Our farm used to feed others, with a little left over for us. Now we need that food for ourselves.

“The pandemic strengthened our bond as a true farm family working together not so much for financial gain, but to put food on the table.”

For more than 100 years, our farm has fed others. Generations milked cows, grew grains, pruned expansive orchards and collected eggs—most of which was sold to sustain the farm financially.  

Nestled in the hills of northeastern Pennsylvania near a small town called Hobbie, today the farm is home to 30 beef cows, 100 chickens, 50 acres of crops and my family, including my wife, Kathleen, and our 7-year-old twin boy and girl, Hunter and Kelly Ann.

I wasn’t born on the farm nor did I grow up on one, but I always had an interest in agriculture. In 2002 I purchased the farm, which had been inactive and fell into disrepair, from an elderly couple who could no longer maintain it. Right away, I rebuilt the circa-1845 bank barn and reclaimed the overgrown fields, and then I moved in the cows and planted crops. The old farm was reborn.

Today, the farm is used to produce food to feed others and generate an income—just like it had been since the 1800s. Sure, my wife and I always made sure our freezer was full of the beef and chicken that we raised, and the shelves in the basement were lined with colorful canning jars of vegetables from the garden, but that was a small portion of what we produced. 

The increased importance on food security gave us a renewed appreciation for our farm.

When the Covid-19 crisis swept across the nation, it forced us to view our farm differently. At the outset, bare shelves were a common sight at the grocery store, and social distancing guidelines made every trip to town an unnerving experience. We just couldn’t depend on outside sources to keep our pantry stocked.  

We had to change. We needed the farm to feed us as well as others.  

Farming to feed your family knowing the “backup” of the grocery store may not always be a viable option felt a bit daunting at first, but it was a challenge we embraced.

The increased importance on food security gave us a renewed appreciation for our farm. We had a stronger sense of purpose as we went about our daily routine of feeding cows and chickens and preparing the ground to plant. Now we farmed to truly sustain ourselves.  

While the routine chores of the farm remained unchanged throughout the pandemic, our plans didn’t. We used to keep a quarter of a steer for ourselves and sell the rest. Now we decided to keep half of a steer—about 350 pounds of beef—to last us a year. We raised more meat chickens, added additional egg layers to the flock, and my wife ordered more seeds for a garden that I was tasked to enlarge when it came time to plow.  

The pandemic strengthened our bond as a true farm family working together not so much for financial gain, but to put food on the table.

We were determined to become as self-sufficient as possible with our food, and every day as I fed animals and worked on machinery, I was thankful that we had the barns and land to produce what was needed, thankful that we could create our own food security.  

And the best part was that Hunter and Kelly Ann sensed the heightened importance of the farm and eagerly pitched in to help with daily chores. With a business-like approach, the kids pitched hay to the cows and bravely reached under broody hens to collect eggs. 

The pandemic strengthened our bond as a true farm family working together not so much for financial gain, but to put food on the table.  

That’s why, when we sit down at the dinner table to enjoy a slow-cooked beef roast, oven-baked chicken or any meal that was produced entirely from the farm, we remind our twins to never take it for granted; always appreciate where your food comes from. It’s a lesson that prevailed throughout the long history of our farm, one we were reminded of when the pandemic brought food security to the forefront.

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Tom Venesky has been writing a weekly column on the outdoors, nature, and small-town life for daily newspapers for the last 20 years, including The Citizens’ Voice and Times Leader.