Jamison Farm: Visiting the Sheep

Over the weekend a few of us drove out to Latrobe, PA to visit our friends at Jamison Farm. I have mentioned Jamison previously in reference to their delicious lamb. John and Sukey Jamison are our “next tent neighbors” at the Ligonier Farmer’s Market. They raise a flock of sheep and lambs on about 200 acres of rolling hills less than an hour away from us.   Here is what we saw!

Turning off the main road down a long gravel driveway, the hills of Latrobe have noticeably longer arcs than those in Indiana county. They are not as steep and seem to stretch out further than the hills at Reeger’s farm.

Sukey explained to us that there was a hole in the fence somewhere along the way. This sheep seems to have made use of this exit. Doesn’t he look guilty? Maybe that is why we say people are looking “sheepish”. I don’t mean to make a pun, but seriously, some of these guys acted pretty guilty.

Walking up from the house we found a number of sheep and lambs grazing at the top of the hill. Most were taking a break from the sun under the trees. Sukey explained that their coats are getting pretty thick and they are due for a shearing pretty soon!

For 9 months out of the year the sheep are grazing freely on the hills of Jamison Farm, and in the winter they are brought indoors. While sheep generally breed in autumn, this can lead to difficulties for a shepherd who must manage lambing along with the wintering of the flock. The cold winter months can be and extra stress upon ewes that are lambing. So John and Sukey generally delay the breeding time until the Spring is bringing warmer weather.

Jamison Farm ships world-class quality lamb to customers all around the country including a number of fine restaurants. Above is the packing and shipping barn that finishes off Jamison Farm’s fine operation. You may be wondering what happens in the steps between the pasture and the packing barn. John and Sukey process all of their own lambs in a building nearby, but not directly located on the farm. On the day we visited John was managing the processing, so Sukey (above, talking with Mary) gave us the tour!

At the end of our tour Sukey showed us their remarkable farm house. I believe it was built near the end of the 19th century. From my understanding the floor plan was common among farm houses at the time. The old farm house at Reeger’s Farm that grandmother lives in is striking similar to John and Sukey’s. The two are a mirror image of one another.

Along with selling at Ligonier Farmer’s Market and shipping, Jamison Farm also hosts a number of small events in their own home serving a delicious dinner made with, you guessed it, their very own lamb! And even for us, visitors stopping by for a short visit, Sukey made some oatmeal cookies that were great! Thanks John and Sukey!

Interested in more information? Check out http://www.jamisonfarm.com/


Penn’s Corners Farm Alliance

This season Reeger’s Farm is distributing its produce through two separate operations: the farmer’s market and Penn’s Corners Farm Alliance. The farmer’s markets we run ourselves. Packing up the produce and setting up our tent, we get to sell directly to the folks who are looking to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. While this method is effective, there are not enough customers in the local Indiana area to buy everything that we can grow. This is where Penn’s Corners comes in.

Penn’s Corners is a food co-op that helps connect over 30 farms with customers that would otherwise be unreachable. Even though there are many restaurants in Pittsburg looking to buy local ingredients, we don’t have the time to drive all the way to the city during our work week. We are busy growing the food, you see. Penn’s Corners delivers food through three distinct operations.


CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. Through a CSA, customers can sign up to buy a share of a farm or a group of farm’s produce. Each week Penn’s corners will collect food from their farmers and organize it into even shares. Then they will drive it out to distribution sites around Pittsburg where customers can pick up their shares. As the growing season goes along customers can expect something a little different every week depending on what the farmers are growing.

-Farm Stand:

The Farm Stand is a weekly distribution that is similar to a CSA. The difference is instead of a customer signing up for an unspecific share of whatever is produced, Penn’s Corners announces ahead of time what they expect to receive and customers can pre-order specifically what they want that week.

Restaurant Wholesale:

Finally, Penn’s Corners delivers orders to upscale restaurants around Pittsburg. Chefs are often more than willing to pay a premium to smaller farms if it means fresh, quality food. Each of these three divisions of Penn’s Corners pick up produce on different days. Every week we sell something a little different to each one. It all depends on what we have and what they need.

