Aaron and Rachel Esh live and farm with their 8 children in Kirkwood, Pennsylvania. Make a couple turns out of our parking lot and half an hour later, you’ll end up in their gravel driveway, the entrance to Peaceful Valley Farm.
One muggy and overcast morning in September, a handful of our staff were invited to tour the farm and talk with Aaron and Rachel about their history and the fruitful relationship with Harvest Market over the years.
Both from farming families, Aaron and Rachel Esh started their life on the property thanks to Aaron’s dad who purchased the 70 acre farm from his uncle. We can thank Aaron’s great uncle and father for this good fortune! Once the farm became their home and their livelihood, the Esh Family named the property Peaceful Valley Farm and began family life as dairy producers.
The Esh family was having a hard time relying solely on dairy sales and they began considering the possibility of adding to their farm offerings with produce sales. Serendipity arrived in 2005 when Aaron and Rachel were approached by Carin Bonafacino, New Garden Growers Market Founder, and Bob Kleszics, our Founder and CEO, to consider growing produce for their customers. Aaron and Rachel said yes and that’s how it all began! You never know what kind of seeds you’re planting when you ask for support from your community!
A Growing Family
The Esh Family cultivates 4 acres as vegetable and fruit production, and 20 acres is reserved to pasture their herd of 40 Holstein cows and team of 8 mules. In 2007, they started providing milk to Organic Valley Cooperative, which we also proudly sell at Harvest Market as cheese, sour cream, half and half, butter and more.
Sadie, the Esh’s 17 year old daughter, is quite literally a budding entrepreneur; she tends to her own manicured yet playful cut flower garden to create her now famous Sadie’s Bouquets, a popular item and natural joy-enducer at Harvest Market. Sadie’s passion is growing and arranging these flowers and you can feel it when you see them flourishing in their natural habitat. Look down at your feet and you will see a sign that reads, “The Earth Laughs in Flowers.”
What are Aaron and Rachel’s favorite tasks on the farm? Aaron likes to make hay while Rachel prefers to pick green beans. Their children feel their mom has a special touch when it comes to growing their famously delicious beans (available fresh and pickled). They say to their mom, “We think the beans grow in front of your eyes!”
Stewards of the Land
As the name illustrates, co-existence and harmony are cornerstones of Peaceful Valley Farm. Birds chirp and cows mull around the barn. Our presence here is certainly putting the family back in their chores for the day, no doubt, so we appreciate the opportunity to visit and walk these plentiful hills.
Five years ago, Aaron and Rachel decided to forgo organic certification on their vegetable and fruit fields, while still maintaining full organic certification in their dairy operation and pasture lands. Given the burdensome nature of documentation and record keeping for an otherwise small market garden, Aaron decided to drop the organic label on their produce while maintaining it for their dairy production. In truth, he says nothing but the documentation has changed. He still adheres to organic farming practices despite not having the logo to back up the work their family still does.
When asked about how he keeps weeds and bugs at bay in the fields without the reliance on chemical additives, Aaron shrugs his shoulders and smiles.“Well,” he starts, “you don’t always get all the weeds and all the bugs and that’s ok.” How true. Aaron and Rachel have never had a license to spray chemicals. Aaron came from a family that was familiar with organic growing practices, whereas Rachel’s family leaned toward conventional practices.
When we ask about what their neighboring farmers think of their organic practices, they tell us that back in 2000, organic wasn’t as popular as it is now. Because conventional dairy hasn’t paid well, some local farmers have gone organic as a way to survive in an increasingly conglomerated food system. “A lot of farms have transitioned [to organic],” Aaron shares knowingly.
The Esh family and their occasional helper or two invoke stewardship in every aspect of running their farm. Their land care practices of cover cropping, crop rotation and groundcovers build soil and grow nutrient dense crops, while also maintaining the local flora and fauna. Aaron and Rachel are required to maintain a 25 ft. (minimum) buffer strip between their land and that of neighboring properties using chemicals.
As we walk, we notice a selection of metal farm equipment flanking the outer edges of the barn. Aaron shows us what each piece of equipment is used for and just how their team of mules pulls each one along the fertile fields just feet away.
Peaceful Valley Products
Every Wednesday, May through November for the last 16 years, a member of our Produce team has driven the cool 25 miles along Route 41 to pick up some heaven from earth. Our haul reflects the bounty of our region’s rich soils and a tradition of farming that dates back hundreds of years. In addition to a range of fruits and vegetables, we also sell preserved goods and cut flowers from Peaceful Valley Farm.
What’s in Store?
- Produce: Strawberries, green beans, sweet potatoes, garlic and garlic scapes, grape tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, slicing tomatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, onions, potatoes, butternut squash, curly kale, bell peppers, eggplant, blackberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, cauliflower, spaghetti squash
- Sadie’s Cut Flowers
- Preserves: Sour Beets, Dilly Beans, Bread and Butter Pickles, Dill Pickles, Sour Pickles
One of our most popular local specialties is Peaceful Valley’s Pickled Sour Beets, a prized commodity and our #1 selling Peaceful Valley preserve. Rachel shares that they grow a crop of red beets specifically for preserving, making them the perfect size and flavor for a traditional Amish food. We also sell their Dilly Beans, Bread and Butter Pickles, Dill Pickles and Sour Pickles.
FUN FACT: The Esh family estimates that about half of what they grow is sold at Harvest Market every year. Talk about your local dollars going an extra mile — even if the source is much closer!