McVEYTOWN - Photographer Keri Pickett caught an image of the Andrew Batdorf family walking across a hillside pasture on their farm in the summer of 2011. The summer day and the smiling McVeytown area family, captured that day, grace the September 2012 page of the Horizon Organics calendar.
Even more visible, today the Batdorf family is scheduled to be recognized at the Farm Aid concert in Hershey, for their role in promoting organic agriculture. The family is receiving honorable mention in the Hope Award competition for the second consecutive year, out of some 600 Horizon Organics producers across the country.
The award is given to Horizon Organics farmers who advocate for organic agriculture.
Photos by Keri Pickett for Horizon Organics
The Batdorf family, of Hollow Brook Organic Farm near McVeytown, pauses in a hillside pasture on their farm on a 2011 summer day. They are, from left, Emanuel, Saraetta, Andrew, Timothy, Matthew and Mary. The family is featured on the Horizon Organics calendar in September and is scheduled to receive an award at the Farm Aid Concert in Hershey today.
Photos by Keri Pickett for Horizon Organics
Andrew Batdorf displays the solar panel that powers a pump that provides water for his heifers.
Dairy cattle graze on a hillside at Hollow Brook Organic Farm. Their drinking water is pumped by a windmill.
Rhode Island Red chickens raised on the Batdorf farm are destined for the market.
Andrew Batdorf and son Matthew are scheduled to receive the recognition today.
The Batdorf family, Andrew and Saraetta Batdorf and their children, Timothy, now 17; Mary, who just turned 16, 14-year-old Matthew and Emanuel, now 12, moved to their farm on Horningford Road, near McVeytown, in 2003, from Quarryville, Lancaster County. Their dairy farm now consists of 710 acres, and they rent an additional 80 acres. Roughly half the acreage is crops and the other half pasture.
Soon after arriving in the area, the Batdorfs signed as cooperators with the Mifflin County Conservation District, a move that set them up for many new opportunities.
In 2006 they became innovators with the installation of a 40-foot windmill to pump water for the animals on the farm without electricity. They also installed paths for the cows to travel, thus cutting down on erosion and stream pollution.
The windmill, which is still working despite a few blades missing from storm damage, is actually plumbed to provide water for the Batdorfs' home, but they still use well water in their home.
Two years ago, they installed a solar water pump at the rented farm. The cost had come down to about $5,000 from the $25,00 a few years prior - and the current ones don't even need a battery backup, he said, adding, "That technology has come a long way.'' Unlike the windmill, which has an above-ground storage tank, the solar pump has an underground storage tank. Water from the solar pump is used to water heifers housed at that farm. The solar pump does the same job as the windmill at 25 percent of the cost, he added.
At this point, Batdorf said, it still is not feasible to install a windmill to generate electricity for the home and farm operation, but he's keeping an eye on it. "I think solar panels would be better for electricity, but it isn't quite feasible yet. It's amazing how fast that technology is growing and the costs are coming down.''
They also installed a new manure storage facility two years ago.
Transition to organic
Considering the transition to organic, they tried it unofficially first, "just to see how it would work for me,'' Batdorf said. "I wasn't big on spraying and I used very few antibiotics anyway, so it was an easy transition for me.''
Organic farming produces foods without the use of chemical fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, instead using natural and biological methods to fertilize and achieve pest control.
The Batdorfs started the actual transitioning process in from conventional to organic farming in 2005 and were certified by Pennsylvania Certified Organic in 2008.
What was hardest about the transition was the lack of a mentor, Batdorf said.
"When I started, I was kind of by myself. I talked to organic farmers, but had no real mentoring. That would have been helpful,'' he said.
That's how he became involved in setting up a mentoring program just started in cooperation by Community Partnerships, Capital and Endless Mountain RC&Ds. He taped his first session, five to 10 minutes on the subject of organic dairy, in August. Others to follow will include such subjects as organic inspection and types of farm machinery needed.
"That video is just the beginning,'' he said. "We're not sure where it will lead. But I believe in organic, and I believe we need some kind of mentoring for new and transitioning farmers.''