This week the Restaurant division needed strawberries so we delivered 40 quarts we just picked. Usually we would simply meet the delivery truck at the local butcher shop to drop off this order, but this week I rode along with the delivery truck all day to see the inner workings of how Reeger’s farm strawberries end up at a restaurant in Pittsburg.

Our strawberries on the loading dock

Clint, the delivery man, getting ready for a hard days work.

Clint organizing the truck, which was nice and cool and refrigerated.

Some early tomatoes from a farm using hydroponics.

All sorts of veggies!

Penn’s Corners HQ, where all the deals go down.

Ruggeri’s Food Shoppe, a nice grocery/cafe that we delivered to.

Folks working hard in the kitchen at The Porch. We saw a lot of kitchens today, but this was the only restaurant that requested a 130 pound whole pig, which we delivered from Cunningham’s Butcher Shop near Reeger’s Farm.

In this kitchen they were making tiny little breadsticks. He was grinding them out through that little silver machine.




Reeger Farm Tour, Part 3: The Transplanter

The past week has brought on yet more intriguing new experiences here at Reeger’s. Previously we had been sorting and packing our produce in the kitchen, but with the weather getting nicer we decided to move the operation outside to the pavilion behind the market.

The breeze comes through softly under the pavilion and there are even some birds nesting in the rafters. There are certainly some natural advantages over stainless steel. We even brought out the utility sink and hooked it up with a hose, also up the rafters.

Previously on the Reeger Farm Tour I showed you the greenhouse beside the market, the one in which we start plants from seed. This week we began transplanting these into the fields. There are a number of fields made up with rows covered in plastic to keep out weeds. We transplant into the mounds beneath this plastic. This is a complicated process  though.

First, a hole must be cut in the plastic. Then the ground must be loosened up to make room for the plant. The newly transplanted plant is also going to need water. All of this for a single transplant! Not to mention that the rows should be neatly aligned. How do we do it?

Years ago the Reeger’s designed a machine specifically for this process. We call it the transplanter.

The transplanter

Pulled behind a tractor, the transplanter has a number of important features. Each part of the odd machine fulfills a part of the process I explained above. Before we start I should mention we will lower the transplanter from where it is in the picture above.

First, the yellow wheel will roll along on top of the plastic row punching evenly spaced holes. On the front of the tractor, as you can see in the next picture, there is a large water tank. This water is pumped out of a hose into the center of the yellow wheel. From there, it flows out of a hole inside each of the triangular spikes and into the newly punctured holes in the soil. This water loosens up the ground and makes a welcome home for the new plants.

Next, two people will sit and lie on the back of the transplanter to place the plants into the new holes. We load up trays of the plants onto the diagonal shelves above the chairs. The planter in the orange chair will pull the plants out of their trays and place them into the holes. Then the planter lying on the bench-like apparatus will more firmly plant the plant, leveling out the dirt.

A cart full of peppers ready to be transplanted.

Preparing to transplant

Maggie is placing the plants in their holes and Mary is securing them there.

Another angle of the complex transplanting process.

Each member of the three-person transplanting team has to be constantly aware to make this process work. The tractor driver has to drive evenly to keep the holes in line. The planter in the chair not only has to prepare the plants but they must also push and pull a lever to stop and start the flow of water into the yellow wheel. The transplanter lying down has to keep up with the pace of the tractor, digging around in countless muddy holes while lying down, which, while effective, can be quite uncomfortable over time. Despite the difficulty this method of transplanting is much more effective than moving each plant by hand.

Strawberry Jam

Strawberries are early this year, along with everything else. I can’t remember exactly, but our season is about 2 or 3 weeks ahead of schedule because of an onset of warm weather early in the spring. When I was up here in March for spring break it was beautiful and sunny, which is not normal for western PA in March.

We picked strawberries today and Tuesday. The patch isn’t producing enough to send to markets, but we pick it to keep it clean until the season really picks up. After dinner Tuesday night, a group of us made strawberry jam with the baskets we collected. Below I shall document this process in the best way I can, with pictures! Sweet, mostly-red pictures!

The strawberry patch

Elusive strawberries, hiding!

