Tag Archives: farm life

Choose Life — Support Small Family Farms


Years ago, after I’d first written Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about the joys and trials of life on our small dairy farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Mom showed the manuscript to a local historian. He said I’d beautifully captured a vanishing way of life and that this book must be published. His insistence, coupled with the term ‘vanishing way of life’, gained my attention. I knew it was hard for small farmers to hold on with mounting pressure from the broader dairy industry, unregulated imports, and the growth of mega farms, but I didn’t realize we faced extinction.

Irregardless of our fate, the consumer will always have dairy products, but are they of the quality you desire?

Have you heard of Milk Protein Concentrates, also called MPC’s? There’s scary stuff sneaking into food, we need to become aware of and speak out against.

cows grazing in pasture

(Cows in our meadow by daughter Elise Trissel)

From Food and Water Watch:

“Unregulated imports of cheap milk protein concentrates are driving down the price of domestically produced milk and putting American dairy farmers out of business. And fewer American dairy farmers mean fewer choices for consumers, who are seeing increasing amounts of MPCs’ new, unregulated protein source‚ in their food supply.

MPCs’ are created by putting milk through an ultra-filtration process that removes all of the liquid and all of smaller molecules including the minerals that the dairy industry touts as being essential for good nutrition.

What is left following the filtration is a dry substance that is very high in protein and used as an additive in products like processed cheese, frozen dairy desserts, crackers and energy bars. Because MPCs’ are generally produced as a dry powder, exporters can ship the product long-distances very cheaply, and almost all of the dry MPCs’ used in America are imported.”

Visit the above link for more on MPC’s, not inspected or subject to the quality standards demanded of American dairy farmers. Check your labels carefully.

farmer-field

(Harvesting rye in the valley by my mother, Pat Chuchman)

My question is, do you care where your milk and other food comes from?  Are you concerned about the quality of what you’re feeding yourselves and your families? If so, then support your local farmers. We’re a dying breed.

Back to our farm which has been in the family for five generations. To try to preserve our way of life, we banded together with 20 other farmers in 2013 to form Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. Our goal: to purchase our own creamery and sell local natural milk and other dairy products from our farms to appreciative consumers. Nothing tastes as good, or is as good for you, as milk fresh from happy cows grazing in grassy meadows. We’re as picturesque and idyllic as the hobbits in the ShireBut a growing shadow hangs over us.

Farm garden image

(Our farm garden by daughter Elise Trissel)

Marketing our own dairy line was a great concept, and our products were very well received by the public. The work farm families poured into this venture is beyond description, No one could have tried harder to succeed than this group, but the creamery was too costly to run on our own. We failed to gain vital investors and co-packers. In mid-January 2015, after less than one year of actual production, Shenandoah Family Farms was forced to close. Our products are no longer offered. Instead of better helping our farm(s) to survive, we have further endangered ourselves. Our story is woeful, indeed. Barring a tidal wave of support, we’re not going to recover.

children with farmer in meadow

(Our farmer son and grandbabies by daughter Elise)

If you want to help the Trissel farm family and learn more of our lives, buy my book, Shenandoah Watercolors, available in kindle and print with lovely pictures taken by my talented family. There’s also much in here of interest to gardeners, to anyone who loves the country and a more natural life style.

Our beautiful valley. For now. Some things are worth fighting for, some things worth saving. If this isn’t, I don’t know what is.

Image of the Shenandoah Valley in early spring by my mom.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in spring

***Disclaimer: I am speaking as an individual farm owner and NOT as the official spokesperson for Shenandoah Family Farms Cooperative. .I am entitled to a voice. This is my post and mine alone.

I’m Calling it–Spring!


Meadowlark, Eastern MeadowlarkSpring is when the meadowlark sings and I heard one in the field across the road from our farm this morning while out walking the dogs. I stopped and listened closely to be certain I’d heard right. Yep, three more unmistakable trills floated on the cold air. In full-blown spring, those sweet calls resound from various places in our meadow and the neighbor’s. Tracking down the elusive songster is almost like trying to catch a leprechaun. Getting a photograph of a meadowlark has long been a goal of mine and daughter Elise’s. We have yet to succeed. Still, hope, like spring, reigns eternal. Yes, we have snow and more biting temps in the forecast, but the barnyard geese are getting fussy and pairing off, our earliest indication of the renewal of the earth, and now the meadowlark has proclaimed the end of a brutal winter is in sight. (*Image of meadowlark I purchased)

