Tag Archives: Farming

Comfort and Calamity

By: Mary

In a matter of hours my connecting train from Pittsburgh to Chicago’s Union Station will take me back home. Home may only be 5 hours away from the busy city of Chicago, but to my county girl heart this layover in the city makes me feel both foreign and lost. The streets are full of slow moving traffic caught in jams, and the sidewalks offer little space as they accommodate the congestion of pedestrians moving at many different paces, most of whom are dressed in darker colors, and all of whom wear thick winter clothing to combat the cold and sharp wind that blows.

I have heard that in Wisconsin there has been a terrible storm raging away. It has been said that this is one of the worst of the year which means it must really be a beast of a storm as it has been an exceptionally cold and snowy winter.

Surely when I get home the snow will be deep and the pipes in my recently completed apartment will still be frozen. Grh!

Despite these obstacles, I am ready to return to my roots.

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I don’t have a place in this busy city traffic. When in Pittsburgh, I ended up in a conversation with someone at a Brazilian Carnival. He tried to sell me the concept of moving to Pittsburgh. I laughed and told him I gladly would move to the city with the requirement that my closest neighbor would have to live at least a mile away.

I love the silence and life that living on a ridgetop offers.

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I love the comfort

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and calamity

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that comes from being surrounded by open space and family.

The richness that rural life provides challenges me as I balance (not only on my horse’s back!)

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I love the roulette of farming.

I am thankful for knowing what contents and captivates me. Also, I am very excited to welcome the goodness of spring under the sphere of its golden sunshine.

Fame, Farming, and Family- An Interview with Pete King

by Kate

Last weekend the Sweet Ridge Sisters got a chance to talk to local farmer Pete King from Freedom Farms.

Pete King GAC Country Freedom Farms

Pete and his siblings star in Farm Kings, a nationally broadcast reality show about farming. The second season of their show is premiering April 11th on the GAC channel. The King brothers are perhaps best known for their rippling torsos, but they also have a striking optimism about the future of agriculture, a great work ethic, a deep sense of family loyalty, and a whole lot of high quality local food to offer to the Pittsburgh community. You can find more information about Freedom Farms including retail locations and the new 2013 CSA Program here.

Kate: What is it like to be a famous farmer?

Pete: Well, the farming is still the same! There’s a lot more recognition when you leave the farm, which can slow you down. The schedule can get busy and there’s lots of extra stress- but it’s entertaining.

K: What are your cash crops?

P: Corn, definitely corn. Tomatoes, and peppers. This year we’re trying something new and flash freezing our corn and vacuum packaging it. We just bought a fancy new machine so we’ll see how that goes.

K: What varieties of tomatoes do you grow?

P: Mountain Fresh, Mountain Glory, and we just started doing heirlooms with a Cherokee Purple. You’ve really got to get those sold!

K: There are 10 kids farming together in your family. What are the challenges of family farming?

P: There are different ideas about how to do things, and it is easy to butt heads- but having a family is useful on the farm. There are lots of extra hands, and we need them all to harvest the crops. My 12 year old brother has Downs Syndrome, and he’s right out in the field with us. It’s just what we do, As far back as we remember we’ve been working. I like creating. Farming is creating.

K: What is the future of farming?

P: Everybody getting their hands in it. Everybody learning how things are grown and farming is done. These days, people take their food for granted and think it came out of the back room of the grocery store. The future of farming is everybody getting involved and getting their hands dirty.

K: What is your least favorite crop?

P: (laughs) Tomatoes. Don’t like picking or eating tomatoes.

K: How about throwing them at your siblings?

P: Throwing them at my brothers is ok, yeah. But keep ’em in the field!

Thanks so much to Pete King for taking the time to do a great interview. Any readers in the Pittsburgh area should make sure to stop by the Freedom Farms Market or Bakery in Butler or the Cafe and Carry-Out in New Kensington. Locations and contact information are available here, Freedom Farms will also be selling at several farmer’s markets in the city this summer.

For the full story of our encounter with Pete King: Cabbages and Kings, Galoshes and Spring

For more of our own Sweet Ridge Farm stories, click here.

For more of Kate’s urban adventures in Pittsburgh, click here.

Putting the Lug in Luggage

By: Mary

When looking for a means of transporting an entire set of china that was left to Kate after the passing of my grandmother, I decided to find a new use for a sturdy cardboard box that is used to pack pie pumpkins and cabbage when shipping organic produce to Organic Valley.  Okay, I know that lugging about a produce box is not exactly the most hip (or practical) way to travel, but I formulated a plan that included getting two boxes of china, to my sister along with a few fur coats, some blackberry jam I made that is a fleeting commodity at this time of the year, a few purses, and of course a  ballgown that Kate wanted back after an extended loan back to the farm so it could be used as a prom dress.

As you may remember, Kate is quite comfortable with train travel in an heirloom fur…

vintage fur coat train travel lacrosse depot

though in my opinion it makes her look a bit like a gigantic mother hen.

