Thursday, May 17, 2012

Old School Farm
Charting a new course with old fashioned thinking...

Farm Manager, Dave Campeau with Coleman & Owen Benner
We believe Thomas Jefferson had it right - there is security and equality when the majority of people grow their own food.   Here at Old School Farm we understand that raising our own food, and the bio-diversity that comes along with a balanced small scale organic farm  is a good thing.  The current industrial farm, or monoculture scenario that focuses on one crop or livestock breed leaves food producers and the mouths they feed vulnerable.  It exposes the crop or livestock to pests, disease, and annual weather pattern fluctuations.  It requires large amounts of external inputs, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics, hormones and LOTS of water.  These systems can be very toxic to the environment as well as humans and are not sustainable in the long run, especially since their core input, fossil fuels, are being depleted.

Our intensive planting method
As we bring our farmland back to life, we are committed to the ultimate goal of zero external inputs. A perfectly balanced environment where rotational grazing, composting, cover-cropping, and other environmentally responsible practices will culminate in a "closed loop" food production  model that simulates naturally occurring plant and animal ecology.  The final step would require exchanging mechanized cultivation methods for horse power, but that is a ways off in our future.

So with life as hectic and fast paced as it is for all of us, why in the world should you take five minutes every week to read an update about a small farm you ask?

What I hope to offer with the Old School blog is to re-connect people with their agrarian roots (just one hundred years ago, close to 90% of us were farmers) and perhaps help others live more enriching, less stressful, and healthier lives in the process.  By sharing our experiences, successes, and failures, as well as our knowledge, our intent is to help others raise their own food, and perhaps also live more simply and closer to the land .  We also feel strongly that growing food in any capacity is very rewarding, therapeutic, and good for the body and soul.  Not to mention the incredibly flavorful, fresh food that is packed with many of the vitamins and minerals lacking in today's food supply.  To learn more about why this is so important and see systems for growing your own food in limited spaces, visit:

The lower pasture along the Dyberry - circa 1900
The history of our farm is similar to many that have become idle, been absorbed by mega-farms, or have been turned into housing developments in the past fifty years.  The land was first farmed in the 1800's (photo at right), and into the middle of the twentieth century, the focus was dairy cattle, hay, and some row crops to supplement for animal forage and as food for the family.  Rotational grazing and haying provided for healthy, grass-fed cattle and nutritious dairy products that were first produced on the farm and later at dairy co-ops to which the raw milk was sold (we have one of these original pick up receipts from the 1930's paid to the farm by the "hundred weight" of milk picked up by the co-op)

I have envisioned a working farm ever since I purchased the old farmhouse with 54 acres in 2002.  The only previous owners - the Walter family, designed and built the home in 1925.  We have many of the old photos which I will soon be scanning and posting so others can enjoy the nostalgia associated with these old black and white images.  I have found a lot can also be learned about the farm and how the land was used in earlier times.

The Walter Family
The name Old School not only refers to doing things the old fashioned way, but it also makes the connection to Olive Walter, the last of the Walter family to reside in our home prior to my acquiring it.  Olive was the beloved school teacher who walked to work at the old schoolhouse that once graced the banks of the Dyberry River that flows along the entire length of our pasture.  Olive's sister, Mary is still living and is as spunky as ever at 95. (Mary is on far left and Olive on far right in photo)  My wife Deena and I have become friends with Mary and she has given us many of the old photos of the farm.  She will be coming down for a visit in early June this year and is excited to finally meet our boys Owen and Coleman.  Mary is really great.  Unlike her sister, Olive who never married and stayed put at the farm, Mary traveled the world, had a pilots license, worked for IBM, and was married to Howard Thomas, who almost made it to 100 (we have some very funny stories about Howard :)

Located in Wayne County - the most northeastern county in Pennsylvania, our farm is situated a few miles north of the county seat of Honesdale along the Dyberry River (trout abound here). Old School Farm encompasses 54 acres, consisting of 14 acres of pasture/garden areas and 40 acres of wooded hillsides and overgrown pasture with northeastern exposure.  An incredibly serene water falls that flows out of nearby Lake Elsie provides year round soothing sounds, visual tranquility and cooling breezes on a hot summer day.  There is a small orchard of twenty-five trees that I planted eight years ago and a large organic vegetable plot now approaching one acre in size.  Laying hens, turkeys, berries, bees, sheep, and a soon to be built wood fired bread and pizza oven round out the mix.

Al Benner with Old School Carrots
As the father of twin six year old boys, and owner of a handful of small businesses, the reality is I am spread thin.  Being that I split time between the farm and our rental home in Philadelphia, I realized long ago that what the farm really needed was an inspired, intelligent, and hard working younger person that shared my vision to take on the roll of Farm Manger.  After searching for a period of years to find the right person, he finally surfaced last spring when he responded to a help wanted posting at (Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture) - we are members of the northeastern PA region of this amazing organization that is helping to connect thousands of farmers throughout Pennsylvania. 

Our Farm Manager, Dave Campeau is "old school" to the core and shares many of the small scale farming and self-sufficiency principles that I believe to be important.  Together we are forging ahead with the intent of creating a model for how anyone can live a simpler, more enjoyable life, while feeding themselves incredibly delicious food and caring for the planet.     Dave comes to mind when I think of a Ben Franklin quote that I have always appreciated:

"All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move."   Dave definitely falls into the last category.

May 2012:   Not only do we raise our own food, but the boys and I also collect some of the edible wild foods of spring, including;  ramps (wild leeks), mustard greens, and my personal favorite - fiddleheads (the tightly wound emerging ostrich ferns found along stream and river banks).   We planted a lot of our early season row crops even earlier this  year due to the mild spring, and so far this is paying off, as the spinach, peas. potatoes, carrots, and beets are  ahead of schedule.  We are about to put this years' batch of egg layers out into their coop and the turkey polts and 500 asparagus plants arrive this week.  A few days back we were able to avoid a killing frost to most of our small orchard by spraying water on the trees during the coldest period of the night.   We have just three weeks to get ready for our six Icelandic Sheep that will be arriving in early June...

Here are just a few of the topics coming soon to our blog:

Icelandic Sheep Arrive
One of our new lambs due to arrive end of May

Old School Farmstays 

The New Barn

A Six Year Old's Fish Story (of a lifetime)

Children & Farming 

Bees Come to the Farm (from 5 miles away)

Orange Yolks

1955 - The Farmhouse is Moved

We're all Farmers at Heart

Wood Fired Pizza & Movie Night
Rooftop beds above sunroom

Up on the Roof....Grow Your Own Food - Anywhere  

Providing Food to the City

Roger - The real dirt from our farming
partner and soils guru

Hoss - Our '66 Ford

Sun Powered Water

Talkin' Turkey

Our road - A Biking Destination

Deena Benner polishes her business consulting skills
Finca Las Brisas - A Self-Sustaining Community in Costa Rica - Al's other passion

 Waiting for High Tunnels

Events at the Farm

Birds, Bats, and Toads - natural pest control

Maple Sugaring - Made easy by Gravity

Have Shade, Can't grow veggies?.... Grow Moss

If you like what you are reading so far, please feel free to follow our blog, or share it with others...

Thanks for spending some time with us...

Al Benner

Old School Farm
Honesdale, PA

1 comment:

  1. This is a wonderful blog! What a great way to live and raise your children. We have had a vegetable garden for the last 25 years. We also raise our own chickens for eggs. We love raising as much of our own food as possible. I can't raise animals however, I can't eat anything I have watched grow up! I wish the world would turn back some pages of time and more of us would raise our own food, it was a much simpler and healthier time. I applaud your efforts!


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