01 May 2013

( in gratitude of trees )

portraits of nature
( in gratitude of trees )
by “porcupine pat” mckinney

some are tall and stately, while others are short in size.  a few are narrow in nature, while some bulge in shape. like people, trees can be as same or as different, depending on what you want to look for in their beckoning trunks and limbs.

you will glimpse that there are several key factors to know about when identifying a tree. the most significant is by size, with tulip trees and white pines holding a regal standing in our local forests. the dogwood keeps guard at ground level. other common ways to aid in identification include: bark, leaf bud, leaf shape, smell (scratch and sniff !), type of fruit or nut, flower type, and needle amount/shape. there are trees who enjoy wetlands, while others find refuge in the dry, rocky soil commonly found on hilltops.

of course, pennsylvania means “penn’s woods” and is world-renowned for being a leader in the global economy for its hardwoods such as cherry, walnut, and oak. we acknowledge the importance of trees on a national level through celebrating arbor day. the last friday in april is arbor day in our commonwealth, with communities planting even more trees and school students learning about their importance in nature and the environment.

( “porcupine pat” mckinney holds a japanese tree lilac in front 
of his home, dedicated in memory to his mother, katie mckinney. 
also nearby is a partner tree for his dad, edward mckinney. )

we should show gratitude to all trees all the time, and here’s why. besides providing natural beauty, no matter where you are or what you are doing, you are always within two feet of a product made from a tree !             

more than 5,000 products come from trees. obvious products include lumber, paper, and furniture, but other lesser-known ones include chemicals and ingredients in plastic filler, varnishes, toothpaste, shoe polish, foam rubber, and the list goes on !

specific parts of a tree, such as bark, can produce mulches, soil conditioners, medicines, and cosmetics. it's no wonder people have used wood products for centuries. wood is durable, renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly.

trees cool our cities by reducing heat generated from buildings and paved surfaces. trees in residential areas increase property values by 10 to 15 percent and help to soften harsh building lines and expanses of pavement, making urban environments more livable. habitat for birds and other wildlife through the gift of trees and their limbs also push forward a sense of balance with nature.

air is purified by trees, and water-borne pollutants are significantly reduced through the efforts of trees, too. people are affected by the proximity of trees in that trees speed healing and nurture more positive attitudes in hospital patients who can see them from their rooms. trees even reduce levels of domestic violence and foster safer, more sociable neighborhood environments.

do your part to help the environment by both caring for the trees on your property and also planting more. you can contact your department of conservation and natural resources and bureau of forestry to inquire about the forest stewardship program.

enjoy the spring-green of the newly opened leaves while walking  footfalls along the kind land of area state parks or the schuylkill river trail. you can visit communities, such as boyertown—which is listed as a tree city usa hometown !

( deep roots & deep dedication )

by taryn shillady

in a bustling busy world filled with ipads, imacs, and automatic everything, it’s refreshing to take a step back to see that some people really can avoid the average hectic life, instead truly leading a unique and meaningful one that doubles as a career while bringing local, caringly raised food to neighbors in the tri-county region. and no doubt, farmers work harder than many today but are often on a whole other level of gratitude about their labors in the world, compared to the rushed way of many in jobs so far from the whims of nature. one couple in centre township has taken on the challenging lifestyle of running and living on a fifth generation farm with their three young children, all in order to deliver fresh produce tucked well with a uniquely satisfying nommm-factor.
this spring, kelly and will smith, (ages 27 and 35, consecutively and also respectively) will be embarking on their third season at deep roots valley farm, which is set back from irish creek road, along with their three children hannah, 8, emma, 6, and carter, 3. in the most frank of honesty, will gleans that he and kelly were sort of “interns” during the first two seasons, operating the farm and striving to make a kind profit this year. the pair picked the name “deep roots valley farm” in 2010, which represents kelly’s family’s roots weaved well into the land. her great-great grandfather, howard phillips, purchased the farm in 1911. since then, it has been passed through her kin. though her ancestors had established the acres as a diversified farm and later a dairy farm, kelly and will raise mostly eggs, chickens, beef, pork, and turkey.
in the days of howard, kelly explained that the family farm beckoned of a very diversified agricultural setup and that there was a little bit of everything on the farm, much like the family farms and heritage of many with close ties to land between stretches of their hearts and souls, across the region. after howard, james and his wife annie took over the farm, using it to raise and sell chickens. this particular pair were kelly’s great-grandparents. kelly’s grandfather, paul, who is currently 91 and still lives within walking distance of the farm, used the land to raise dairy heifers, various crops, and to sell hay. cathy and larry, both 55, are kelly’s parents, and took over the farm from paul and raised the dairy heifer count from 40 to 60. the heifers were sold in 1991, and larry worked the land since then; he labors alongside kelly and will today in managing the animals.     

