In the early 1800s Stephen Miller was the first to settle the hilly, stony soil that became Miller's Orchards. Since then, seven generations have farmed this Lackawanna County location, providing food and employment for the surrounding community. During the Great Depression, Howard D. Miller ("Grandpa Miller" to us) offered food and lodging in exchange for labor to groups of young men. In fact, it was during that era that our farm's miles of stone walls were erected. The farm and the Miller family has experienced years of plenty and years of drought, but through it all, we have stayed committed to cultivating both the land and the Northeast PA economy.
Looking at the farm's evolution, we can see that at various times it has produced dairy products, honey, vegetables, apples, hay, grain, processed fruits and vegetables, baked goods, and more recently, agricultural education through farm tours and hayrides. Our commitment is to quality, prudent innovation, and ecological nurture; who knows what we'll look like in another 100 years?
Sometimes customers ask to see "Mr. Miller," so here's where we tell you that there are no more "Mr. Millers" at Miller's Orchards anymore. Now, before you get terribly confused, let us explain... More than 60 years ago, Howard D. Miller's daughter married Walter M. Peregrim, Sr. who hailed from the Lackawanna River Valley. Several years later, Howard turned over the orchard's reins to Vera and Walter Sr., who diligently learned the orchardist craft and various other agricultural nuggets from Howard over the years. Since then, "Miller's Orchards" has been owned and operated by the Peregrims. But don't worry--we still have plenty of Miller blood flowing through our veins!
In 1992, Vera and Walter Sr's son and daughter-in-law (Walter Jr. and Robin) took over farm management, mainly planting and harvesting vegetable crops and berries. However, their main attraction became the bakery and down-home entertainment. Focused on Fall festivities and amazing homemade pies, the farm put its name on the map.
Several years ago, Walter Jr. and Robin's son, Lewis, and his wife Amber joined the family farm putting more manpower behind the farm's newly developed vision: to operate a "sustainable" agricultural enterprise that produces high quality, whole foods. By raising animals in a rotational-pasture setting and focusing on making the soil nutrient-dense in their vegetable fields and orchards, they are hoping to blaze the trail that will connect health-conscious consumers with truly natural foods.
Of course, a family farm involves LOTS of family, and you'll meet many of us when you come visit the farm. Helping Robin in the bakery and farm market, you'll often find Aunt Jackie (or "Zazz" to us), Robin's sister who answered the call to help on the farm. When she's not beautifying the local population in her salon, Denae, Robin & Walter Jr's youngest daughter, can be found in the kitchen rolling those light and flaky pie crusts our customers love so much. Denae’s husband, John, has become "co-Cider Master" with Lew, nurturing our best apples into some of the finest apple cider around. Delana, Robin & Walter Jr's oldest daughter, aids in organization with her spreadsheets and spends her weekends at the farm market in the Fall. Delana’s husband, Robert, hails from Alabama and helps Robin & Walter Jr at the farm market while maintaining the farm website.
Over the years friends and family alike have become part of the Miller's Orchards team. We like to consider EVERYONE family if they've spent a harvest season with us! Come visit, and we’ll share the experience with you, too!
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To play an active role in economic and community-health development in Northeast PA by providing our neighbors with healthy, sustainably-grown food, including vegetables, eggs, poultry, turkey, pork, and wholesome homemade foods and baked goods.
In doing this, our goal is to be as transparent as possible, enabling the local community to visit the farm and meet us, their farmers. We also strive to continually build soil health, which rejuvenates our land and creates nutrient-dense crops and livestock.
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As a multi-generational farm, Miller's Orchards has experienced many farming strategies, a plethora of various crop combinations, and lots of trial and error. In the late 1990s, Walter Jr. began to notice decreasing yields in his pumpkin fields. He began to research the causes and solutions to this yield deficiency and began to experiment with various methods. Within a few years, he and son Lewis, had begun to learn about so-called "sustainable agriculture" methods that combined multi-species diversifcation, soil-enhancement strategies and a general respect for the eco-system. Since the late 1990s, Your Farmers at Miller's have been working to build up our soil health, to find the right mix of animal and plant species for our particular ecosystem, and to boost the nutrient density of all our products.
