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News and blog

Posted 5/1/2013 8:54pm by Reuben DeMaster.

The title of this article has been swiped from a blog entry written by Brian Snyder, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA).  Willow Haven Farm has been a proud member of this organization since we started farming.  Brian has been writing a series of articles relating to the ongoing food safety debate in congress.  If you haven't been paying close attention to this debate, the public comment period for the Food Safety Modernization Act has been extended for another 120 days.  The proposed rules in this bill will affect many small farms. PASA has been involved in the process of discerning who will be affected.


Like many things debated in Congress, most of us don't pay close attention.  I believe that we are either too busy or too frustrated to care.  However, if you would like to learn more about this issue, Brian's blog is called www.writetofarm.com and he has a gift for explaining these issues in a sensible way.  He also includes some helpful information about the Farm Bill.  It took me several years to understand that the Farm Bill doesn't primarily support farms or farmers.  Brian writes about this in the article "Agriculture at the Crossroads".  These articles are worth reading and I hope some of you find the time to learn more about the food safety debate.



Posted 3/25/2013 12:05pm by Reuben DeMaster.

We are featured on the Certified Naturally Grown website at http://www.naturallygrown.org/farms/2209.

Willow Haven Farm has been Certified Naturally Grown for 3 years in order to show that our produce is raised with organic methods.  You can trust the CNG label because it is peer farmer reviewed every year for possible violations


Your can read more about CNG on their website.:
Building on Organic Standards   A set of internationally accepted standards and practices for organic agriculture exists, but there's always discussion around the edges of what should officially be considered organic. We took the USDA's Organic standards as a starting point for our produce and livestock programs, to minimize confusion. As a private non-profit organization, we have the freedom to set our own standards, and we've chosen to do so in particular instances. CNG's apiary standards were generated "from scratch" (the NOP doesn't define standards for beekeepers) but in keeping with organic principles. 

Posted 1/25/2013 4:05pm by Reuben DeMaster.

            Thinking about this article reminds me of writing the summer vacation essay on the first day back to school.  I assume that these were assigned to help children make the transition from the rest and joy of summertime to the discipline of learning.  Unlike the child’s essay, I write about vacation with some relief.  I had enough time away from the farm and it is time to return to the life that I have chosen.

            As a farmer, I cannot choose the time of year in which to plan a vacation.  My vacation comes in January.  Not December or February – January.  When I started to plan the family vacation a year ago, my ideas involved somewhere south of here.  Not that I don’t like the cold, but after all it is January.  I have friends and family in Orlando, Ft. Meyers, and Palm Beach Gardens.  But none of those ideas worked out.  No, my January vacation was in Chicago. 

            It happened because my brother-in-law asked Tessa and I to be godparents to his third child.  This was an honor that we wouldn’t refuse so we started thinking about ways to have an enjoyable family vacation in the far west suburbs of Chicago.  Next my family decided that we should get together for Christmas – in Tennessee.  This was a central location and my parents generously reserved a condo through their timeshare membership.  Since we don’t see each other very often, this was included in my vacation plans. 

            The idea of a vacation means different things to different people.  For me, I had to rest my body and my mind by getting away from the farm.  I wanted to spend time with my family and I wanted to see some parts of this great country.  In order to accomplish this ‘vacation’, I had to figure out a way to convince my six children (ages 3-12) that a 2 week trip in our suburban covering 10 states and 3000 miles would be fun.  Actually, that wasn’t nearly as difficult as convincing my wife that we can do this and enjoy it.

            Even though I am writing this in the first person, my ‘I’ always includes Tessa.  She is an amazing person and she had to be in order to make this ‘vacation’ a success.  When our family travels, we attempt to maintain a diet similar to what we are used to eating.  This involves eating at very few restaurants and eating mostly organic and homemade foods.  Needless to say, we spent at least a week getting ready for this vacation.  We both spent the week of Christmas gathering ingredients, planning meals, and making food.  On December 26, I packed 6 gallons of raw milk, 15 dozen eggs, 17 loaves of bread, 7 pounds of cheese, 1 ½ gallons of yogurt, 18 pounds of flour, butter, lard, coconut oil, raisins, almond butter, jam, 2 chickens, 4 pounds of pork sausage, sliced beef, fruit, and 3 quarts of fermented vegetables.  We packed the grains for 14 breakfasts in zip lock bags. 

