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June 2008

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Eastern region bloggers

Tim BairdTim Baird
Carrboro, North Carolina

Born and raised in central Maine, my youth was spent mowing the lawn, kicking a soccer ball against the garage doors, and trying to sneak sugar cereal out of the kitchen cupboards after I was put to bed. More about Tim


Warren JohnstonWarren Johnston
South Royalton, Vermont

I am a baby boomer who grew up in a time when the trend in food was convenience and speed. It wasn't the fast-food era, but a post-World War II time when ... More about Warren


Barbara KattmanBarbara Kattman
Holliston, Massachusetts

We live in Holliston, Massachusetts. When we bought our house in Holliston about 27 years ago, Holliston was a rural/residential town of about 13,000 people. More about Barbara


Autumn LongAutumn Long
Wallace, West Virginia

My name is Autumn. I'm 24 years old, and I live in rural north-central West Virginia. I was born and raised in West Virginia, and in 2005 I graduated from ... More about Autumn


April LuginbuhlApril Luginbuhl
Cleveland, Ohio

My personal interests revolve around the environment, both knowing more about it and getting outside and enjoying my surroundings. This led me down an educational path to ... More about April

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Market Gardening and Dairy Farming

Posted at 11:46 AM on June 16, 2008 by Autumn Long

Over the weekend we visited my husband's cousin Todd in beautiful Somerset County, Pennsylvania. He and his girlfriend, Sara, are talented market gardeners and pretty amazing people in general. They make a living through a diverse system of entrepreneurial endeavors. During the growing season, they sell a wide variety of vegetables at the Somerset County Farmers Market each Saturday and at the Wilkinsburg Farmers Market in Pittsburgh each Thursday. Some of their products include salad mixes, lettuce, and other greens; heirloom tomatoes; onions; garlic; peppers; berries; various squashes; herbs; and cut flowers. They sometimes sell non-edible handmade products such as homemade soaps as well.

In addition to the weekly markets, Todd and Sara have a large plant sale at their home each spring, featuring a very wide variety of heirloom seedlings started in their greenhouse. This year, for the first time, they are doing a "spring greens" CSA through the month of June, delivering weekly to customers in Pittsburgh; and they are selling weekly supplies of mesclun mix to a restaurant in Pittsburgh. They are very pleased with the results of the CSA, and they plan to do it again next year.

The couple lives on Sara's family's dairy farm. Her father owns about 100 head of Holstein cattle, milking 30 or so at a time. Sara helps with milking each morning, and Todd pitches in whenever he can. I got the opportunity to help with milking on Sunday morning, although "help" might be a bit of a stretch. "Participate in" is more like it, or, perhaps, "stand in the way." It's a fascinating and complex process.

Their six-stall milking parlor is, according to Sara, quite antiquated, but it seemed pretty high-tech to me! A tangle of hoses and pipes for milk and clean-up water runs everywhere. The cows know just what to do; they calmly walk into the stalls to munch on some grain throughout the twice-daily ritual of milking. You pull a lever to close the stall door behind the cow, and then you spray their teats with iodine and wipe them clean. You attach a vacuum device (it reminded me of the tentacles of an octopus) to each teat, and the milk is sucked through plastic tubing into a chilled milk tank. Every other day, a tanker truck arrives to collect the milk.

After the cow has been milked, you disconnect the vacuum device and dip each teat in iodine. Then you open the gate and the cow exits into the next room. Ba-da-bing! There is a lot to keep in mind at once, such as which cows have recently been medicated or have some other problem that excludes their milk from inclusion in the batch. The milk-truck driver tests every batch of milk for bacteria and the presence of antibiotics, and the accidental inclusion of milk from a medicated cow will cause the entire batch to be rejected. I'm sure it's easy to forget, but dairy farmers seem to have incredible memories for detail. The milk from this farm is sold through a regional dairy cooperative to various companies, most often for cheese-making. United is one well-known brand that buys milk from this co-op.

Sara is a walking encyclopedia on farming, and she explained that small farms such as this one are quickly becoming obsolete. The current trends are running either toward consolidation into giant confinement-based operations, or toward smaller, pasture-based dairies. A full-pasture dairy farm isn't necessarily as profitable or efficient as a larger, traditional, barn-based operation, but the overhead costs are much lower, and the cattle live healthier lifestyles. I've touched just the tip of the iceberg here when it comes to running a dairy farm. It is extremely complicated and strenuous work. In my opinion, vegetables are much easier to deal with, and they smell better, too!