Because I was traveling on the train, I hoped with optimism that my plan of checking the two boxes could go off without a hitch. Well, the plan did work… but only with a LOT of lugging. The first setback was that I was told I couldn’t check the boxes because they were not fully sealed. I knew that the only way I could handle taking Kate her “stuff” was to just start consolidating as much as I could into only one box. When boarding the train, the not so hip me ended up with my luggage bag checked under the train, and a roughly 75 pound produce box bruising my hip, which was beginning to strongly resemble the blackberry jam.

Due to an early spring snowstorm from the never-ending winter I was trying to flee, my train got into Chicago several hours late. I missed my connecting train to Pittsburgh, but got in plenty of exercise lugging that heavy box through Union Station, into a cab, onto a Greyhound bus, and through the bus terminal in Pittsburgh the next morning.

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Thankfully, my farmgirl strength and a winter full of kickboxing classes had me in fine form for heaving produce- or China and ballgowns. Still, I was happy to arrive her for some much needed Porch Time with my sister.
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For more about the fur coats and recent and past travels, check out these links:

Furs on the Farm

Train Travel

The Slattery Oklahoma Suburb Rush

A Saturday Away

Pittsburgh, PA, I’m Coming Your Way!

By: Mary

Rain could be heard falling when I got up early on Saturday morning. The sound of the drops told me that that cows couldn’t be moved at The Ranch. I had been especially looking forward to spending my Saturday helping move cows, as it’s one of my favorite things to do.  However, moving a group of cattle on a highway in freezing rain is not any fun for people or cows. All it is is a recipe for disaster even with new shoes put on most of the horses.

There is something about Saturdays on horseback that makes a person feel alive. Maybe in my case, it’s partially because I have to be extra alert due to my horse, Mars, being a lot to handle. He’s often referred to as a beast. When working cows he’s a very hard worker but he has all the tendencies that stallions exhibit, except when around children. I can pile three nieces or my nephew on him and he’s as gentle as a kitten.

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An extra plus to Saturdays at my brother’s operation is that it’s a family affair. Brothers and Sister-in-laws and nieces and nephews are always somewhere around as are a few friends and maybe an extra dog or two.

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Moving cattle is a challenging endeavor  It takes much patience and anticipation.

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I am pretty sure that swearing was specially invented for this process alone. Yelling at the cows to get their attention is an instrumental part of the task. Years back I used to get yelled at to yell at the cows. Yelling isn’t my thing, especially when I am not even angry. In my case hissing is much more of a natural reaction for me. But hissing at cows doesn’t work so well! I am still practicing my ranch yell. Maybe by the time I am 50, I get it mastered, who knows?

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Enough on cows! I want to mention that in just two(!) days I am leaving to visit my sister in the city of Pittsburgh. Time spent with Kate and her family should make for a fantastic variation from my life here in Wisconsin.

Naturally I am packing fur coats and a ball grown to take to the only young mother I know that finds such things, useful, if not necessary. Kate’s the only person I have encountered that gets wear out of such flair. Though I imagine high society ladies who play bridge and drink port in metropolitan areas, or woman with botoxed faces and diamonds in their ears and annoying enormous SUVS which they swerve through big city traffic, must too.

Inevitably we might get into a spat or two, but then again, didn’t I mention earlier that I need to practice my yelling abilities? If such an occasion of volume dose arise  it’s all in the name of the ranch cows, you know?

Pittsburgh, PA here I come!I am leaving my boots behind and excited to see the one and only Mrs. Kate Slattery-Stapleton!

For more stories about Slattery sister reunions, check out these posts:

Sister in the City

Farmers in the City

Blue Haired Belle of the Ball (Diamond)

Sisters in the City, NYC Version

Resting and Restless

By Mary

In a heavy winter coat and pink snow boots that I am often times teased about due to having two nieces 6 and under sporting replica pairs, I trudged towards “life” also known as an assortment of narcissus bulbs that are being sold at the Viroqua Food Coop. The narcissus bulbs I purchased are a representation of the eagerness I feel for the goodness of springs sunlight.
Throughout the Christmas season I got a slew of Christmasy mail. After that stopped coming the seed catalogs stated arriving in the mailbox. How those catalogs make me happy! I am a child of the sun. In November it is time to give the fields a break.

fall fields

And to put aside the boots that trod through the mud and dust.

 farm boots

The days of cow work on my horse, Mars come to an end as the fog gets thicker in the morning and the days grow both colder and shorter.

ranching cowgirl on horse

Both the Father farmer and the Farmers daughter are getting restless.