Gray Geese sitting on eggsThe dogs and I tramped the yard to survey my dormant flower beds. I wonder how many plants will return after the frigid cold that engulfed the Shenandoah Valley these past weeks. The vegetable garden should be sporting the promise of a glorious cover crop of crimson clover, but the seedlings I knocked myself out to establish last fall are conspicuous by their absence. I will try again next fall. Over the weekend, Elise and I poured over seed catalogs and sent off several orders. I plan to start seeds in my little greenhouse later this month or the first of March. It’s solar, without an alternate heat source, so not much point in starting anything before then. If we really want it going all winter, we will have to install some kind of heat. As it is, the greenhouse is frozen out, so any bugs and diseases that might have lingered from last year are well and truly zapped. One advantage of a severe cold snap.

(*Nesting geese from last spring. Image by my husband, Dennis)

snowy pussywillow by the old red barn on march 25Another early sign of spring is the pussy willow in the back garden. Fuzzy grey buds are beginning to swell. Last year, I planted several pussy willows I’d rooted from cuttings down by the pond. I ought to trek over there and see if any of them made it. I’ll report back, and, if they didn’t, I shall persevere. (*Image of pussy willow by the old red barn from last spring by Elise)

Onward ho.

The Heartwarming Story of Violet the Cow and Baby Buttercup


Colin and Chloe with Buttercup“The cow is of the bovine ilk; one end is moo, the other milk.”
― Ogden Nash,

In the world of cows, 92% of the females in a boy/girl set of twins are sterile and called Freemartins. The reproduction systems in these cows are malformed and they rarely ever grow to adulthood with the ability to reproduce. One cow defied the odds. She was taken in by our daughter Alison and her husband to raise on their little farmstead.  Her story as told by Alison.

Diron holding baby calf.jpg1 “Early in 2011, a brother and sister twin Holstein calf set from my parent’s dairy farm (Trissel’s Farm) came to live with my husband and me. A female cow, who is twins with a male, is almost always infertile, nature is smart like that, and so they’re generally used for beef. And that’s what we were raising them for. We decided it was best not to name the pair; but our [then] 5-year-old son, Colin, called the twin calves Violet and Moo. As Violet grew, we couldn’t help but notice that once a month it was an incredibly hard job to keep her in our pasture. Our neighbor’s field of a few beautiful Herford cows, complete with a bull, boarders ours. One cold morning in early spring, I was loading the kids in the car, getting ready to take Colin to preschool. I noticed Violet was missing from our field. We drove all around looking for her, and even drove to our neighbors house, twice, thinking maybe she was visiting their cows. The second time we drove to their house, because I had no idea where else she could be, Colin spotted her. “There she is!! She’s making friends already with the ‘bully’ cow!”  So she was, and so our neighbors allowed her to stay for a few days.

Months went by and we hadn’t thought much about the incident with the “bully cow.” But come to think of it, she hadn’t tried to leave the field in a long time.  And well, yes, she was getting big. Bigger than her twin brother.This past fall, a farm vet confirmed that the (almost) impossible had happened. Violet was pregnant and due around Christmas time. Her darling half Herford heifer calf was born a few days before Christmas. Violet the Cow rejoined her sisters of the herd at the Trissel Farm. My neighbor says she thinks Violet knew what she was doing all along. Her baby girl, named Buttercup, is with us now and someday will be a dairy cow too, only not on the Trissel farm, but on a place in the country providing milk for several families.”~

Colin and Chloe holding heavy cream carton with their image on the label ***Baby Buttercup, Colin and little sister Chloe are featured on the Shenandoah Family Farm’s cream label. In 2013, our family banded together with 20 other small family farmers in the Shenandoah Valley to produce and sell our own natural, local, sustainable dairy products. For more on Shenandoah Family Farms, visit our website and like us on Facebook. Also, you can help us bring our local products to your grocery store by signing the Product Request Petition. We’ll send these requests right to stores in your area so you can try our products as soon as they are available (we’re shooting for later this month). It’s a dream we’ve worked hard to achieve and our best hope of preserving our farms for future generations in the Valley.

*Images of Baby Buttercup and Colin and Chloe and their father Diron

August in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia


COVER FOR SHENANDOAH WATERCOLORS NONFICTION BOOKAn excerpt from my nonfiction book about gardening and country life,  Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 Epic eBook finalist. Available in Amazon Kindle and in print.

We’ve had many misty starts to the day this August. Haze hugs the pond, parting just enough to reveal the long-legged blue heron fishing for his breakfast. There’s a country saying about the number of foggy mornings in August being an indicator for the amount of snows we’ll have this winter––a heap, at this rate.

