Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Full Freezer & New Healthy Lifestyle Business for Kids

If it were two hundred years ago, or even one hundred for that matter,  having a fully stocked larder to pull food from all winter was a necessity.   In today's modern world with mass distribution of food, it is possible to enjoy fresh produce year round.

But is something missing?   After three seasons of successfully growing, harvesting and preserving our own produce, meat, and eggs, we have gleaned the following from our firsthand experiences:

The  food we grow and raise ourselves tastes significantly better and in turn is much healthier.   We believe this to be true for several reasons:

A) Our river bottom soil is loaded with minerals, and when we grow organically with added compost, our vegetable plants pull up an amazing amount of macro and micro nutrients from the soil and into their plant tissue.  Note: Many studies now show that over the past fifty years or so, the nutrient levels in our food supply in this country have dropped by 40%.
Dave recently turned a couple of acres to test growing grain crops for feed

B)  We aren't dumping synthetic nitrogen fertilizer on our soil. Nitrogen makes plants grow quickly and produce more foliage, but by growing so fast, the uptake of other micro-nutrients from the soil that are critical for human health can be limited.  More water is also required and contributes to the lower micro-nutrient pulling capabilities of the plants.

C)  Our healthy soil has plenty of beneficial microbes. These micro-organisms allow plant roots to better pull a broad spectrum of nutrients from the soil.

These five got a pardon for Thanksgiving - breeding stock
D)  Our freshly harvested vegetables and fruits are either sold, eaten or preserved right away to optimize flavor and nutrient levels.

E)  Our chickens and turkeys (and deer we harvest during hunting season) enjoy an all natural diet of organic grains and naturally occurring plants they forage upon daily outdoors.

F)  Oh, and of course there is quite a bit of added satisfaction that transfers to the food itself when your realize and remember all the care and effort that went into producing these quality foods.

If you've ever enjoyed a true free range heritage breed turkey or chicken eggs you will realize there is no comparison to even "organic" or "cage-free" products now available at various stores.

So during the holiday time of year we give thanks for those full freezers, our well stocked pantry shelves (pickles, sauerkraut, tomato sauce, jams, dried beans, and honey) and of course to that spare bedroom floor covered with squash!

As we reach the winter solstice, we reflect on yet another productive building year for Old School
Freya, our resilient ewe is a leader sheep who heads our small flock

We plan on learning from, and leveraging our past success in the coming year, and we will be re-inventing ourselves a bit too.

This coming year we will attempt to sell more products on the farm and hope to hold weekly wood-fired pizza events.  We also want to try some experimental bread baking in our earthen oven.  We will be expanding our grazing areas and Icelandic sheep flock, adding back some more bees, and significantly increasing our asparagus crop that does so well in our silty river bottom soil.

The big news this time around however, we have saved for last.  Old School Farm owner, Al Benner has been hard at work for the past 18 months working on a new healthy lifestyle brand for kids. The business, Powerful Plants is officially launching this holiday season with a Kickstarter campaign focused on funding the last educational phase that needs to be completed by early spring.

The company’s mission is to get kids re-engaged with nature and the outdoors and encourage them to become involved with growing and preparing their own food.  This is accomplished by “edutaining” children, and creating a bridge between technology, useful information, and the outdoors.   Powerful Plants’ initial products are an interactive storybook, heirloom organic vegetable seeds, and free contests and prizes on their website.

The characters in the book and on the organic vegetable seed packs come to life when viewed through a tablet or smartphone using a free app. This cutting edge technology is called augmented reality.  The characters animate and come to life to complete each chapter in the book once a child has read each page and answered three questions.  These answers are accumulated and score points toward a grand prize contest.  The characters on the seed packs come to life to share growing and preparation tips and other fun facts.

Powerful Plants is a way for parents and grandparents to connect with kids and get them interested in plants, food, and help foster a healthy lifestyle. The company is about to launch its’ products to the marketplace and has just recently posted a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the final educational phase of animating the remaining characters for the vegetable seed packs.  

