Our Farm's History: A Transition into Regenerative Agriculture
It all started in the late 1700s when our ancestors came to America during the Revolutionary War. When the war was finished, they decided to settle here in the little Mahantango Valley in central PA, because it looked and felt like their homeland in the Black Forest region of Germany. As time went on they began to work the soil to provide food for their new families. When we look out the window of our house we can see the land where the first homestead was built!
As the years rolled on, the farm and the knowledge were passed between the generations. When coal towns began to pop up around us, so did a need for fresh produce for the families living in those towns. That was when we began to farm not just for our family, but for other families in our community.
Once a week my Great-Grandpa would load his wagon with all of the produce gathered from the farm that week and make the 2-hour one-way trip over the mountains to deliver produce to the families of the coal miners. You can only imagine the dedication it took to get up before the sun and get home long after the sun went down and cross the mountain with only a team of horses and your wagon. He couldn't even check his weather app to see if it was going to rain later in the day!
The invention of the car and trucks quickly changed the way they would haul their produce. The horses and buggies were replaced by tractors and market trucks. Although without all of the comforting features we have today, it made it much easier to sell crops to the families in the community.
In the mid-1960s, as coal was beginning to run out, the new generation of miners had to move away to find work. Grocery chain stores became more relevant as people could travel a farther distance with their new cars. The need for fresh produce delivered to their door had stopped. Although my dad continued to deliver until the late 90s, he was only servicing his elderly clients. We needed to find a new way to market our products.
We began selling in grocery stores so we could continue our business. At first, it was great, they would call us up and ask for a semi-truckload of potatoes at a time. We could empty our supply of potatoes by Christmas and still get a decent price for our potatoes.
As time continued we began to focus on growing more potatoes on the same amount of land. We began to use a lot more synthetic fertilizers and chemicals to keep up with the “big guys” who were beginning to flood the market. The prices they were paying for our potatoes had continued to go down and the price of inputs continued to go up.
Our farm was tired.
Too many years of potatoes in a short rotation is not good for the soil. Some of our best ground had turned into our worst ground. I was very discouraged at this time and was ready to pack it in. Then something happened that changed the whole course of our farm!
I was invited to go to a regenerative ag conference with some local farmers here in PA. I thought regenerative ag was a hoax and that there was no way it was going to work for our operation. I went down to the first meeting with an open mind and nothing to lose and I was so excited when I came home that I brought my boys back the next day!
One thing led to another and we began to slowly change our farm around until the winter of 2018.
Around the same time my youngest son Nathan had stomach issues. We went through the whole system of doctors and no one could tell us what was wrong. Eventually, we found ourselves at a health and wellness clinic in Mechanicsburg Pa. The doctor we spoke to there said he had an intolerance to gluten and we had a good talk about the food system. We talked about how plants are bred for yield only, and how the way food is grown affects nutrient density. How the way we grow food directly affects people's health.
We needed to make big changes immediately.
Chemical and fertilizer use was immediately cut in half. We got cattle and we even certified some of our acres as organic. We are having so much fun watching the natural systems take over. It is exciting for us to see all of the amazing things animals can do to a pasture! After we got our feet under us, we realized we raised a very healthy (and tasty) product. Sharing that with our community was the next step in our journey.
That’s why we started Red Hill Harvest. It’s really not that much different than what my great-grandfather did back in the early 1900s. He may have used a horse and buggy and we may be using a UPS truck, but the end result is the same. Healthy, safe, and tasty farm-fresh products delivered from our family to yours!