Star Hollow Farm is nestled two valleys into the Allegheny Range of the Appalachian Mountains in southern Pennsylvania. We’re in what’s called the ridge and valley region of the state, a good two hours west of Lancaster, which is where most people think of when they think of farms in Pennsylvania.
In our valley, farms are cut out of the woods. One ridge to the south the farms are larger, flatter, and have better soil. Our farm is bordered on three sides by Sideling Hill Creek. Our 15 acres of nearly flat, fertile bottomland are irrigated by the creek when it’s dry and flooded by it when it overflows — something that has been happening all too frequently lately. We got nailed by Hurricane Irene in September 2011 and lost all our crops in those lower fields. The creek eventually joins the Susquehanna River and empties into Chesapeake Bay at Havre de Grace, Maryland.
[photo] Flooding in our tomato field following Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The closest towns to us that anyone has heard of are Chambersburg or Gettysburg, each an hour or so southeast of us. Hagerstown, MD is a little over an hour south of us. Being in the middle of the state, we’re closer to DC and Baltimore than Philly or Pittsburgh. It’s about a three-hour drive from here down to DC on Saturday mornings.
[photo] Sam hilling potatoes on our 1949 Allis Chalmers model G.
One of the results of the flooding mentioned above -- along with my achin' back and the lack of farm labor in the area -- has been a contraction of our acreage farmed and simultaneous intensification. We have two high tunnels to extend production into the fall and winter, have converted much of our greenhouse into a crop production zone in addition to its usual spring plant starting area, and are digging up our front yard to plant more veggies in what had been just a pretty place. Interestingly, our production and sales have both gone up (attributed mainly to better management and ease of irrigation) resulting in 2014 being our best production year ever on the least amount of ground ever. Nice!
[photo] More than half our farm is woodlands.
In January 2015 we completed our conversion from a sole proprietorship to an LLC, done as a means to allow our son Sam to become a business partner (and additionally to protect our home and land from being taken if something bad ever happens). Now that Sam is a part-owner, he is interested in expanding production, which we'll do very carefully and hopefully "grow smart" based on what we've learned from our recent lesson in intensification.
[photo] One advantage of a new (younger) partner... he still wants to experiment with new things. I'd never have thought of planting oats in the front garden! They're pretty good.
One of our strategies regarding crops we grow is to focus on less common crops or varieties, buying many of the more common ones from our friends that grow them, so that our CSA members and market customers have access to a wider range of produce types, under the assumption that having a wide array of produce -- including items that are not so common and less likely to be available in the grocery store 500 feet down the street from the farmers market -- will make us a more attractive place to shop.
[photo] Buckwheat cover crop in the field below the barn, where the tomatoes were flooded during Irene. We're trying to rebuild the soil.