            On December 27, we loaded the suburban and were off by 6 AM.  Naturally it had snowed the night before and then changed to sleet and rain.  The plow came down our road at 5:30 so we left on schedule.  I find that the first day of travel usually goes well because everyone is excited to finally get going.  My children spend travel time listening to stories on MP3 players.  They have a few books, crafts, and other miscellaneous car activities.  By the time we hit Virginia the roads were dry.  The highlights of the day were buying fireworks in Tennessee and finally teaching the two oldest children what the mile markers on the interstate mean.  We arrived at the condo at 7 PM.  Everyone enjoyed seeing their 7 cousins for a few days. 

            After 4 days in TN, we drove to Chicago.  There we encountered 7 more cousins from Tessa’s side of the family.  The first night in Illinois, the low temperature was 4 degrees.  It was nice to visit for a few days, but our visits meant spending entire days in small homes with between 9 and 16 children.  While some people find this enjoyable, I do not usually find pleasure in this arrangement.  Tessa would say (hopefully) that I am better now than I used to be. 

            Finally after a week on vacation, we had some adventure.  I drove the family to Chicago to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.  It was a great time and we followed it with a trip up the Sears Tower.  None of the children cried on the elevator ride and everyone enjoyed the views from the 103rd floor.  While we were up there, the sun set and the night lights came out.  Eventually we waited in line to step onto the Ledge, an enclosed glass balcony that makes people feel like they are suspended in mid air.  We ended the day with Chicago style pizza on Michigan Avenue.  The next day we returned to Chicago for a tour of three Polish Catholic Churches.  A guide took up to St. Mary of the Angels, St. Hedwig, and St. John Cantius.  She told the history of each parish and helped up to appreciate the architecture and artwork in each place.  The faith and sacrifice of the Polish immigrants inspired us all. 

            The rest of our vacation was spent visiting other friends in Illinois.  On our final day, we went to the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa.  By this point, everyone was tired and ready to head for home.  We had been away from our routine for 2 weeks and the children were annoying each other more than usual.  The food had held out as planned and we only ate 3 meals of restaurant food.  I had located an organic food delivery service called Door-to-Door Organics (unfortunately not a farm) that had resupplied us with vegetables and apples.  I also made another 10 loaves of bread. 

            On the way home, we stopped to visit my sister in Washington, PA.  She had passes to the Pittsburg Zoo so we enjoyed the animals together.  Finally, road weary as we were, we headed for home.  It takes us several days to recover from vacation, but we made it.  At least most of us did.  I left my oldest daughter with my sister for another week before she came home. 



Posted 10/21/2012 7:37pm by Reuben DeMaster.

A huge thank you goes to Debra Davis who prepared 3 delicious dishes to taste at the open farm event last Sunday.  Debra used vegetables from the farm to create some unique tastes. 

Here is the carrot soup recipe that she used: 

Carrot Soup

4 slices bacon
1/2 C. onion
1-3 cloves garlic
26oz chicken broth
2 C. carrots, chopped
1 C. potatoes, diced
2-3 fresh tomatoes or 1- 14oz can diced

In a stock pot, cook bacon (till crisp), onion and garlic. Stir in chicken broth, carrots, potatoes and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer until veggies are tender. Using a stick blender or pour soup into a blender; puree until smooth. Add more broth if necessary. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chopped fresh parsley.


The  Yogurt salad dressing is something Tessa just whips up:

1 3/4 cup homemade yogurt

stir in extra virgin olive oil, salt, honey, mustard and pepper to taste.


Posted 9/3/2012 8:49pm by Reuben DeMaster.

