Brenda Slack may come from a multi-generational farming family, but in many ways, she’s the first.
“Farming has always been in my blood,” explains Slack, a former mental health therapist. “I always had a garden. I needed it as my therapy outside of work. I like to be in the sun, in the rain, in the season. It’s always been a part of me.”
But it took awhile for Slack to realize this was the path her life needed take. Working part-time as a therapist, she kept a garden, putting her produce out on a roadside table during the season. “People kept leaving me notes saying ‘Why don’t you do more?'”
Working with abused children was emotionally difficult and often Slack would never see them again, not knowing how they turned out. But farming is different, she explains.
“Farming is all about nurturing, seeing it all from beginning to end – seedlings, chicks, and putting the land to bed for the winter.”
In 2002, a friend of a friend gave Slack 25 chickens. You might say that was the beginning. Slack’s father, Carl, an experienced farmer himself, said “you can’t farm part-time.” So in 2007, Milk House Farm was officially established as a business and in 2009, it saw its first full year of farming, selling its vegetables and eggs at the farm and at the Wrightstown Farmers’ Market.
Fourth generation farmer – but a pioneer all the same
The Slack family has farmed their land a few miles from Washington Crossing in Upper Makefield Township since 1850. The 120 acre preserved farm sits on Slack Road, and was a dairy farm until 1988. Slack, the 4th generation, farms 30 acres for vegetables and fruit. The other 90 acres are farmed by her father producing corn, grains and hay.
“People can feel safe about the food they are eating. This really is the real deal.”
But in many ways, Slack is a pioneer in her family. Growing vegetables and raising livestock is a change, as is the way she is going about it. She uses only sustainable agricultural practices, including no pesticides, mostly organic seeds and soil management techniques to keep the soil healthy and full of necessary nutrients.
Her poultry receives all natural feed with no hormones. “People can feel safe about the food they are eating,” she says. “This really is the real deal.”
She is a self-taught farmer, learning about sustainable and organic agriculture from workshops and conferences held by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).
The Bucks County Foodshed Alliance (BCFA) was a strong influence also. “It’s been a place to go for support and like-mindedness. BCFA is focused on what would be best for farmers of Bucks County,” she explains. “It gave me a greater education – how to think about things from farm to community to global.” The Foodshed Alliance also helped Slack get grant money to add more chicken houses.
Raising chickens the right way
From 25 chickens, Slack now raises 1000 “layers,” who produce some of the best tasting and nutritious eggs you’ll find in Bucks County. She also raises 400 “broilers” (chickens for meat) and 150 Muscovy ducks. Chefs as far away as New York City buy her ducks and the demand is increasing. You can even get duck eggs from Milk House Farm.
The chickens and ducks graze on grass, a decision Slack made consciously. “The flavor is unbelievable. The yolks are golden and the chickens are happier – they don’t bother each other, they coo and sing and even sun themselves,” she says.
They eat grass and bugs, and all natural feed made of soy, corn, oats, barley, hay, vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that eggs from pasture-raised poultry are higher in Omega-3’s, carotenes and fat-soluble vitamins.
Milk House Farm produces a wide range of vegetables starting in April and through November. Slack has a particular affection for heirloom varieties of vegetables, especially tomatoes. This year she had 45 varieties. She also grows 18 varieties of winter squashes, almost two dozen types of pumpkins and a dozen kinds of gourds.
Are you organic?
Slack often gets asked why the farm is not USDA certified organic.
“It’s a choice I’ve had to make,” she explains. “It’s a three year process to get organic certification, and it’s equal parts paperwork and growing. I don’t feel putting that extra time in will be better for my product or my customers.”
That said, she has been “no-spray” from day one and uses mostly organic, non-GMO (genetically modified) seeds. She urges her customers to come to the farm and see what they do. “Develop a relationship with your farmer.”
It’s all about the soil
Slack has learned so much in the past six years. Now her focus is on the soil. “If you don’t put it back, you won’t get it,” she says. The farm’s soil is currently too low in organic matter, she explains. “There’s no buffer when we have a drought. The soil doesn’t just doesn’t hold water.”
Going forward, Slack feels her biggest challenge is running the business in a profitable and sustainable way. “Last year was the first year I made money!” she says with a wide smile.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for diversity and growth here.” The farm employs 15 people at the height of the season and Slack wants to build a team of individuals “who are really serious about agriculture.”
You can find Milk House Farm’s produce, eggs, meats and more at their farm market at 1118 Slack Road (18940). The market is open year-round, seven days a week.
In addition to products from the farm, it also stocks a wide variety of other foods from area farms and producers, like organic dairy, produce, fruits, honey, locally roasted organic coffee, locally ground grains and more.
You may also find yourself munching on Brenda’s produce at area restaurants like Charcoal BYOB, Earl’s, Hearth, Sprig & Vine and the Pineville Tavern.
See their website at www.milkhousefarmmarket.com and sign up for their weekly newsletter.
Milk House Farm also has a booth at the Wrightstown Farmers’ Market, every Saturday morning from May through November.