So what exactly does all this mean? Well, it means different things. For our field crops, it means we have begun an intensive soil rebuilding program which includes adding back minerals that had been drained from the fields over a generation of more "industrial farming" techniques. Agriculture should be the nurturing of a renewable resource (the soil). But in recent generations, farming methods have taken more of a "mining" approach, over-planting the same crops on fragile soil year after year, thereby sucking the best nutrients and minerals without replacement. Our field crop methodology focuses on strategic crop rotation, mineral amendments, and a low-spray commitment. Even the corn maze we planted for Corn Maze 2011 was raised with these methods. (We stuck to our low-spray principles this summer, even though our corn field was suffering from the effects of a cold, wet spring.
For Fall 2012, that means you won’t see a corn maze on the farm this year; our soil needs a break from the nutrient draining corn crop. Instead, it’ll be a Sorghum Maze for 2012! What’s sorghum and why did we plant it? Another one of the “cereal grains,” sorghum is a hardy crop that benefits the soil as a cover crop. Over the summer, our sorghum field (over 5 acres) has been growing tall and suppressing weeds. All the while, it is adding organic matter to the soil, restoring the vitality of the field. By Fall, our sorghum stalks will be 4 to 5 feet tall, an exciting but not overwhelming size for a maze! But that’s not all, after the first hard frost of the winter, the sorghum will die back and protect the soil against winter erosion. By Spring 2013, these 5+ acres will have healthier and more nutrient-dense.
For our orchards, our philosophy has led us into an intensive soil rebuilding there also! Of course, soil enhancements are different in our orchards, where the "crop" stays in the ground year 'round. We continue to add mineral amendments to the soil in our orchards, have begun running our chickens and pigs through the orchards (to control the grass and pest population and to dig up--or "aerate"--the soil), and have dramatically reduced our pesticide applications (nearly nothing in 2011!). After losing our entire apple crop in 2009 and 2010 (due to a late Spring freeze and frost, respectively), the orchards have had two seasons to rest and rehabilitate. Check out a quote from our Spring 2011 Newsletter that explains more:
"We have spent a lot of time researching how to grow our apples with minimal (or no) pesticide application. In the last two years, the puny harvest means we were able to more quickly wean the orchards from pesticides. We believe that this year, we will be able to successfully grow apples with a far greater reduction in pesticides than we thought for 2011. Frankly, our pesticide-application plan for 2011 currently looks more like the one I thought I'd use 10 or even 15 years from now. But the forced "break" in production and a sharper understanding of the delicate balance of friend and foe that exists in any orchard, I think we will make huge strides this year. Isn't it amazing how God has a far greater plan that exceeds the short-term adversity we must endure?"
Part of sustainable agriculture philosophy revolves around our incorporation of animal species in our Farm ecosystem. We believe that a healthy ecosystem is one with great diversity in species, and in the last decade we've introduced poultry and pigs to the pastures and the orchards around the Farm. Our birds and our pigs are raised on pasture, in the open air, free to roam in search of a balanced diet (which for these omnivores includes grass, seeds, bugs, and more). Their diets are supplemented on occasion with non-GMO feed made up of grains sourced either from our own Farm or from other like-minded Farms within our region. The birds and pigs help us boost overall health on the Farm by scratching or rooting up the soil (a natural form of aeration) and by adding their own "fertilizer" in the form of manure to our fields and orchard. Read more about our Pastured Meat here.
Fall Visiting & Entertainment
Our sustainable agriculture philosophy also means we have adjusted our regular Fall Visiting strategy. For over a decade we operated a carnival-like Fall activities area on our Farm, inviting thousands of visitors each year to experience an ever-increasing array of creative and attention-getting amusements. We truly enjoyed the opportunity to have so much fun with our customers over the years, but during the winter of 2010 we decided to cut back on our Fall entertainment offerings to focus not only on farming but on educating our community. We realized we were getting distracted from our goal of running a sustainable agriculture operation growing nutrient-dense products. More importantly, we recognized that our customers weren't getting to see the Farm or get to know the Farmers who produce their food. And our goal is to get to know you, the Eater, and for you to get to know us, the Farmer.
