Farmers undoubtedly have one of the most important jobs, yet according to the USDA, they make up only 1.3% of the U.S. labor force. Their dedication, hard work and long hours allow them to plant, grow and harvest crops, as well as raise livestock and produce the very food we consume daily.
The number of farms and acreage of farmland in the U.S. has been continuing to decline and a recent USDA survey shows that there are currently only two million farms in the U.S. and 893 million acres of farmland.
It is no secret that warehouse development has recently been on the rise at alarming rates for Lehigh and Northampton County residents, but the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission reports that the area is home to 554 preserved farms totaling almost 42,000 acres.
Two of those farms include Misty Valley Farm, Inc., located at 1425 Valley Rd. in Allen Township, and Twin Maple Farms, located at 7486 School Rd. in East Allen Township.
Misty Valley Farm is owned and operated by Angela and Paul Link who bought the property in 2009 with intentions to restore it to a working farm again. After a few years of living on and restoring the property, they decided to grow a few items for some local restaurants they frequented. From there, Angela says it snowballed into what it is today, and they have been farming their 20 acres since 2016.
Misty Valley Farm has around four acres of organic produce and 10 acres of chicken pastures with close to 10,000 pasture raised hens. They provide fresh, organically-grown vegetables, pasture-raised eggs, vegetable plants and flowers to local restaurants and the community.
Angela describes the average day on the farm as incredibly long.
“We need to be up at the crack of dawn to let the hens out of their coops to pasture. Then, the days consist of seeding and planting, feeding chickens, collecting and washing eggs, weeding, and harvesting. We wrap up the day at dark when it’s time to close the hens back in their coops for the night.”
Angela explains that many people are unaware of the amount of work and time that goes into farming, especially with growing acres of produce. For example, growing vegetables involves “choosing varieties that work, scheduling seeding and planting successions, dealing with insect and disease pressure, and dealing with/scheduling around the weather are all quite challenging and change daily” she adds.
Although Angela misses being able to get away and go on vacation at a whim, she thoroughly enjoys the learning aspect of farming because she learns something new every single day.
“Farming isn’t just a 9 to 5 job. It really isn’t a job at all—it’s a lifestyle. We live it 24/7, 365 days a year,” Angela shares.
Farmers are faced with many challenging moments that require them to be able to pivot at the drop of a dime. Angela reveals that the most challenging moments she has faced as a farmer have been losing crops and livestock to things that were out of her control. For example, Misty Valley Farm has unfortunately lost crops to flooding and hens to predators and illness, which Angela describes as tough.
However, all of the hard work and long hours that farming requires also yields the most rewarding part of the job. For Angela, doing something good for the community by supplying good, fresh and healthy food is what she finds to be most rewarding.
Misty Valley Farm offers a wide variety of organically-grown vegetables, fruits, eggs, flowers and plants, as well as homemade jams, preserves, maple products, honey, and salsas at their farmstand that local residents rave about. Their summer hours are currently Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
One township over, Twin Maple Farms is a fourth-generation potato, vegetable and grain farm owned and operated by the Hunsicker family since 1939, with over 30 acres of potatoes. Just last year, Garry Hunsicker turned the farm over to his son, Steven Hunsicker, and nephew, Travis Hahn, but he still lives and works on the farm’s 250 acres every day.
“Farmers don’t retire,” Garry jokes, “My grandfather was on the tractor until he was 90.”
Garry describes himself as being born into farming. He started working on the farm in high school, but his dad told him to go out and get a job elsewhere after he graduated college, so he worked in the agriculture industry in Maryland and Delaware for about seven years before moving back home and taking over the family farm full-time.
Garry explains that working on the farm is different every single day, but he and his family aim for an average 8-to-5-day. Since Twin Maple Farms does not raise any livestock, there is no regimen for time. However, different crops and seasons require earlier starts such as picking sweet corn in the summer and harvest season in the fall.
Although it’s hard work, Garry says there isn’t anything about it that he doesn’t like.
As a lifelong farmer, some of the challenges Garry has faced include unpredictable weather, labor being hard to find and being able to pay workers what competitors like warehouses pay their employees.
“Weather is always a challenge because you can’t control it, but that’s all part of farming,” Garry says.
For example, the mild winter is hurting crops right now because farmers are seeing a lot more insects than usual due to them not freezing like they normally do over the winter. Additionally, some vegetables such as cabbage and potatoes like the cooler weather, so those are doing really well this year, but sweet corn is going to be a few weeks late due to the cool spring weather.
Garry comments that all of the rain the Lehigh Valley has gotten recently, and the hot, humid weather has made the corn grow 6 inches in just two days.
“We’re constantly thinking about and planning what we’re going to do next year. That’s the whole thing about farming; no matter how bad the year is, next year is going to be better. So, you’re always working for next year and you learn from experience,” Garry remarks.
Overall, the most rewarding thing about farming for Garry is seeing the crops grow. “There’s nothing nicer than seeing a good yield in anything I’m harvesting.”
Although some of the vegetables that Twin Maple Farms grows are also sold wholesale, their farmstand is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for local residents to stop and shop fresh, hearty and locally grown potatoes, cabbages, peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn and onions.
Farmers like Angela, Garry and so many others are such an integral part of the community. The sacrifices they make provide us with the sustenance we need to survive. So, next time you bite into that cob of sweet, golden corn or crack an egg over the pan to make your favorite breakfast omelet, think of the farmers that work tirelessly to provide us with the one thing we all need and love—food.