Hello! My name is Emily Stevenson, and I’m excited to be a contributor here on Homestead Hustle! I hope to be a source of both information and inspiration to you, whether you’re a novice with a homestead dream or someone already living off the land.
I thought the best way to introduce myself might be to take you through a typical day here at Pleasant Valley Farm, but part of what makes farming so great is that every day is different! My husband Dan and I raise 13 species of livestock and poultry, so a twice-daily rhythm here is making sure everyone is fed. What needs done will change through the seasons- the grass is green and most animals are out on pasture, so we don’t have to feed hay or clean stalls as frequently this time of year. The horses only come in when we need to work the fields with our Belgian draft mares, and the Dexter cattle and Katahdin sheep also free range over our pasture fields. I’m checking lots of pens of baby poultry right now, as we are raising Cornish-Rock meat chickens to offer at our farm stand and have a number of pens with different age birds that will be ready at different weeks of the farm stand season. I also raise, hatch and sell heritage breed chickens (Barred Rock & Ameracauna), Bourbon Red turkeys, Coturnix quail and peafowl, and am working on adding breeding flocks of Delaware chickens and three heritage breeds of ducks (Ancona, Welsh Harlequin, and Khaki Campbell) this hatching season. We use an incubator, so I have that to tend to, plus pens of baby birds as well as the breeding flocks to care for. We also breed and sell Silver Fox rabbits and raise Large Black hogs for pork at our farm stand. We have a couple crossbred goats and a pretty self-sufficient flock of Toulouse geese, as well as a good population of kitties. With this many animals, my husband and I divide up chores. He feeds the pigs, I care for the rabbits, and so on. It’s not that I can’t do his chores or vice versa, but we find having our own chores means we know everything is covered and nothing gets accidentally forgotten.
We raise organically grown produce in a market garden that covers about two acres, and have a small seed starting greenhouse and a hoophouse, a large greenhouse structure where we extend our season, planting tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the ground. I start all the plants for our garden (including lots of heirloom varieties) and a few extra to sell. I’d love to do more bedding plants, but currently I don’t have a large enough seed starting greenhouse to do much more than our own. This time of year I’m doing lots of transplanting, watering, and fertilizing. We have lots of crops already in the ground, things like peas, lettuce, onions and more are up so there is weeding to be done. I tied the hoophouse tomatoes to stakes and fertilized them as well as the brassicas we transplanted outside yesterday. I also have beds of perennial herbs, flowers, medicinal plants, rhubarb, hop vines and more that need pruned and/or weeded. The rhubarb is doing so well that I’m planning on canning later this week, I make a rhubarb marmalade as well as a barbecue sauce with it!
We have a roadside farm stand on our 50 acres, and our season runs from Memorial Day through the end of November yearly. We’re open only 2 days per week, so I can run the stand and have a personal connection with my customers, but also have enough time to work alongside my husband to create almost all of what we sell without hiring employees. Our opening day for 2017 is May 27, and it’s coming up fast, so we have a lot to do to clean the winter’s clutter and dust out and have an inviting place for our neighbors to shop. We also offer locally roasted coffees, handmade goat’s milk soap, and raw milk cheese from other family businesses so I’ll be placing orders for all those very soon as well as working with our local USDA inspected facility (another local family business) to have beef, pork, and lamb processed.
We also run an online storefront on Etsy. Dan is a blacksmith and I make natural body care items, sew, make jewelry, and do other crafts. We try to use our winter downtime to cultivate these other interests and create some inventory for both our online and physical stores. I’m often packing and shipping orders, answering questions, and working with folks to create custom orders just for them. I use Facebook and Instagram to showcase what we do and reach customers. I put time into answering questions about the farm through calls and emails, and this time of year am coordinating pickups for people buying hatching eggs, chicks, and rabbits.
As you may have gathered, we do a lot of things but not a lot of any one thing. It works out well for us, as a diverse selection of crops means that if any one fails, we still have income in other places. Over the years we have done some things well and made them permanent, and other times found we didn’t love something and decided not to pursue it further. We have a vision of what we want to be, and find that it’s helpful to refocus it every now and again. As I learn more, I do more and create more, but find that these pursuits come back to a central vision- preserving a little bit of America’s agricultural heritage with our historic buildings, heritage breed livestock and heirloom plants, the use of draft horse power and antique equipment. We’re not a living history farm, but we both find value and beauty in things that have been around for generations. I’m excited to share with you lots more of what we do here and hope you’ll stop by again soon!