by jennifer hetrick
tucked into the stretch of the oley valley known as pike township, oley valley organics is hosting a farm open house on saturday, june 15 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
the day's festivities and deliciously grown local eats, along with live stringed instrument music and plenty of educational components, will pepper the hours of the open house.
dr. elaine ingham, chief scientist at the rodale institute in maxatawny township will be offering compost extract and tea demonstrations at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the farm as a way to help teach people how compost used to be for centuries before commercialized pesticide treatments took over the norm in our culture. ingham will explain the fascinating facts behind how these ancient arts of approach to agriculture help crops to be stronger, more resilient against disease, more flavorful by the bite, higher in yield, and with less neighboring pesky weeds in the way of the soil.
barb dietrich who farms the land with her family explains that old-fashioned soft pretzels will be served from the historic bake oven at the farm around 12 p.m. the bake oven on the property dates to around 130 years ago and takes several hours to heat up to the appropriate temperature, but it is a rare and heritage-rich asset on the land.
other local farmers will be at the event as vendors as well, sharing their naturally raised foods that are from the heart of berks county. organically raised meats and cheeses are just a few of what will be on the table through friends of the farm.
with farming weaved well into dietrich's childhood, she and her family purchased their historic farm property in 2006. having grown up in stonersville, dietrich notes that her father worked as a crop farmer. and while she and her husband and children lived abroad as a military family for a long time, they always wanted to come home to berks county to settle down and become close with the land again.
"we like the farming way of life, and we like the pace of it," dietrich says about what draws her so strongly to a life based around agricultural labors.
her farm spans just under 13 acres, and her primary foods of focus are asparagus, strawberries and raspberries. but since adding two hoophouses in the past few years, she and her family also raise a lot more now, including all sorts of salad greens, tomatoes, garlic, zucchini, rhubarb, and more.
( photographs courtesy of oley valley organics )
"nothing tastes better than fresh produce," dietrich says with a heartful smile evident in her voice. she has even talked to pennsylvania dutch men many decades older than her who live in the area and say her asparagus is some of the best they've ever had.
and dietrich explains that when a person goes from store-bought asparagus, likely from far beyond the borders of pennsylvania, and then tries her asparagus, the stark difference in flavor persuasion in what she grows has all its own delectable lure on gustatory cells: in other words, it tastes phenomenal and knocks non-local asparagus right out of the picture.
“as a nation built by farmers, many people today don’t really know where their food comes from,” dietrich says. she explains that certain crops like soy and corn are subsidized by the government, which means the cheaper food in grocery stores often has these products in them. and while they’re less expensive and usually very processed, they aren’t necessarily very healthy for the human body compared to fresh, whole, local food raised free of the toxic and damaging way of insecticides.
“and commercially grown strawberries are bred for shipping with bright color for looks, not to taste good,” dietrich says.
she continuously hears this line during strawberry-growing season: “these are the best strawberries we’ve ever had.” and in fact, she recently had people driving from allentown, lehigh county, and frackville, schuylkill county just to be able to pick their own organic strawberries because they had such trouble finding this opportunity in their own communities. the gracious way of these far-traveling strawberry-devourers brings a satisfaction to dietrich’s hard work that is understandably unparalleled.
“every day, i have somebody say, ‘thank you for what you do,’ and that makes it easier to get up and do this all again the next day,” dietrich says. “and i’d much rather have my hands in the soil than at a computer.”
and in appreciation of farm life, dietrich also adds, “nothing beats seeing a couple of kittens being born.”
oley valley organics is located at 516 oysterdale road, oley, pa 19547. also be sure to like the farm on facebook.