Last Monday, our Jersey cow arrived on a trailer and led into our lush pasture.  She is a beautiful and dignified animal.  It is easy to see why farmers have kept and enjoyed cows through the centuries.  Maisy Pearl settled down quickly and did what comes natural to a cow - she started eating grass.  Things were off to a good start. 

I had a lot of questions about the situation.  Do we have time to manage a cow?  How do we milk her?  Will she like us?  How will we move her?  After all, she weighs 1000 pounds and doesn't have to do anything that she doesn't want to.  I had confidence that we would be alright because my wife was committed and determined.  She had been milking our goat all summer and seemed to have a natural ability to handle that part of animal care.  However, I didn't know how quickly we would be able to learn these skills. 

I grew up around cows.  Many of my friends came from dairy farms in Wisconsin.  I spent many hours in their barns watching them milk, but I don't think that I  ever milked a cow.  But the milking methods that I saw were much different than what we intended to try.  Our task was to lead Maisy into a small shelter, chain her to a post, and try to keep her still while we hand milked into a 3 gallon bucket.

At the first milking, Maisy willingly followed us into the shelter and let herself be chained to the post.  We brought her some kale and brushed her back.  She did not know where to stand at first and moved around a little bit.  The flies were also bothering her so we made up a vinegar spray to help repel them. 

Now it was time to get started.  The first step was washing her udder.  A mild bleach and soap solution on a paper towel accomplished this task.  Then we used the same solution to wash our hands.  Now it was time for me to figure out how to get the milk out.  Tessa showed me how she uses her hands and that didn't work at all.  I told her that my hands are a different size.  After trying several methods, I began to get some milk flowing.  This was good for a few minutes until I started feeling a lot of pain in my hands.  Tessa had to do most of the work and I left even more unsure of myself than before. 

The next day, my hands were able to milk longer, but the cow was restless.  The flies were biting and she would not stand still.  She moved back and forth, she lifted her feet to shake the flies off of her ankles, and she constantly flicked her tail.  The tail hit me in the face several times before I found a way to gently tie her tail back.   

We had planned to transition the cow to a morning milking instead of twice a day.  So far, however, we want to give her more attention and keep her on the routine that she has been used to.  As we get better, Maisy is settling down somewhat.  She bellows loudly at milking time to call us down.  She stands still for the 45 minutes or more that it takes us to hand milk.  She sometimes eats the kale that we bring or a few carrots. 

The amount of milk started at a little less than a gallon for each milking and has gone up a little each day.  We are at almost 3 gallons per day.  This milk is thick, creamy and yellowish in color.  The yellow color indicates high beta carotene in the butter fat.  We are enjoying drinking fresh milk and can't wait to make butter this week.


Posted 6/5/2012 4:16pm by Reuben DeMaster.

     For me, farming feels tenuous.  At any moment, something can and often does go wrong.  Sometimes I know immediately that there is a problem and other times I find out later.  The weather causes much of this uncertainty on a farm, but at least I have some idea of what to expect.   It is either going to be too hot or too cold, too dry or too wet, too windy or too    .  The unexpected problems are the ones that drive farmers crazy.  Two such problems occurred this spring at Willow Haven Farm.

     It was the middle of April.  The weather was warm and so dry that I had to irrigate any seeds that I planted.   So after planting 7 pounds of pea seed, I set up the drip lines and began to soak them.  Several weeks later I noticed that germination was poor and also that I seemed to be losing the peas that had already started growing.  After checking several times each week, it definitely looked like the seedlings were not growing properly.  I pulled several out of the ground and it looked like something had been eating the roots.  I called a Penn State extension agent and she confirmed that maggots had been reported in several areas.   In fact, she had already written an article about the issue.  When I read the article, I realized that I had also lost a lot onions in the last few weeks.  It turns out that there are small black flies that lay their eggs in the ground near certain plants.  Then the hatched larvae feeds on the plant roots.  You can read more about these insects at http://extension.psu.edu/vegetable-fruit/blog/2012/cabbage-onion-or-seed-corn-maggot.  

     This means that I do not have much of a pea crop this spring.  I replanted some quick growing peas early in May, but the maggots still seem to be eating the seedlings.   This is disappointing for me and for all of the people who look forward to the first peas in the spring. 

