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Popularity grows for county farms

By Eric Smith | Centre Daily Times

When walking through one of the grocery superstores and examining the volume of food and related products, it is difficult to get a sense of where food comes from or what is involved in producing food.

farm tour2
Eric Smith

Farms on the fourth annual Centre County Farm Tour will have signs like this one seen in front of Sandy Ridge Farm in Spring Mills.

On top of that, sometimes the label may say one thing but the taste leaves you wondering if the label is correct because of the processing involved.

For those interested in knowing more about what’s involved in producing food or who long for pure local food straight from the source, there’s the fourth annual Centre County Farm Tour, hosted by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

On Aug. 8, from 12:30 to 5 p.m., a $10 pass for cars and $3 pass for both motor and pedal bikes will give people the opportunity to meet some of the area's farmers and see how food is being produced, as well as the chance to purchase items such as produce, meat, cheese, jams and jellies, and specialty products.

According to Kristen Leitzel, PASA conference plan coordinator and Buy Fresh Buy Local coordinator, it isn’t often that people have the chance to actually meet the farmers who produce the food that is sold in area stores and at the farmers markets as the farmers are usually busy operating the farms themselves.

“This is an opportunity to get close access to some of our local farms,” Leitzel said. “It’s a chance to learn more about food preparation and to ask questions.”

For the farmers, it is another way to market and sell products, though preparations for the day involve a lot of work as the farms need to handle a large number of visitors.

“It is quite a task to open up your farm and accommodate 100 to 300 visitors in one day,” Leitzel said.

In its fourth year, the tour is seeing more participation from area farmers.

“Last year, we had 14 farms participate,” Leitzel said. “We have 23 farms on this year’s tour.”

Tour-goers can choose to start the tour at any of the farms during the designated tour hours. According to Leitzel, visitors realistically will be able to visit three to five farms over the course of the day. Those farms range in what they provide and in terms of what they offer.

For visitors who choose to drop by Stone Meadow Farm, in Woodward, there is the chance to see how cheese is made and to buy the cheese, as well as beef. Owner Brian Futhey offers a variety of cheese for sale that he makes at the farm, including cheddar, Colby, Swiss, jalapeño jack, Camembert and Brie.

Futhey’s operation involves 20 or so milk cows, an area to process the milk and curds and create the cheese, and a refrigeration area, where the vacuum-sealed finished product is stored before it is sold at places such as Nature’s Pantry, in State College, Tait Farm, in Centre Hall, or the Boalsburg farmers market.

“On the tour, people will be able to purchase the different kinds of cheese as well as beef sold by the cut,” Futhey said. “Bring your cooler.”

Not far from Stone Meadow is Fiedler Farm, in Aaronsburg. There, visitors will be able to see many of the expected farmland plants and animals. The farm has pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks and a milk cow for personal milk consumption and to feed the pigs. But owner Bob Vernon employs a number of green- and animal-friendly farming techniques that visitors may not expect. Vernon collects rainwater off roofing and stores it in a tank to use to water his vegetables. He also has moving ranges for his chickens where the pens are moved from one fresh grass area to another on a regular basis.

“By going to free range, there is always fresh grass and bugs for the chickens,” he said.

Vernon also has his own blacksmith shop.

“It came about more out of necessity than as a hobby,” Vernon said. “It is a good skill to have for repairing equipment.”

Visitors will be able to purchase hand-forged items, vegetables, pork, chickens and eggs, as well as inquire about the many workshops that are conducted on the farm on subjects like blacksmithing, growing produce and preserving goods.

There also is the opportunity to visit some of the historic farms and admire the architecture of the barns and houses.

Sandy Ridge Farm, in Spring Mills, is known for its attractive barn and its stone foundation. Owners Roy and Martha Stoltzfus keep the grounds looking sharp with ornate flower gardens and landscaping. The property is one of the farms protected by the Centre County Farmland Trust, which ensures that it will remain a place of agriculture for years to come.

“It’s a beautiful barn,” Roy said. “I love showing it off.”

At Sandy Ridge, visitors also will have the chance to see a working Amish farm and learn about Amish culture, and if the weather permits, visitors may have the chance to ride in an open-air buggy for a small donation. The Farmland Preservation Artists also will be there and will have their art work for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to preserving Centre County farms.


 

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