Sam Price, coordinator of Community Partnerships RC&D, said Batdorf was chosen for the videos "for his knowledge and his friendliness.
"We thought peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing was best. If you've been thinking about transitioning to organic, here's a guy that has done it. He's a nice guy.''
The Batdorfs market their organically produced milk through Horizon Organics, a Bloomfield, Colorado-based company. The company, organized in 1991, has some 40-50 producers in Pennsylvania, Batdorf said. Local milk goes to New York or Virginia for processing. All of the Batdorf's milk goes to the fluid milk market.
Batdorf said he learned about Horizon Organics in a conversation with a man he met while on a school field trip with his children. "I checked it out, and they picked us up,'' he said.
Horizon wants their producers to do things for the environment, day-to-day efforts to promote organic agriculture and encouraging other people to transition to organic.
These are the efforts for which the Batdorfs are being recognized at Farm Aid.
In addition to the organic dairy operation, the Batdorfs were involved in getting a farmers' market set up at Lewistown's Rec Park. It operates from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays. They already had experience at farmers' markets in the Philadelphia area and the Farmers' Market in Harrisburg, plus some produce sold at home.
The Batdorfs offer a variety of produce, dressed chickens and herbs, including the sweetener stevia, at the market. The produce and chickens at the market are not certified organic, he stressed, despite they fact they are raised by organic methods.
"I like a new challenge. It's not a huge money-maker for us,'' he said of participation in the market. "It's more education. I like to talk about organic. It's fun to see it grow.
"And it's good for my children, too, life lessons working with customers, making change, communicating with customers, learning to deal with complaints. Every now and then we get a complaint and they have to learn how to remedy that.''
The Batdorfs also participated in a 10-week program with Pennsylvania WAGN, the Women's Agriculture Network, which provided cooking lessons on how to use items sold at the market. One day the Batdorfs provided chicken for two recipes, crockpot and barbecue. Young Matthew Batdorf chose to give a speech for the family, talking about the operation. "We're never too busy to talk about the products we're raising here,'' said his father.
Various members of the family are left to tend market while the others are at home doing the milking or other necessary chores.
"I think working at the farmers' market is a good thing. They're very capable of what they're doing,'' Saraetta Batdorf added.
She noted that the chickens, Rhode Island Reds raised on the farm, are processed off the farm and sold frozen.
The Batdorfs have recently become cooperators in a pollination habitat program for ag producers, from Penn State. This involves planting habitat, which provides nectar for bees, mainly bumble bees, and 4- by 4-foot boards with holes drilled in them to provide "houses'' for the bees. These bees then pollinate fruit trees and other crops.
He explained, "I've always wanted to have bees. We don't have any honey bees yet, but we love honey and I've been concerned about colony collapse disease in honey bees. So now we got this grant to put out bumble bee houses. They're going to come over (from Penn State) and do some studies, catch bees and see what kinds of bees are here.''
He also touts the beneficial effects of creatures like praying mantises, in organic farming.
The Batdorfs already have some bee habitat established, about two acres of buckwheat, sunflowers and wildflower mix, which they did on their own. More habitat will be planted, starting this fall, under the pollination project.
The Batdorf children are students at Valley View Christian School, and they all help on the farm, which they have named "Hollow Brook Organic Farm.'' Although the children can and do help wherever needed, they each have separate main responsibilities - Timothy helps with field work and mixes feed, Mary helps with milking, Matthew feeds the chickens and Emanuel feeds calves.
"It's a family operation, a family farm. I couldn't do it without my wife and children,'' Batdorf said.
Saraetta, who grew up on a crop farm and had not experienced dairy until the couple married, echoed, "I like living on a farm. Any style of farm is a good place to raise a family.''
Batdorf is quoted on the Horizon Organics calendar as, in part, wanting his children to be able to stay on the farm and make a good living, adding, "I like the fact that I don't have any chemicals on my farm; I don't have to mix it, and I don't have to spray it.''
Of his organic and conservation-oriented operation, Batdorf said, "I think doing this helps the environment and helps God's creation, like bumble bees and praying mantises. The families downstream are drinking the water that runs off our farm and we have a moral responsibility to see that it's clean. I feel very strongly about that.''