A lovely bowl about to be sliced

Sliced berries about to be mashed!

I was the masher

Before and After

2 cups of berries, 2 cups of sugar! (and that’s only half the sugar required by the recipe)

Stirring it up and mixing in the pectin, which makes it into jelly/jam

Jarring the Jam

Before freezing the jam sits for 24 hours

Elliot with a strawberry

Carter with a strawberry, Elliot looking on

These two children belong to Chelsea and Jason who live down next door. They provide great entertainment which I am channeling into my blog.

Tomorrow morning I will wake up and enjoy this jam on my toast. I will take a picture then and lightning blog it!

Also welcome back to the states, Annie!

Reeger’s Farm Tour, Part 1: House and Greenhouses

I am living with the Masterson’s this summer. Mary, Chris, Annie (who is on a mission in Moldova until next week), Paul, and Molly. We live here:

the Masterson house

On any given sunny summer day, this is the view from the backyard, with one exception. The 1977 M&M brown Mercedes  belongs to our neighbors, who loaned it to Molly this week for her junior prom.

To the right of where I took this picture is our greenhouse:

radishes, green onions, carrots, lettuces, cilantro, arugula, mixed greens, and more!

The only field crop we are harvesting currently is asparagus. Aside from that, this greenhouse supplies most of the produce we sell in town and through the co-op. In the front of this picture, the smaller plants are lettuce and basil that we just put in earlier this week. We did not plant them here from seed for, as you can see, they are already growing over the ground. We start many of our vegetables in another greenhouse by the market. They grow in small pockets in a plastic tray until they are large enough to transplant, then we move them to the raised beds.

Here is the greenhouse by the market:

the tomatoes spend the afternoons in the sun

All sorts of vegetables are just getting started here. We will transplant many of these into the fields soon.

This week we have been handling a lot of asparagus, and as some of you have mentioned, I have tended to talk a lot about it. Tomorrow I will give you a glimpse into this mysterious green, if I can remember to bring my camera when we pick, that is.

Beginning work at Reeger’s Farm

Now that the exciting tale of meeting a famous author has been told, we will largely be dealing with my life on the farm. Do not lost hope, though, dear reader. I already plan to have special blogs with features like: Book Reviews, Music Thoughts, Recording New Music Updates, Guest Blogs, and many pictures! Let me begin today with some pictures to illustrate part of what I am doing here at Reeger’s Farm this summer.

This summer is taking me up a serious learning curve. Every day I am learning how to do things that, though often simple, feel revolutionary to me. I won’t build this up to be some huge spiritual revelation to me. It’s not. The excitement of my work turns on this: I have been familiar all my life with what food looks like. Most of us have. Yet, as much as I have interacted with food, its origins have always been shrouded with an element of mystery. For example, look at this green jungle below:

Mysterious Garden (with the chicken coop in the background)

What on earth is going on in there and how does it get onto my plate? Today I learned what and how. In the foreground is a plot of green onions. At this point in their lives, they are living with some friendly neighborhood weeds, but mostly these are onions. On the plot in the back corner of the greenhouse, there are big leafy plants coming out of the ground. Beneath those leafs: radishes. Today I picked both.

Radishes: the bulbs were in the ground!

Green onions, both purple and white

Getting these guys out of the ground is a step, but they are still a little earthy, if you noticed. We carried these baskets to the prep kitchen where we peeled off the outside layers of the onions and washed the radishes. After arranging them in baskets along with some bags of spinach, chard, and other greens, they were ready to be sent to the Wednesday morning vegetable stand in town.

Baskets headed to the market

Green onions ready to go

We had chicken salad tonight with greens picked minutes before dinner. I was pretty tired from work today (we did more than just prepare these baskets) and I think I only realized how fresh the meal was on my last bite. I had tossed it back pretty quickly partially because I was hurrying to get to the driving range before dark. As I finished my final bites, though, it began to rain. The links will wait for another day, and the leaks are growing as I write.


P.S. if any of my reader friends from Nashville or where ever you may now be would like to receive a letter, message me your address on facebook or twitter or text. I am writing letters this summer. It is kind of a thing. Be brave.