Dozens of swallows skim over the pond as the sun sinks below the Alleghenies. If I were standing on a distant ridge, would it sink behind me, or the ridge beyond that one?

TheTrisselPondThe water is calm now but was awash with waves during the storm that hit a short time ago. The grassy hill and maple tree are reflected on the surface, silvery and streaked with rose from the western sky. All is peaceful as a soft twilight settles over the valley. Utterly idyllic, until I pause to consider what all of those swallows are after. There must be clouds of mosquitoes.

Here’s another thought, where do all the birds spend the night? Are the woods up on the hill lined with birds perched wing to wing jostling for space on the branches? I’ll bet they make room for the big red-tailed hawk. He gets the whole tree––as many as he wants. It’s good to be king.

Hawk

Dennis, Elise, and I once saw a magnificent rainbow arching across the sky over the meadow. The magical multihued light streamed down into the pond and gilded the back end of a cow as she stood in the water. It startled us to discover that this was where we must seek our pot of gold. Though it’s apt, I suppose, for dairy farmers.

This is the day, sprinkled with fairy dust and frosted with gold. Go forth and find treasure, or seek it deep inside your heart, at true rainbow’s end.~

Huge Rainbow Pic

**Image of our pond taken by my mom, Pat Churchman

**Image of Hawk by daughter Elise taken up in the meadow behind our house

**Rainbow by Elise

 

Early Spring in the Shenandoah Valley–Beth Trissel


Crocus threeHeavy wet snow fell last night and the trees are laden, my crocus buried. But late Saturday afternoon after the rain showers ended, the day turned mild and I pulled some overwintering weeds from one of my flower borders.  A whole wheelbarrow full. While happily bent to my labors, I heard the sweet trill of a meadowlark, my favorite songbird.  Silent today. But when the sun shines and the weather softens again, I will hear it sing. This crazy weather is typical of March in the Shenandoah Valley.  A cold snap follows on the heels of a wonderfully balmy day or two.  This March has been on the colder side and quite wet, which is just as well with our tendency toward summer droughts, so we’ll take the moisture while we can.

Ducks and geese love all the puddles that come with the rain, and our pond is finally full again after dwindling to a sad state in past summers. Happy quacks resound against the fussy geese fighting over nesting sites.  These battles, and the meadowlark singing, are among the first signs of spring. And the pussy willow blooming. I picked a lovely bouquet of pussy willow on Saturday too.
Back to the meadowlark, my goal is to ever actually see one of these elusive birds again. Theoretically  this shouldn’t be such a challenge what with our meadows and all.  Once or twice, I’ve glimpsed a yellow flash  and spotted the bird perched on a fence post before it flew.  Mostly, they hide in the grass and skim away to another spot before I get a good look, calling all the while from various positions in the meadow.
One spring daughter Elise and I were determined to track down the evasive songster and tenaciously followed its calls, even climbed over the fence into the neighbor’s pasture and picked our way along the little creek, but never caught up with that bird, or birds.  There may have been more than one.  So unless I catch another rare glimpse, I must content myself with their beautiful trills.  Birds like this need tall grasses and untidy hedge rows for nesting.  Bear that in mind in your own yard and garden.  Keeping everything trim and cultivated robs our feathered friends of habitat.  It’s also a good excuse for a less than perfectly kept landscape.    A little wilderness here and there is a good thing.
***Images of early crocus before the snow and Elise and me on a walk about the farm, two years ago. A cow is saying hello. They follow us like pet dogs.
***We have the Eastern Meadowlark.  For more on that variety click here.
For more on the Western Meadowlark~
*Royalty free Image of meadowlark–until we can finally photograph one.

For The Love of Fur Babies–Beth Trissel


Excerpt from Shenandoah Watercolors, my nonfiction book about gardening, country life and herbal lore.