farmer and daughter brussel sprouts

My father, a former journalist (but never a poet) has now taken up the occupation of writing poetry. I came across him scribbling with his famous illegible scrawl the morning after Cale’s wedding in a MN hotel room. If any of you know Patrick Slattery you know the man doesn’t just get a little into something, He gives a full 100 crazy choleric percent. In the hotel room I said: So what’s the deal on this poetry thing? His response was that he aimed to not just produce 1 poem. Oh no, the goal for that father of mine is to write 2 poems a week. ” Um, okay” was the reply from me. Fast forward to the next next: by that time he had written 2 more pieces. It has been about a week since he has beecome a poet, and frankly by now, I have totally lost track of how many poems have been churned out. All I know is that he is scribbling and muttering a whole lot.

poet father

Dad’s wintertime mania isn’t something that I can judge fairly seeing as I am falling apart myself. I have put a considerable amount of thought into buying lambs, seeds, and most embarrassingly a 2 piece bathing suit. Never mind the 2 slight facts that I like water about as much as a cat does, and I am about as comfortable in a swim suit as a Amish woman. Hey come on now, those are just minor details! Buying a bathing suit in January just seems to make sense!

I guess poetry does too in context with seasonal restlessness. All I can say is that I am SO ready for April. As an additional note: Poetry really isn’t that great (sorry Colleen). I mean, really… I would way rather have Dad babbling about asparagus and compost.

Oh Wisconsin, you only have 3 more months of badness left to give!

More about our Farmer Father and Sumner Sister here:

Farmer Father

For Mary

Winter Harpist

by Kate

I play the harp.

harpist fantastic hat

My harp is a Troubadour. It’s a lever harp about five feet tall. Tall enough to make a dramatic statement- but small enough for a six foot tall farm girl harpist to heft and carry hither and yon.

troubadour harp red barn asparagus

After the golden fronds of asparagus have bowed beneath the frost and autumn turns to early winter is my favorite time to play the harp. Advent, Hanukkah, and Christmas music is made for the harp. This is quite literally true, as much of the music I am playing was written with harps or similar instruments in mind. The pieces I am playing are haunting and holy and lovely.

christmas harpist pittsburgh kate stapleton

Of course I rarely (er, never) really play my harp in a frosty field or forest full of holly berries. This year, with a three month old and two year old and demanding schedule of dancing and caring for elderly people and maaaybe doing my laundry someday, I purposely avoided taking any additional Christmas gigs beyond my regular bimonthly visit to the Alzheimers and Dementia unit up the hill. However, a couple grocery store gigs fell into my lap, and I took them. I’m glad I did.

I love grocery store harp gigs. After spending a good ten years of my life in or directly around the grocery business, the aisles of a grocery store feel like home, but to be honest I prefer to descend upon those aisles in a sweeping ballgown with a harp. My favorite thing about grocery store harp gigs, though, is the reaction of the customers. No one expects to see a harpist when they trudge into a grocery store, so there is often a magical sense of wonder when they come around a corner and find one.

Giant Eagle harpist Pittsburgh, PA

And so in this early winter season I was to be found with my Troubadour harp playing haunting, regal, holy harp music… right next to a huge display of Steelers Merchandise near a pharmacy at a local Giant Eagle Grocery store. And it was lovely.

Dawn at the Ranch

By Mary

One early morning I took these photos on the way to The Ranch as we like to call the great spread of land that my eldest brother, Gabe and his wife manage along with another brother (Patrick) who works for them. For sometime now, I have had an inkling to share some of the visual richness that captures my eye when crossing over county lines.

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Of course when in Amish county it is a tricky thing to do seeing as taking photos is an offensive action. They consider it wrong to capture oneself in the form of a graven image. I must confess that I did feel guilty taking this photo of an Amish farm, but the result of the early morning silhouette did please me.

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Cornstalks  are a fine sight at this time of the year. The Amish put great work into transforming their fields into a beautiful landscape. As an imaginative and quirky person, I have formed the opinion that this backdrop would make a fantastic scene for a CMT video. ranch3

Come on, really can’t you just picture a video full of county music stars and Amish folk frolicking in a picturesque autumnal field of artistically arranged cornstalks?!

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This early morning photo shoot would have not seemed complete to me without stopping by this little cabin that overlooks a breathtaking valley.

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The cabin is a natural attraction with rustic charm and an astounding view. My brother, Robert would certainly agree that it’s in a fine location….

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For a marriage proposal that is. The cabin played host to be set as the scene of the crime, or proposal that is. Over 2 years ago, Robert proposed to his now wife, Nicole as the sun came up at this very spot.

A Sunrise proposal with roses and a sparkling diamond ring is a lovely thing, but a much more realistic sighting on the ranch in the early morning is that of cows. Yes, I know slightly less romantic, but much more economical.

cattle ranch wisconsin

Now that I have shared some of the early morning sights in rural Wisconsin, reveled a fantastic spot for a marriage proposal, perhaps offended some Amish family by taking a photo of their farm, and shared insight on scenes for a strange CMT video, it’s time for this blogger to publish this post.

Until next time,

Mary

p.s. if you’re still interested in hearing more about that marriage proposal, you can read about it here:

Our Red Dirt Royal Wedding

Dazed by the Ridge- The Newest Sweet Ridge Sister