To learn more and help support the project and receive some pretty amazing thank you gifts, click here  

Until next time, enjoy the holidays, stay warm, and be well!

Your friends at Old School Farm

Butternut Squash soup doesn't last long

Quite a buck rub on an Austrian Pine down in the pasture

Our sheep enjoy kale, brussel sprouts and broccoli plants

The living edge siding on the cabin continues to go up

The long lost game cam...found while "watering a tree" up back

Oyster mushrooms with a late flush of fruiting bodies on our poplar logs

The first snow starts - newly plowed 2 acres shows up white first

The privy in orchard

Our 350 year old Sugar Maple in the upper pasture

Adjacent falls coming from Lake Elsie

The family enjoyed an Old School heritage Turkey at Thanksgiving 

"Kids" table - we can tell who is 8 ;)

Snowball breaks up - too powdery

A Midget White hen will be breeding stock for next season

A nice evening to hike the farm

Two deer were taken from this tree stand a few days after this photo was taken

Wendy & Matthew from Philly that also own a converted barn upstate

Their lamas

Pony and Hafling draft horse

The Benner family enjoys an excellent meal at Dyberry Forks in Honesdale

Chef Ben says hi to his friends from Old School Farm

The nicely re-worked dining and bar area

A nice place, good local food, and a good time.

That's one big snow person !

Friday, October 31, 2014

Overwhelmed... In a Good Way.

First of all we need to apologize for being disconnected from our blog for so long.  The reason will, we hope, be admirable in the long run - a new business launch that features an interactive, educational book and vegetable seeds for children.

The goal is to get kids back outside, better connected with the natural world, and growing their own food.  We will be letting you know the details in another blog next month - just in time for the holiday season.

Old School Farm has experienced another busy and productive season.  Much infrastructure continues to be added, laying the ground work for what we hope will soon become a more economically viable, bio-diverse farm.

Here are a few things we have gleaned over the past three years:

1)  Small scale organic farming is incredibly labor intensive.  The price you can charge (because the industrial farm model has suppressed price points) makes it very difficult to make any sort of profit, let alone cover costs.

2) The crops and food products you produce have superior flavor and nutrition.  It is hard to go back to store bought vegetables, eggs and meat.  It is often disappointing to eat out at restaurants - the food often lacks flavor.

3)  Raising and then selling (or sharing) food you raise is incredibly rewarding. Your body and mind feel healthier for many reasons.

4)  What you produce and can sell it for is very much dictated by your local market.  Our area sees many people with backyard gardens and a local big box grocery store - both of which impact pricing.

So what's new at the farm you ask?  
Well for starters, Dave has been hard
at working constructing a
Dave Benner and Dave Campeau with a 3 Root Grex beet

seasonal cabin (pictured above) to house summer interns.  The 14' x 14' cabin was designed by Dave and Al, and Dave has it all framed out and ready for the "living edge" hemlock siding and metal roof.

The really big news however is that Old School Farm Manager,  Dave Campeau was wed to Christin Schwamberger from Germany in late August at nearby Fox Hill Farm.  The event was described by many as "the best wedding" ever.  The couple plans to live in a home Dave will build on a 4 acre plot that has recently been subdivided from the farm.

Other projects at the farm include: A new pasture fence line that will allow us to move our sheep to higher ground during flood season and provide rotational grazing.  With another even larger pasture above this one, we believe we can eventually expand the flock to 50 or more animals.  Other news was the completion of our commercial kitchen and certification as a bakery.

As we move towards winter we will be carefully analyzing our past year and planning accordingly to chart the future for Old School Farm.  We continue to see a diverse operation and a variety of crops.
We are considering a more serious on farm self-serve stand, bread and pizza baking, and possibly moving some product to the Philadelphia market.  How we expand and where we focus our time and energy will greatly impact the future of the farm.