~Years ago, my youngest daughter, Elise, and I found a bedraggled black kitten in a murky corner of the old red barn huddled beside an ancient water trough. Hay was stuck to its fur and its head slick in places from a calf’s sympathetic tongue.
niece Cailin with kitten PavelWe carried the mewing puff ball down to the house and gave it a bath. Being mostly fur, it shrank considerably in the water and nearly disappeared.
After drying this soggy specimen of catdom, we bundled it up in an old towel and fed it the formula concocted by a local vet for orphan kittens: one cup whole milk, one teaspoon of vegetable oil, one egg yolk, whisk well and warm. Sometimes I use a tiny bottle, but this baby is old enough to lap and downed the lot I had poured into a shallow lid. We filled a canning jar with hot water, screwed the lid on tightly and tucked our swaddled charge beside the improvised water bottle back in the small closet in the laundry room.
KITTEN TEA PARTYAssorted farm coats, jeans and shirts hang on hooks up above and brush our heads as we kneel to peer into this den-like place. There’s nothing dogs like better for a bed than a worn coat with that barn smell still clinging to it, cozily tucked back into this closet. Cats prefer sunbeams but will make do. I’ve spent many hours on my knees helping to birth puppies, fuss over their care and tend kittens. Countless kittens and puppies, tiny terriers that could fit in a shoe box, medium size dogs and dogs that have grown too big but are still attached, have called this comforting space home. The narrow walls are gnawed and deeply grooved from the many inhabitants over the years. Every household should have such a place.
Fortunately our rescue dog, Mia, also likes her bed in the dining room because she cannot be trusted to kitten-sit. The formula rapidly dwindles. Not only that, she’s afraid of kittens. Silly, silly Mia. The kitten does not yet have a name because if you name a creature that implies that it’s staying, which this one very well may be. Sometimes you just need a kitten.
Oddly, it would seem that Mia always wanted a kitten of her own after all. She follows the minute puff ball around the kitchen and hovers over it with a worried look. Actually, Mia generally looks worried. I suppose from earlier traumas before we took her in. She has never had a small furry friend though and even tries to play with the kitten as it bounds around the kitchen in great excitement over everything and anything.
My mother made the observation that kittens and other babies can utterly give themselves to play in a way that the rest of us can’t because we’ve had the play smacked out of us by life. Now and then, I think we should all play as unreservedly as possible.
***Photograph of the kitten and baby goose, Mia and our rescue kitty, Percy (Both bigger and older now) and rescue kitty Minnie Mae (tea party) by my mother, Pat Churchman. Niece Cailin and our latest rescue kitty Pavel by Elise.
Author/farm wife Beth Trissel shares the joys and challenges of rural life on her family’s small farm located in the scenic Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Journey with her through the seasons on the farm, owned by her family since the 1930’s, and savor the richness of her cherished gardens and beloved valley. This journal is a poignant, often humorous, sometimes sad glimpse into a vanishing way of life for anyone who loves or yearns for the country and even those who don’t.
At Amazon in kindle and print. The paperback has lovely images taken by my talented family.

Autumn on our Farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia–Beth Trissel


An excerpt from my nonfiction book about gardening and country life,  Shenandoah Watercolors, a 2012 EPIC eBook Award Finalist:

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.” ~ Anne Frank

(Image by my mother, Pat Churchman. If you look closely you can see my daughter Elise as a child and her little friend, James, peeking our from behind the trees.)

“A cold autumn wind blew as my younger daughter, Elise, and I scurried about the garden in the last of the light to gather in our treasures. She heaped great orange Cinderella pumpkins into the wheelbarrow and picked the rest of her pink and blue Indian corn. Beams of sun touched the crimson cockscomb flowers just coming into full bloom, an antiquated variety that I seeded late and coaxed through our wet summer. (Cinderella Pumpkins, image by Elise taken this fall)

The vibrant color of the plumes stood out against the grayish black clouds like a king’s velvet robes. This wealth will quickly dwindle if the temperatures dip too low tonight. The weather is quite cool here today. Forecasters are calling for the chance of frost tonight, but only if the gray blanket covering the sky clears and bright cold stars come out. Then maybe Jack Frost’s chill breath will silver the hoary earth.

I must get myself to the garden and pick the last of the orange persimmon tomatoes–truly the most luscious variety in the world–and the heirloom lima beans, called Christmas limas. These beans are mottled a lovely wine color and very tasty. Perhaps I can get our dog, Mia, to help me. But I doubt it. She takes no interest in vacuuming or dusting either, just wants to know when its time to eat.

I have this wild hope in the back of my mind that maybe I will wake up one day and find the house ordered and gleaming, all put to rights while I slept. I suspect this delusion comes from my having read The Elves and the Shoemaker too often, and other fairy tales. I have also seen too many Disney movies.”

(Colorful maple tree near green rye field on our farm in the Shenandoah Valley, image by Elise)

***Shenandoah Watercolors is available from Amazon in kindle and now paperback with lovely photographs taken by my family.

***For a seed link to the Christmas Pole Lima Beans click HERE.

***For a seed link to Cinderella Pumpkins click HERE

***For a seed link to my favorite Orange Persimmon tomatoes click HERE.

After your initial purchase you can save the seed.