I truly enjoy writing. I enjoy the challenge of communicating through written words without the advantage of facial expressions, tone of voice, and for me, of Italian heritage, talking with my hands! This love of writing is not inherently obvious when you see that I have not written a blog post in almost exactly two years. But hope springs eternal, so I am trying again, and this is the best time of year for starting anew!
Shiloh Valley’s farmer's market friends may have noticed that my absence has extended far beyond blog posts. This past year has been a time for me to recharge and reprioritize. Some of you may know that I contracted Lyme Disease over ten years ago. (In fact, that is part of what inspired our journey into local, natural, sustainable foods, but that is a story for another blog post. Stay tuned!) Chris, the other half of Shiloh Valley, has been completing 2 1/2 master’s degrees in the past four years.In addition, our eldest was graduating and our two middle boys entering a new stage in their homeschool journey - high school. We love being part of our community, so volunteering in the local foods community, 4-H, the YMCA…also took time. Between health concerns, new responsibilities, and my overwhelming perfectionist personality, I needed to fall back and regroup. So we have spent much of the past summer, fall, and winter evaluating the direction of Shiloh Valley Farm and we are so excited for the future!
It is ironic that in an endeavor to simplify our life by separating from the Air Force and becoming farmers, we have actually multiplied our workload exponentially! But trying to make a living in a career field notorious for the difficulty in doing so has added many responsibilities to our plates. Additionally, a sustainable, synergistic farm means we have a variety of animals and plants to care for. I think it is easier to become an expert in one thing, but in an effort to be more sustainable - our own little ecosystem - we have many aspects in which to become knowledgable. And of course, we must add homeschooling, home cooking, and so on into the mix. Figuring out priorities — like sleep — is vital. So this coming year has been designated our growth and development year!
We have found in our tremendous growth and increasing popularity of our products (Thanks to you!!) that we have not kept up on our infrastructure. We just muscle through. We have been unable to find the time to plan and instead jump from one “fire” to another. But that has become unsustainable. If we want to continue providing good food and farm products to our community (which we do!), then we found we need to stop, plan, and build. We have spent our break brainstorming where we are going, projects we want to accomplish, and pacing ourselves rather than trying to accomplish it all at once. Weird, huh?
So where are we going? Well, that is a simple, big question. Our fabulous Berkshire pork and eggs from pastured heritage breed hens will continue to be our showcase items. We continue to work to introduce the Sheridan-area to the fabulous flavor of chevon. That’s goat meat, by the way. (Be sure to check out the Wyoming Culinary Institute which serves our chevon on their International Cuisine menu every year.) Our flock of Icelandic sheep continues to grow and we hope for our resulting supply of lamb to last more of the season! And of course, while still keeping our quality. Some of our favorite customers, a couple retired from the Air Force who spent time stationed in Iceland, informed us that we have the best Icelandic lamb in America. Note that we haven’t yet reached the quality of lamb they ate in Iceland. We’ll keep working!
But to do this well, we are formulating big plans. We are working to fence our property better in order to manage our pasture better. Just like us, animals have food that they prefer, but for the health of themselves and the land, they need to eat a little bit of everything. So we will be working to fence our property in small paddocks to manage our grass better. We have dirt work to be accomplish to help our barnyard drain better for the health of the animals in winter and spring. This will also allow us to move our grain storage to the barnyard, which will save huge amounts of time hand hauling grain to the pigs and chickens. We have plans for new chicken coops and nest boxes to manage the hens better, too. Clearly, livestock form the foundation for our farm and we are placing much emphasis on making caring for them easier and more effective. But wait, there’s more!
Our children are integral members of our farm. We mean it when we say this is a family farm! Giving them this life, difficult as it can be, is a primary reason we’re farming. Additionally, we believe that developing a family economy is vital. Some of you may remember Katie’s Baking for Braces, wherein Katie baked quick breads, cookies, etc., to help raise money for her braces. (Also for fiber processing equipment such as a carder; she did get to have some fun with the money!) Katie’s extracurricular activities, not to mention going away to college, have put Katie’s Baking on hold for now. But Michael has risen to the challenge. As many know, Michael is our resident market gardener, even receiving grants from the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce Youth Ventures Challenge. The rest of our family is glad to support him in his endeavors. We literally get to eat the fruit of our labors! To that end, last fall and this spring we are building two huge hoophouses with which to produce food protected from frost and hail, as well as uninvited foragers like deer. We now have expanded storage facilities so we can offer vegetables such as winter squash and root vegetables throughout the year. While it is healthy for the livestock to eat the extra vegetables we haven’t sold before freezing, and we are glad to share with them, we would also love to be able to share more of our bounty with our community.
Speaking of the fruits of our labors, from all appearances, our orchard has survived yet another winter! I never count on it, though, until I see the buds appearing in the spring. Hopefully, they are getting mature enough that we’ll soon be seeing some delicious pears, apples, plums, and cherries. We’ll also be adding some different fruit and nut varieties this year. I have heard a proverb that you plant fruit trees for your children and nut trees for your grandchildren, which forces me to be patient, but we try to look at things around here multi-generationally anyway! We have placed our spring order for berries and are excited to be expanding our strawberries and raspberries this year. As it turns out, with a large family of berry-loving kids (and parents!), our patches aren’t large enough for any extra to sell. However, the main purpose of these new berry patches is as part of a Specialty Crop program through the state of Wyoming. We are partnering with the Dept of Agriculture to plant experimental crops of berries to help determine tasty varieties that are hardy enough to survive our Wyoming climate, so we will be planting several varieties of both strawberries and raspberries. I am sure we’ll have no shortage of volunteers to help us determine which are the yummiest!
Now there are lots of boring things for us to keep working on that will keep us very busy - water lines, pasture shelters, buildings for cleaning vegetables - but I wanted to give you the highlights. As our infrastructure is put into place, we will be able to expand our production without sacrificing animal health and quality of life, our health and quality of life, and the quality you have come to expect from Shiloh Valley Farm. I know several of you have been disappointed to not be able to get bulk orders of pork and lamb this year, and have been having to place reservations at Good Health Market to get eggs when we drop them off! We hope to be able to contribute more to the health of our community!
And yet, the most exciting things are yet to come! We have an extensive list of on-farm events we plan to add to our schedule. So many of our customers have become our friends as well, and we hope to share life on the farm with you. More to come on that, but suffice it to say I am so excited I can hardly stand it!!
Now, I hope many of you are nearly as excited as we are about the future of Shiloh Valley Farm. But, of course, time and funding are realities. As I mentioned, we are calling this our growth and building year, and we have A LOT of work to do! We do not expect the fruition of much our work until 2020 and on, but we will do our utmost to meet your needs in the present. In the midst of all these projects, we are still maintaining our "regularly scheduled programming", which in the immediate future involves lambing, kidding, chicks, farrowing, calving, cria'ing (is that a word?), planting. Phew! We will continue to have a presence at the Sheridan-area farmers markets. Our eggs and many of our pork products will continue to be carried at Good Health Market. So please follow our Facebook and Instagram because I will announce there if we are unable to make markets, and also let you know when we restock products at Good Health. If there is something specific you are looking for and needing right away, PLEASE contact us through email or Facebook message and let us know. We plan regular drop offs in Sheridan where we can meet you. (You can call, too, but we’re not great at keeping our phones with us on the farm and service is spotty, anyway.) In addition to Facebook and Instagram, I’m also planning blog posts to keep you up-to-date on our progress.
And, as always, thank you SO MUCH for your support of Shiloh Valley Family Farm!