By Shari Rossman
Did you know that every silk ‘thread’ on an ear of corn connects to a single kernel on that ear and the corn silk carries the windblown pollen to that kernel?
Did you know that asparagus are related to onions, leeks and garlic and their roots can grow 20 feet deep? It takes an asparagus plant three years from seed to first harvest. (To avoid using pesticides, Milk House Farm asparagus are mowed off at season’s end to prevent asparagus beetles from developing and keep plants bug-free in the Spring!)
There are coyotes, fox and even mink in Bucks County, predators to chickens and ducks that keep Brenda Slack alert for the safety of her flock.
Oh, the things you can learn on a BCFA Farm Tour!
And what a perfect evening for a farm tour! On Wednesday, July 5th, the steady breeze cooled the air that had been 93+ earlier to pleasant low 80s and chased the bugs away atop the hill off Woodhill Road at Milk House Farm Market, high above the Delaware River. Our host, Brenda Slack, with her mom, Janice Slack, and staff, set the stage with tents and buffet tables festooned with rainbows of cut flowers and hay bales for seating. Participants brought food aplenty (from Asian veggie curries to Zucchini fritters) to complement the two chickens and a whole TURKEY that Brenda roasted so we could all sample and taste the delicious difference of her local pastured raised poultry. What a treat!
After all had feasted, Brenda welcomed us to the farm which, she proudly explained, has been in her family since the early 1813s. Long a dairy farm, Brenda transformed Milk House Farm into one dedicated to raising poultry and vegetables. Milk House Farm was featured on a BCFA farm tour ten years ago when Brenda was just getting started. Since she began, she has been committed to and worked tirelessly to use sustainable, regenerative methods, and in the sixteen years she’s been in business she has tripled the size of her operation.
Chickens (and eggs) are the farm’s main revenue source. Brenda introduced us to her various flocks, Rhode Island Red cross–her most reliable layers, Araucana with the Easter egg colored eggs and some with a beautiful jet black color ……. along with a few ducks and turkeys, all living in paddocks with plenty of space and fresh air. She supplements their diet with a special organic feed that keeps them happy, healthy and laying eggs. Eggs from Milk House can include blue or chocolate brown eggs from the unusual breeds, contrasting those produced by the beautiful RI Reds.
The great flavor and gorgeous sunflower yellow of the yolks of pasture-raised eggs might alone sway your egg-purchasing decisions but you can add to that a real nutritional bonus. Pasture-raised eggs are loaded with Vitamin K-2, essential to heart and arterial health! You can also find duck eggs for sale at Milk House, nutritional powerhouses. Ducks eggs have many times more Vitamin D, A, K-2 and B, as well as beneficial cholesterol. (Yes, there is such a thing as good cholesterol. Join BCFA to debunk the myths about eggs and learn why they are really GOOD for you!)
Brenda explained the economics behind her decision to purchase adolescent hens rather than grow them from chicks and selling them once their laying-prime is past. The farm day starts and ends with the care and feeding of the hens. The hens are the first animals awake on the farm. The hens spend each night on roosts safely tucked inside their coops. It sometimes takes awhile for Brenda to encourage this nightly ritual with the ducks, who seem to like to be chased around a little before settling into the safety of the duck house for the night.
While no longer a dairy, Brenda still keeps three cows on the farm for her own use. The advent of movable fencing has greatly facilitated moving the cows to where they can contribute best to the regenerative soil practice of natural fertilization (otherwise known as manure), growing cover crops and encouraging the development of the essential community of life in the soil.
For some of her vegetable production, Brenda uses plastic on the soil to inhibit weed growth and retain moisture. Brenda and her staff still plant many of the vegetables on the farm by hand! Broccoli, zucchini, peppers, etc . Tomatoes, Milk House Farms’s other specialty, are planted with the help of the tractor but they still hand-feed the more than FORTY varieties they grow, one plant at a time into the plug planter. Sungold, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter (an extra-large pink-red heirloom), Green Zebra, Pineapple, German Johnson, Chocolate Cherry… these are just a few carefully planted and mapped to ease harvesting according to customer demand. The plants we saw were already strong and bushy! Brenda adds guide wires at various heights as the plants grow as well as fertilizing them with a natural fish emulsion popular with organic producers for its effectiveness.
Planting, tending and harvesting the more than six acres of produce, plus operating the on-premises market is more than a full-time job. It takes Brenda and a staff of between 10-16 with 6 being full to run the farm – often on 16 hour days. Brenda shows only love and enthusiasm for her mission at her farm, with an occasional nod to the frustrations. Weather (drought, too much rain, frost at the wrong time or damaging hail) can end a crop in flash! But at the farm tour farmers, kids and adult visitors were all just having fun sharing the joys of farming!You can enjoy the fabulous taste and nutrition from the bounty of Milk House Farm each week at the Wrightstown Farmers Market, where they are a featured favorite! Or you can visit the farm and make your purchases at their farm market, open 7 days a week, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and find their outstanding, fresh vegetables, eggs, chicken, duck and turkey.