the challenge that kelly and will had to overcome weaved into the picture as learning how to run and maintain a farm, since neither of them really knew what type of farm they wanted. but kelly’s childhood growing up on a farm and even making her own organic babyfood years ago, when it wasn’t available in stores, helped them to see what healthy choices they wanted to bring to eating options around the region. they considered a certified organic operation, but to license everything properly is a more than a costly contest. it helps that locals are learning to trust the accountability of the farmers in their own communities now more than labels, since many farmers are striving to raise their food as naturally as possible on stretch after stretch of farmland in berks county. so instead, the husband and wife duo took to reading a plethora of texts. they found that calling themselves a “natural farm” would be the best fit for their dream. they use non-g.m.o. corn and crops, and they develop true relationships with all of their animals, giving them the best life possible while they are here on this earth.
their main focus right now is getting their produce to the community, while finding their niche. they want their produce to be as accessible as possible. currently, kelly and will have a few different routes to delivering their products. customers always have the option of picking up their orders at the farm for the lowest cost. for a little bit more, the customers are able to access deep roots’ crops at several different CSA pick-ups, which are spread in and outside of the berks county area. the third option is visiting the deep root valley farm’s brand new stand at the phoenixville farmers’ market.
kelly and will are ecstatic about this opportunity, and will even seemed slightly surprised that the opportunity came through a feed producer friend and not through his vigorous online marketing through facebook and the deep roots valley farm website, which still boasts of plenty of success for the farm. before the two embarked on the challenge of running a farm, will received his economics degree and managed restaurants, along with running an online ebay business which sold pop culture items; he still keeps up with the side business. kelly also came from the restaurant industry. will now uses what he learned with his degree and business experience to benefit the farm’s growth, keeping friends and customers updated through facebook by asking trivia questions, holding contests, and posting notes of days when friends and customers can visit for curious happenings at deep roots valley farm. they offer home-school field trips, since their children  are home-schooled; visits can feature hayrides and farm tours, along with seed-planting and petting the sweet-hearted animals.
deep roots valley farm uses the method of rotational grazing to keep the land as healthy as possible. (will noted that they utilize 65 to 70 acres of their land with the animals’ footfalls.) their belief is to “heal the soil.” so it’s easy to see that they believe it all begins with the soil. “we definitely go with the philosophy that everything comes from the soil,” kelly says. “if you have healthy soil, you’ll have healthy grass. if you have healthy grass, then you’ll have healthy animals. if you have healthy animals, you’ll have a healthier you. and this is all to produce more nutrient-dense food.”
kelly and will depend gratefully on the kind hearts of other local farmers for advice on how to run the farm with best efficiency. will explains, with a glimmer of joy in his voice, that everyone in the farming community is very willing to share insights. he also says that a good way to network and meet new farmers is to go to the agriculture center for classes. and even being so new to the farming scene, kelly and will says people have already been coming to them for advice, too.
kelly mentions that one of her daughters once went up to a pig before a scheduled butcher visit and told the oink-ready creature that because it was such a nice pig, it was going to make very nice bacon. and from there, she knew even her young child understood the food cycle better than some adults who are often so detached from where food really comes from, in the end, before it meets the dinner plate. kelly really wanted to clarify the question that people ask the most—“how can you butcher that cow ?” kelly says it’s simple. “we know that this animal had a wonderful life. i’d rather send to butcher an animal that had a wonderful life than one that had a horrible one.” the nature-swept goal of deep roots valley farm is to brush away the disconnect between people and the very sources of their food, helping them to appreciate the efforts of all farmers who keep us nourished.
visit www.deeprootsvalley.com; search for the farm on facebook.