Regardless of the exact moves we make, we know two things will remain consistent:   The food we produce will be incredibly flavorful and nutritious, and the learning and experiences that are born out of our endeavor will remain with us all always...

Now for your enjoyment, here are a LOT of photos with some interesting information - there is much to catch you up on!

Until next time -

Your Friends at Old School Farm

Sun Chokes - delicious tubers, a cousin of the Sunflower
Bump out over kitchen windows on barn - prevent water entry and provides shade in afternoon for veggie prep area
Nice Dino Kale
Dave Benner & Dave Campeau - 3 root Grax beet


Gorgeous Grasshopper on moist moss mat

Our favorite tomato - Snow White !!

Jimmy Nardello sweet pepper - Italian heirloom

Locust posts for middle pasture fence line

Purple tomatillo - delicicoso en salsa!

Nothing beats a carrot fresh from the patch!

Uncus Jr. enjoys his kale

Fall broccoli crop
Three sisters 

Nice looking cabbage
party left overs make fun food for the flock

boy's harvest basket

The heat in high tunnels is outstanding for producing peppers well into fall

Coleman Benner after removing "ribs" from Dinosaur Kale - these were soon turned into kale chips

Big knives and small boys....we take a few chances, but that's how kids learn....

Chopped cabbage and salt will soon turn into Sauerkrat in this old crock

Antique Farm equipment show in Pocono Mountains

Kale Smoothie ingredients

That's one incredibly delicious and nutritious smoothie

Eggplant Parm - new recipe requires no pre-frying - need to be at 425

Benner boys and neighbor "JD" and one of their pans of parm...

On November 15th the flock will go from 20 to 5.  These birds were all hatched
on our farm or our friend's more mail order poults!

Our Asian pear tree produced for the first time and they were
small, but GOOD!

The privy getting a face lift

And a new seating area

Locust fence posts going in

Rental auger made Dave's job somewhat easier
The middle pasture area

Water cress has exploded - from a few small transplants last spring. 

Al threw a few extra Purple Viking seed potatoes into the compost pile in spring.  This fall he pulled several pounds from one small hole...plants love compost!

Mary - no longer all black.

Bosc Pear - the 8 year old trees just started to produce

Clipped wings....the turkeys were flying up to roost at night so Christin and
Dave clipped their wings...

Ma Benner and son Coleman pick the last of the raspberries

Nice baker Russet!

It's like a treasure hunt - complete with plenty of silty loam for the clothes

Few and far between, but the fall Spinach was delicious

Harvesting Cannellini shell beans

Once soaked, these are amazing in soups and stews

Our first Oyster Mushroom emerges from sugar maple log we
inoculated 18 months ago

Baby Shitake!!

A big purple viking potato, sun chokes, and what's that Owen is holding?

What is that Dave?   As it turns out it is an avocado seedling that sprouted from a discarded
pit in our compost pile - tool cool!   It's now in a pot in our kitchen.

The Benners and Campeaus take a break on the old dairy barn wall

Map at recent Farm to Chef event held at the Cooperage in Hoesdale.  We are #5 on the map -
right next to 800 acres of game lands!

The PASA (Pennsylvania Sustainable Agriculture) farms that provided food for the event....

Deena Benner at the Farm to Chef event at the Cooperage

Thirsty turkeys drink from water dripping from moss mat growing

Dave Benner visits the farm - and catches 4 nice
fall rainbow trout in the Dyberry!
Super cool beetles...metallic blue/black.  Looks like a "good guy"?
Enormous clump of cushion moss with spore heads

Waltham broccoli 

After harvest - "children" emerge

Topping Brussle Sprout plants forces sprouts to develop

Roger's nice block of pop corn

Dave has recently cleared out high tunnel and planted with oats for a cover crop for winter/early spring

As crops finish, we till them in and plant cover crops

Al's deer blind for crossbow hunting

Christin cleans and weighs carrots for market

Red Cored Chantenay Carrots 

Our first Shitake mushrooms - they are INCREDIBLE - when grilled they taste like bacon