     The second unexpected farm problem this spring has to do with the chickens.  In April, we moved them into the pasture and gave them a camper for a home.  Most of them adjusted quickly to this situation and happily spent their days eating grass and scratching for bugs.  All was well until I started finding piles of feathers in various sections of the field.  Something else was enjoying my chickens!  I only seemed to be losing them at night so I began closing the camper door at dusk and opening it in the morning.  This worked for a while, but I noticed a drop in egg production.  After counting the birds I found that I had 60 instead of 80.  The flock has continued to dwindle and now we have less hens than we need to supply all of our egg customers.  I have 50 new hens that I expect to begin laying any week, but I still have not been able to stop the weekly chicken losses.  I have never seen the animal although I am guessing that it is a fox. 

     Without the CSA members who have chosen to be connected with Willow Haven Farm, I would not be able to survive these small and large problems.  Operating a small, organic farm would be too risky without people committed to purchasing directly from me.  Many things have gone well this spring and most of the crops look good.   However, everyone who supports local farmers helps us to overcome the unexpected and continue to produce the best possible products. 


Posted 6/2/2012 2:52pm by Reuben DeMaster.

If you are trying to use up your large head of chinese cabbage here is one idea. It works well just to slice the leaves thin and make Coleslaw. My favorite cole slaw dressing is a made with vinegar and olive oil.

shredded chinese cabbage


4 cups Chinese Cabbage, sliced thin or shredded
1/2 cup onion, minced
optional add-ins: shredded carrot, shredded turnip, chopped celery, chopped green pepper,

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. celery seeds

Whisk dressing until thoroughly mixed. Pour over cabbage mixture. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

I'm going to top my with roasted sunflower seeds.


Posted 2/22/2012 2:07pm by Reuben DeMaster.

I know that many of you drink raw milk.  Many of you also are unsure of its safety.  The Center for Disease Control continues to provide misleading statistics that attempt to convince us of the dangers of raw milk.  At the same time, the CDC ignores a host of other unsafe foods.  The most recent press release is typical of their methods.  The following article gives a critique of the CDC data. 


Agency ignores data that shows dangers of pasteurized milk
WASHINGTON, DC, February 21, 2012. In a press release issued today, authors affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control claim that the rate of outbreaks caused by unpasteurized milk and products made from it was 150 times greater than outbreaks linked to pasteurized milk.” The authors based this conclusion on an analysis of reports submitted to the CDC from 1993 to 2006.
According the Weston A. Price Foundation, the CDC has manipulated and cherry picked this data to make raw milk look dangerous and to dismiss the same dangers associated with pasteurized milk.
“What consumers need to realize, first of all,” said Sally Fallon Morell, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation, “is that the incidence of foodborne illnesses from dairy products, whether pasteurized or not, is extremely low.  For the 14-year period that the authors examined, there was an average of 315 illnesses a year from all dairy products for which the pasteurization status was known.  Of those, there was an average of 112 illnesses each year attributed to all raw dairy products and 203 associated with pasteurized dairy products.
“In comparison, there are almost 24,000 foodborne illnesses reported each year on average.  Whether pasteurized or not, dairy products are simply not a high risk product.”
Because the incidence of illness from dairy products is so low, the authors’ choice of the time period for the study affected the results significantly, yet their decision to stop the analysis with the year 2006 was not explained.  The CDC’s data shows that there were significant outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to pasteurized dairy products the very next year, in 2007: 135 people became ill from pasteurized cheese contad with e. coli, and three people died from pasteurized milk contaminated with listeria (wwwn.cdc.gov/foodborneoutbreaks/Default.aspx).
Outbreaks from pasteurized dairy were also a significant problem in the 1980s.  In 1985, there were over 16,000 confirmed cases of Salmonella infection that were traced back to pasteurized milk from a single dairy.  Surveys estimated that the actual number of people who became ill in that outbreak were over 168,000, “making this the largest outbreak of salmonellosis ever identified in the United States” at that time, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to Fallon Morell “In the context of the very low numbers of illnesses attributed to dairy in general, the authors’ decision to cut the time frame short, as compared to the available CDC data, is troubling and adds to questions about the bias in this publication.”