Visiting Wendell and Tanya Berry, Part 1

I drove from Nashville to Cincinnati today, and on the way I stopped to meet the author Wendell Berry. I got stuck in a big traffic jam on I-65 around Mammoth Cave that lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours! I called Wendell to tell him what happened and he said, “I’m sorry, don’t fret, we’ll have time for a visit. I’ll be here when you arrive, with any luck.” I drove on through the jam and went flying fast as I could.

I pulled off the highway a bit past 5PM and started paying close attention. I had always imagined Wendell Berry’s farm land looking like the rolling hills of Kentucky I had biked up and down with my father 3 years ago, but the exit I pulled of on was a different landscape. There were still hulls, but here were far more drastic, jagged, and covered in dark green forest. It was raining a grey misty rain just as it was the night before, and the scene felt altogether cold, but also more intense. I was looking very intensely, trying to match this land with the descriptions from Berry’s novels and autobiographical works. I rode 6 miles up and down a winding two lane road running alongside the Kentucky River. The river was on my left through the trees, and in between it and my road were what I took to be the lowlands. In contrast with the continuous hills, there were 100 yards of flat, green land from the bank of the river to the road. I suppose this is what floods when the rains raise the river.

I pulled up the Berry’s driveway on the right side of the road. The way ran parallel to the main road but also climbed the hill. To my left, the hill between the roads was in tall grass, fenced in. It held two grazing sheep, lolling in the drizzling rain. They seemed to acknowledge someone driving their way. On the hill to my right were three more sheep and a donkey (Wendell said he also has a llama but I did not see it). The driveway simply dead-ended into their sidewalk. I parked behind a car, got out, and gathered my things while the Berry’s friendly dog, Maggie, jumped up to meet me. She then returned to the porch making my way clear. I brought with me a poster, program, and recording from my senior recital.

Tanya Berry, a small, sharp, white-haired woman with glasses and a quick wit, welcomed me in and offered me a glass of water. The living room was cozy after driving in the rain. There was an upright piano, a slanted letter-writing dest, and a bookshelf covering the back wall, filled from corner to corner. We walked on through into the kitchen and dining room, which also held a ceiling-high bookshelf, also full. It is worth noting the ease which this situation took on.  I did not feel nervous and most everything around me encouraged me to feel at home. Wendell was upstairs fixing to come down when his great-nephew in the fourth grade called with an important request. Wendell came downstairs and took the call while I talked with Tanya about music and graduating from college.

Meeting Wendell Berry, after he got off the phone, felt very casual. Perhaps being numbed by hours of traffic along with some conscious effort to interact adeptly, I felt more casual than I wished I had. I am so grateful for the experience and everything it meant, but I fear now while recording it that I may have been less mentally present than I would have wished to be. But here is a paradox: to have taken the time at Wendell’s house to mentally process the state of “being at Wendell’s house” would have taken me mentally away from the conversation presently at hand. Thus I can say the greatest sign that I was mentally present at Wendell’s house is that I don’t remember being so.

The three of us sat down at the kitchen table and talked about countless things. There is no way I can unravel the entirety, so here I present a list of things we talked about. If you care to know more details, ask about one of these as a starting point, perhaps. We spoke about composing, electronic music, music notation, how to write for a performer, the recital, songwriting, English programs, Lipscomb, the Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, the difference between the two, Alexander Campbell, spiritual dualism, its consequences on man’s treatment of the physical world, the church’s perpetuation of this dualism, the church’s responsibility and possibility for enacting change in this perspective, the nature-oriented language of scripture, conservation and exploitation, farming this summer, farming terminology, balancing animals and plants on a farm, land use, closing the market at Reeger’s, farmers markets, the growing season, the weather, living by the river, why I am going to farm, what I will do with music now that I have graduated, my expectations for the summer, his animals (the llama included), a reading list he gave me, The Land Institute, perennial and annual crops, and much more, including his new solar panels and his skepticism as to how precisely the power company is measuring their input.

(Stayed tuned for part 2)

(I realize there is little about Wendell’s persona here, but this picture will do for now)

Wendell on his porch