it had over 200 views. I couldn’t figure it out. It seems the blog posts I spend the least time on receive the most traffic, attention or comments. If I spend several days or a couple of weeks crafting a post – crickets.

71YtS+gGgDLThe views for the David Phelps post were coming from Facebook but Facebook said I had very few views on my blog page and the only person who shared the post was my dad. One person liked it on his page. I finally decided there must be a fan page on there that shared it and after some digging, I found the David Phelps fans Facebook group and yes, indeed, someone had shared my post. No one from the group commented on the post, but for some reason, a bunch of them clicked on it.

I guess I need to write about David more often if I want to increase my blog traffic.

As for my other three popular posts, they were both related to farming and the struggles farmers are facing today.

The first is The Heartache is real as family farms start to disappear

And the second is The Farm.

The third was about a local (to me) farmer: Tell Me More About . . . . Mark Bradley

The first was shared about 1,000 times on  Facebook and I’m glad it was. I believe it’s important for people to understand the issues facing farmers today. I truly believe so many are clueless to the fact we will soon be without any small family farms, especially in our area of Pennsylvania.

So, how about you, fellow bloggers: what have been some of your more popular posts and could you figure out why they were so popular?

I’ll leave you all with another David Phelps song – who knows maybe I’ll get some more hits on my blog. Seriously, I enjoy his music and listening to it helps me relax (well, until he hits a high note!)

A new beginning for a small Northeastern Pennsylvania farm

” Don’t worry,” the 14-year-old told me as he climbed in the driver seat of the doorless Ranger all-terrain vehicle. “I’m a better driver than my mom.”

He grinned.

I knew he was talking about the bumpy, high-speed trip his mom had taken my husband on about a week before when the family’s cows escaped the pasture while my husband was there to do a story for the local weekly newspaper. His mom, Eileen Warburton, assured my husband that the escape wasn’t his fault, but rather the fault of an exuberant family dog who had startled the cows .

She didn’t normally drive so fast, she told me, but it was important to get ahead of the cows to try to herd them back into the fenced-in pasture. I couldn’t help wishing I had been there to see my semi-city slicker husband holding on to the grab handle of the Ranger for dear life, a look of sheer terror in his eyes as they careened over the dirt roads and muddy cow pasture.

I know, I have a warped, slightly sadistic sense of humor.

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More than once since visiting farms in our area I have been amazed by the knowledge, politeness, and efficiency shown by children who grow up on a farm. They are well spoken, mature and handle themselves better than many adults. They engage visitors to their farm with wisdom and a sense of professionalism that most businesses don’t even possess. Children who grow up on a farm are eager to tell you how the farm works, what the livestock eat, how they herd the cows, milk to the cows, feed the cows or pigs or any other variety of aspects of a working farm.

They are also almost always confident and not in the least bit intimidated to talk to adults. I’d have to say that most of the credit for the demeanor of a child or children who grow up on a farm goes to their parents and grandparents or whomever else they work with, and live with, on the farm. They are taught, first of all, hard work and with that hard work often comes a love for God, family, country, the land, and their livestock. For families who farm, especially on a small family farm, farming isn’t only a source of income, it’s an entire lifestyle.

“Is that mud on her side?” Eileen asked when the 14-year old, Blaine, walked their prize Jersey cow Cardinal out of the barn that day. “I guess we’ll have to wash her again.”

I don’t live a very exciting life so the idea of watching a cow being washed was exciting. I trailed along behind the boy and the cow somewhat like a giddy child who has been promised a trip to the playground. I’ve visited a few farms in the last couple of years while taking photos for a personal photo project focusing on the joys and trials of family farming. I’ve apparently grown accustomed to the smells of barns because I barely noticed when Cardinal decided to deposit a large amount of fresh manure while patiently waiting for Blaine to finish brushing and spraying her down. I am either accustomed to the smell or my clogged sinuses, courtesy of spring allergies blocked it from me.

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DSC_7812DSC_7816DSC_7820DSC_7823Off to one side of where the cleaning was happening, and behind the main barn, was a pile of stone and the future site of the family’s bottling facility for a future-planned business in processing A2 milk. According to the A2 Milk Company, all milk contains two different kinds of proteins – A1 and A2. A2 milk comes from cows who only produce the A2 protein.

Some dairy farmers say A2 milk is more easily digested by people who otherwise have difficulty digesting milk with both proteins. Those with lactose intolerance may be able to digest the A2 milk easier, but because their intolerance is to the sugar (lactose) in the milk, they would still need to consume the A2 milk with caution and maybe special enzymes, Eileen told me. Most people with lactose intolerance are able to drink lactose-free milk, such as the brand name Lactaid milk.