According to Fallon Morell, the CDC’s authors continue to obscure their study by failing to document the actual information they are using. They rely on reports, many of which are preliminary. Of the references related to dairy outbreaks, five are from outbreaks in other countries, several did not involve any illness, seven are about cheese-related incidents, and of the forty-six outbreaks they count, only five describe any investigations.
Perhaps most troubling is the authors’ decision to focus on outbreaks rather than illnesses.  An “outbreak” of foodborne illness can consist of two people with minor stomachaches to thousands of people with bloody diarrhea.  In addressing the risk posed for individuals who consume a food, the logical data to examine is the number of illnesses, not the number of outbreaks. 
“The authors acknowledge that the number of foodborne illnesses from raw dairy products (as opposed to outbreaks) were not significantly different in states where raw milk is legal to sell compared with states where it is illegal to sell,” notes Judith McGeary of the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance.  “In other words, had the authors looked at actual risk of illness, instead of the artificially defined “outbreaks,” there would have been no significant results to report.”
This does not end the list of flaws with the study, however.  The link between the outbreaks and the legal status of raw dairy mixed an entire category of diverse products. Illnesses from suitcase style raw cheese or queso fresco were lumped together with illnesses attributed to fluid raw milk, a much less risky product.  In the majority of states where the sale of raw fluid milk is allowed, the sale of queso fresco is still illegal.  The authors had all of the data on which products were legal and which products allegedly caused the illnesses, yet chose not to use that data.
Similarly, to create the claimed numbers for how much riskier raw dairy products are, the authors relied on old data on raw milk consumption rates, rather than using the CDC’s own food survey from 2006-2007.  The newer data showed that about 3 percent of the population consumes raw milk—over nine million people--yet the authors chose instead to make conclusions based on the assumption that only 1 percent of the dairy products in the country are consumed raw.
The authors also ignored relevant data on the populations of each state.  For example, the three most populous states in the country (California, Texas, and New York) all allow for legal sales of raw milk; the larger number of people in these states would logically lead to larger numbers of illnesses than in low-population states such as Montana and Wyoming and has nothing to do with the fact that raw milk is illegal in those states.
“It would hardly be surprising to see some sort of increase in foodborne illnesses related to a food where that food is legal,” said McGeary.  “If we banned ground beef, we’d see fewer illnesses related to ground beef products.   Yet this new study fails to prove even that common-sense proposition, even as it claims to prove a great deal more.  What the data really shows is that raw dairy products cause very few illnesses each year, even though the CDC data indicates that over 9 million people consume it.” 
Contact:  Kimberly Hartke, Publicist, The Weston A. Price Foundation
703-860-2711, 703-675-5557
The Weston A. Price Foundation is a 501C3 nutrition education foundation with the mission of disseminating accurate, science-based information on diet and health. Named after nutrition pioneer Weston A. Price, DDS, author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the Washington, DC-based Foundation publishes a quarterly journal for its 13,000 members, supports 500 local chapters worldwide and hosts a yearly conference. The Foundation headquarters phone number is (202) 363-4394, www.westonaprice.org, info@westonaprice.org.
Posted 12/17/2011 9:15pm by Reuben DeMaster.

Kale has a special place in a CSA.  Growers love it because it grows in most conditions and it stores well after harvest.  It has a great flavor which sweetens after a frost.  It contains many vitamins (see chart below) and it tastes delicious in soups, steamed or sauteed.

For new CSA members, kale symbolizes the challenges of learning to prepare unfamiliar foods.  Many people have tried kale for the first time in this and in other CSAs.  After people figure out what it is, most people find that it becomes one of their favorite vegetables.  Other people find it frustrating, strange, and unappealing. 