So we made some changes. We determined to collapse the size of our corn maze to eliminate the need for planting the same acreage with corn year after year. We eliminated the night corn maze and other night time activities, allowing our pastured animals (and us, too!) to get a good night's sleep. And we streamlined the play area to allow youngsters to enjoy the simplicity of playing on our grassy slope and its slides and wooden climb-on toys. We added Guided Farm Tours, offered twice per weekend day, a "classroom on wheels" opportunity to spend 45 minutes with Lew learning about our farming philosophy while getting up close and personal with our pig herd, our chickens, our orchards and our fields. We added more special events that highlight the joys of our sustainable agricultural enterprise--pastured chicken BBQ's, an Apple Cider Squeeze (with cider-pressing demo's and samples), and more workshops. In addition, we slashed the Admission price to $4 per person to allow the chance for entire families to economically spend the day on the Farm.
We're continuing this strategy for the Fall of 2012. Our corn maze has been replaced by a nutrient-replacing Sorghum Maze this year. You will be able to check out our pig and chicken pastures and see how our pastured meat and our apples are raised. And hayrides will run regularly each weekend afternoon in case you'd like to hitch a ride to the back of the Farm during your time with us. We've kept Admission to $4 per person—for the THIRD year!—which is our Farm friendly way of giving you some fresh-air-filled economic relief! At the end of the day, what matters to us is that you are able to get to know Your Farmers and our methods. Transparency and relationship are important to us, not merely entertainment. We think you'll have fun by simply spending time in our orchards, pastures, and fields and by hanging out with the Farmers who grow your food.
Soil Health & Erosion Protection
Our soil rebuilding program causes not only our plants, trees, and animals to thrive, and it not only increases the nutrient density of our produce and meats, but it also helps enhance the cohesivness of our soil helping it resist the erosion effects of wind and rain. Healthy soil adheres to itself, and we have witnessed the proof in the great reduction in run-off from our fields--even despite the heavy rains experienced during the 2011 growing season. The decrease in erosion not only means that we retain the healthy soil in our fields (as opposed to run-off drains), but it also benefits every neighbor in our watershed all the way to the Chesapeake Bay.
The "nutrient dense" strategy focuses on the inherent healthiness of the end product-not just the means. Why focus on the end product? Because if the end product is filled with nutrients, then the methods used to produce it must have been good for the land. Nutrient-depleted soil cannot produce a "nutrient dense" vegetable or support a "nutrient-dense" grazing animal. For example, consider our Broilers. They are not "certified organic." But we do believe the taste and nutrient-content of any one of our pastured Broilers would surpass the average "certified organic" confinement-raised organic chicken. Here's why: by focusing on the "end product" not just "the process," we expose our Broilers to constant fresh air, sunlight and room to stretch their wings. Our "process" is more "natural" for any bird than the organic confinement methods currently used for "certified organic" chickens; and a more "natural" process means our Broilers are healthier birds and result in a healthier meal on your table. We know how easy it is to idolize "the process" and take our eyes off the more important goal of producing a superior product. But at Miller's we are striving to focus on a "nutrient dense" end-product. In doing so, we are constantly adjusting "the process" so that it produces the best possible fruit, vegetable, meat or grain with the most nutrients available.
Modern farming methods are not known for their "nutrient dense" focus. Scientists have known for decades that our food is nutrient deficient. Flour, milk and even salt are fortified with separate nutrients (like Vitamin D, calcium and iodine) because these nutrients no longer naturally occur at sufficient levels in our food. Our food lacks these nutrients because the soil they're produced on lacks them. Over the last century, the American agricultural system has turned farmers into miners, taking out the last remaining nutrients in the soil without returning anything back to it. I don't believe this is what God intended farming to be. We are to cultivate the land, care for it, shepherd it, protect it, improve it, and yes profit from it. But long-term profit (and I mean generations-long profit) can only be obtained when we return nutrients to the soil so that it has the ability to produce good food for decades to come. This is a multi-generational commitment so that my grandchildren and their grandchildren can farm this land and confidently expect a crop each year-a "nutrient-dense," life-giving crop.
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Each year Lew writes a Farm Newsletter for the general edification of our customers. You may find some archived letters below. To sign up to receive the Newsletter in the future, email us with your contact information (email address and/or snail mail address) and we'll add you to the mailing list!
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