A quick search online will show you there is a quite a bit of controversy about the benefits of A2 milk for those who otherwise have difficulty digesting milk. Consumers seemed thrilled with the prospect of having access to milk that is potentially easier  to digest, but there are those in the dairy industry who are skeptical that there is any superior benefit of A2 milk. Some a market to promote it as a threat to the overall dairy industry.

“It’s just a theory at this point in time,” Greg Miller, National Dairy Council Chief Science Officer recently told CBS news. “There is no science that really says that there is any value in a2 protein milk relative to conventional milk. The two studies that were done were with a small number of subjects with different variables that don’t give us the answers we need to tell whether this is really true or not.”

For the Warburton family, scientific research wasn’t necessary. Anecdotal evidence was enough for them. Eileen’s 4-year-old son Marshal has been unable to digest milk or soy since birth, which presented a unique challenge for a child living on a dairy farm. When Eileen read about A2 milk being used in New Zealand she decided to explore the benefits of it further. She tried to order some of the milk for Marshal but the fees to ship it overseas was astronomical. That’s when she began to wonder if any of their own Jersey cows could be producers of A2 milk.

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She pulled hair from the tails of the cows, sent it to be tested and was told that out 10 of the 14 cows tested were A2 milk only producers. The proof would be in the chocolate milk, so to speak, something Marshal had always wanted to be able to consume like his older brother. When Marshal didn’t react to the special treat made with the A2 milk from Cardinal Eileen knew they were on to something. Her family began exploring options of bringing the milk to the area to benefit those with similar digestion issues as Marshal.

I was standing in the Warburton’s cow pasture on a warm May day to photograph the boys with their first A2 cow, Cardinal. Photographing Cardinal alone was also on the agenda. Like I’ve said before, it doesn’t take much to excite me so when we headed to the upper pasture with the boys and a wooden bench I was giddy once again but this time to see all the cows gathering around us like five-ton, manure covered and smelly, curious children.

Big brown eyes looked at us and broad noses sniffed and nuzzled to see if we’d brought any hay or grain. Once Blaine sat on the bench the ladies gathered around him in a semi-circle to see what their boy was doing.

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Standing on the hill, overlooking the rest of Forks and Overton Township and the Warburton’s farm, I thought about how blessed my family is to live in an area where children are taught from a very early age about hard work and respect for the land, animals, and nature. We are blessed to have people living around us who have personal knowledge of, and a part in, where our food comes from.

I’ve learned in the last couple of years that working and living on a small family farm is not easy, but it is worth it in ways that have nothing to do with money.

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To learn more about A2 milk, visit A2 Milk Company’s site HERE or check out the story below that CBS Morning featured in 2017. The Rocket-Courier also published a story about the farm on their site today and that story can be found via their website HERE. 

 

 

To read more of the posts I’ve featured about farming or farms in our area, click on the following links:

Tell Me More About . . . Mark Bradley, dairy farmer

The Heartache is Real as Family Farms Start to Fade Away

The Farm

The State of Dairy Farming in Pennsylvania

Tell Me More About . .  . Engelbert Farms, Nichols, N.Y.

 

 

The heartache is real as family farms start to fade away

It was a humid August night and the field next to the now defunct dairy barn was full of equipment and maybe a couple hundred people. An auction trailer was set up off to one side and to anyone driving by it might have looked like some sort of community festival, complete with hot dogs and drinks and baked goods. But this wasn’t a party or celebration; it was the end of an era.

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The Robbins family had been farming this land and milking cows here for more than 40 years but debt and the inability to survive financially forced them to make the hardest decision in their lives – sell the farm equipment and the livestock. If that sale didn’t cover the debt they’d sell the barn, house and property too, Billie Jo Robbins said, admitting she was unsure what the future held for her family but that her faith in God’s plan for their lives was helping to lessen some of the anxiety.

She had taken a job at the local bank the year before to try to help the farm stay in business, but as milk prices dropped and operation costs rose, the family couldn’t plug the holes fast enough. Her husband, Paul, recently took a job at the local cheese making factory and the dream of passing the farm on to their two sons, Matthew and Kevin, is now gone.

The loss of a family identity and business is heartbreaking but even more heartbreaking is that the Robbins aren’t alone in their struggle and forced life changes.

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“Local dairy farmers forced to auction off farm.”

It’s a headline that should be in more newspapers and on more news sites than it is because it is real and it is happening in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, where the Robbins live, but also all across the country.

It isn’t only dairy farmers being forced to close their doors. Farmers of all types are being crushed under the blow of low product pricing, but dairy farms are being hit the hardest and according to various media outlets the hard hits are coming for a variety of reasons, one of those an oversupply of milk. Some question if the push for people to drink less dairy and more plant-based proteins is one reason the dairy industry is suffering, but this seems unlikely with Americans love of ice cream, pizza and milkshakes still going strong.