This CSA gave out Kale about 6 weeks out of 22 this year.  End of the year surveys show that an equal number of people want more kale as those that want less kale.  As a kale lover, I wish everyone would want to eat more kale.  Maybe they have never eaten it sauteed in olive oil, garlic and salt.  After just 4 or 5 minutes in the pan, kale becomes a slightly wilted treat. 

Although kale has been largely lost from modern diets, a traditional Scottish diet included a lot of kale.  Up until the 20th century, a Scottish lowlander ate cabbage, turnips, and carrots in the summer and kale all winter.  Kale was so common that they referred to the vegetable garden as the 'kail-yard'.  Kale was also the word used for the evening meal - "Will you come and tak your kail wi' me?".  Broth or soup could also be called just 'kail'. 

As I plan next year's crops, I am trying to balance conflicting member feedback.  I always plan so that the majority of the vegetables are familiar and then I fill in with less requested items.  I expect that this CSA will always include some kale, because that is what makes the CSA idea unique and great. 


 Food Chart

Posted 11/28/2011 7:55pm by Reuben DeMaster.

       This summer, Willow Haven Farm added fencing and several new animals.  The plan took several years to execute.  We planted the first pasture in the fall of 2009 and the next pasture in the fall of 2010.  Meadow View Fencing did the task of putting up the fence.  Four workers installed over 2500 feet of fence in 1 1/2 days.  The fence is a high-tensile, electified woven wire.  It comes from New Zealand.

       Soon after the fence was in place, a neighbor introduced me to someone with goats.  To make a long story short, I ended up with 3 billy goats (male).  Later, I found someone else with a dairy goat that they were willing to part with and I added a doe (female).  Therefore I am expecting kids in the spring and I have the potential to try milking.  The goats are friendly and curious.  I don't know if they will become a larger part of the farm.

      Early in September, my long awaited Jacob sheep finally arrived from their home in West Virginia.  Well, they mostly arrived.  The shepherdess attempted to lead them from her van to the pasture.  They followed half way and then decided that they had other ideas.  The flock of 8 went for a short jog and we stopped them over the next hill.  The next few hours were spent wading through soybeans trying to capture sheep.  We had some success sneaking up on them and then tackling them.  To make a long story short, captured 5 of the 8 sheep on that Saturday.  The next day, a neighbor found the 6th sheep in his pasture with his flock. 

     That left 2 loose Jacob sheep, both ewes, and the hunt began.  For several days, we knocked on neighbors' doors and drove around each day looking.  Often someone would see the renegade pair and report their location.  However, when we tried to surround or lure the sheep, they always ended up running.  This happened for weeks.  The sheep disappeared for a week and then showed up near the farm. 

     Late in October, the two ewes left the area, crossed interstate highway 78 and were sighted on the other side of the township.  This told me that they were probably not coming back and that I was not going to be able to find them.

     That was the last that I heard about the sheep until the story in the Morning Call newspaper the day before Thanksgiving.  The article featured a picture of the lost sheep with an arrow sticking out of her rear end.  Obviously, some bowhunter decided that he was going to take a shot at a Thanksgiving sheep.  For the past week, this wounded sheep has been wandering around someone's property still evading capture.  There apparently was no sign of the other lost sheep. 

     Regardless of how this story turns out, my fence still holds 4 beautiful ewes, 1 ram, and one wether. This is Newell, a four  horned ram:     













New recipe: Corn and Swiss Chard BruschettaAugust 15th, 2017

1          ea.       Baguette A few cloves of garlic 3          ears  

New recipe: Zucchini, Corn and Tomato CasseroleAugust 15th, 2017

2 Tbs Butter 1 ALrge Onion, chopped 1 Green Pepper, chopped 1 1/2 lbs Zucchini, sliced 2 C corn 2 Tomatoes, chopped salt and pepper   1. Saute onion and belle pepper in butter and set aside. 2. C

New recipe: Corn & Basil CakesAugust 15th, 2017

Ingredients 4 ears of corn, kernels cut from cob 1/2 onion, diced 1 jalapeno, diced 1/2 cup of basil, chopped 3 tbsp oat flour (or any flour of preference) 1/4 cup milk 4 eggs   Directions Add al





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