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And even worse than the farms closing down are the suicides of farmers who collapsed mentally and emotionally under the weight of the pressure and the feeling of failure.

According to an article on the National Public Radio (NPR) site, one co-op had three out of 1,000 farmers commit suicide in three years, and while those stats might not seem alarming by quantity the fact they are happening at all when at one time they weren’t, is frightening.

Even here in Bradford County farmers are receiving letters from their co-ops, first with dismal news about the future of dairy prices and the information for suicide hotlines and how to find counselors.

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DSC_9324_1DSC_9268Standing in that field the day of the Robbins’ auction one has to wonder who these buyers are. Local farmers? Corporate farmers? Farmers barely getting by themselves? Billie Jo wondered too and admitted it felt awkward selling their equipment to farmers who may be struggling the same way they were. She didn’t recognize many of the people there but others she knew because they were there for something more important than buying.

“Many came here simply to support us and that means so much,” Billie Jo said.

Farmers support each other, which is one reason many farms in this area of Pennsylvania are surviving at all.

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Sitting in a truck, waiting for her husband, a farmer from Troy says she doesn’t know what the main reason for milk prices dropping so low is but she feels before long the Bradford County landscape won’t be dotted with very many family farms anymore. She and her husband, now in their 70s, own a dairy farm and can’t imagine doing anything else. They’ll keep farming as long as they can.

Knowing they aren’t alone in their heartache or their struggle helps the Robbins deal with their situation easier than some might. Their faith in God keeps them trusting that beauty will come from ashes.

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To read more about the struggles of dairy farms in Pennsylvania you can visit my posts on The state of dairy farming in Northeast Pennsylvania: tangible struggles, palpable heartache and immeasurable joy and The Farm and Tell Me More About . . . Mark Bradley, Sayre Pa Dairy Farmer

Tell me more about . . . Jason Wheeler, chef

This is the first in a series called “Tell Me More About .  . .”  where I feature local, and sometimes non-local, people of interest or simply interesting subjects

This week I’ve asked local chef Jason Wheeler to share a bit about himself for my blog readers.

Jason Wheeler is the Chef at The Greenhouse Market & Cafe in Sayre.  He lives in Elmira, NY with his wife, Sara, and  their two kids, Ethan and Evelyn, as well as their two new kittens, Bruticus and Yoshi.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, Jason

I was born in Elmira but raised in Eden Prairie, MN.

I have my bachelor of arts from Mansfield in Spanish Language.

How did you end up co-owning a restaurant?

The plan was to enter the world of international business after graduating from college, but my father had recently retired and decided to open a bakery cafe, so into the new family business I dove.

I began as a server until it became my turn to fill in as cook.  I was 23 and didn’t even know how to make a grilled ham and cheese but I watched a lot of Food Network, read a lot of cookbooks, and took a second job cooking on the same line as a classically trained chef and an instructor at a culinary school. They watched me cook, I asked a million questions, and really learned a lot.

Now more than 10 years later and I am chef at a farm to table restaurant that has an on site hydroponic greenhouse in which I grow as much produce as possilble for our kitchen 12 months out of the year. We have established a network of 15 local farms & suppliers that provide us with the freshest food in the area. Our restaurant has been accredited by the Culinary Institute of America as an approved internship site for their students to spend their requisite time cutting their teeth prior to graduation. We are also the undefeated People’s Choice Champion two years running at the Tioga Downs Casino’s annual burger contest. We are changing the food culture and reminding people that the best food really is grown close to home.

What is the best part of owning your own farm-to-table restaurant?

I would have to say that the most rewarding aspect of having this type of restaurant is harvesting fresh produce and carrying it through the dining room and immediately cooking with it.

Well, actually, receiving deliveries in the back door and having the person that raised and grew the food hand it directly to me and look me in the eye is pretty rewarding, encouraging, and inspiring all in one.

This is how things used to be done.

It’s just better for the community!

The money we would be mailing off to {a national food distribution company} is staying local and helping to boost our own shared economy.

Actually, now that I think of it, the absolute most rewarding part of having this type of restaurant is seeing my children eat healthier and take a genuine interest in eating real food. Our 7 year old daughter in particular helps mix the nutrients and test their saturation, then test their PH level.

She helps prune and maintain the plants in the greenhouse as well as their harvesting. She loves to help me in the kitchen and help my Dad in the bakery.

Seeing her grow up with a genuine interest in food is magical. (for too long she was a chicken nugget, tater tot, and hot dog gal…)


You can learn more about  The Greenhouse Market and Cafe on their website, Facebook page, or Instagram.  All images for this post were taken by and copyrighted by Lisa R. Howeler