6/15/2013 7:00 AM
By Laura Zoeller Southwestern Pa. Correspondent
EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. — The Matthews Family Farm LLC has been in Eighty Four only since 1984, but crop farming has been in the family’s blood a whole lot longer than that.
Their ideas on marketing fresh local produce to customers in a manner that is respectful of their family, their community and their environment goes back several generations and was a theme central to the development of a co-op with like-minded farmers called Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance.
“Our original farm was in McMurray, Pa.,” Allen Matthews said. “My family farmed there for four generations before the farm in Eighty Four was purchased.
“We have wholesaled vegetables for 25 years to the Strip District in Pittsburgh as well as to independent grocers in the area,” he said. “As the number of independent grocers began to decline, and the larger ones weren’t buying locally, most of our produce was going to wholesalers.”
Around 1990, the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture was formed and Matthews was on one of its first boards.
“PASA began encouraging farmers to direct-market their goods to the consumer,” he said. “It was a new concept, as was the idea to get farmers working together to advertise, buy and sell their goods cooperatively. Our family and some other farmers started working on a co-op.”
The co-op was named Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance and was formed as an limited liability corporation in 1999 by several area farm families, including Margie Dagnal of Goose Creek Gardens in Oakdale, Pam Bryan of Pucker Brush Farm in Shelocta, Ken and Beth Marshal of Next Life Farm in Indiana County, and the Matthews family, including Allen and his brother and sister-in-law, John and Jane Matthews.
“Those folks deserve all the credit in the world,” Allen Matthews said, “because they have kept Penn’s Corner growing and thriving since its conception.
“PCFA allows all 30-plus farms involved to market goods to a growing number of customers,” he said, “because the variety of products that we collectively raise is larger, more consistent and available in larger quantity than we each have individually. We are marketing to more restaurants these days, as well.”
The co-op boasts not just vegetables and fruit, but also meat, cheeses and specialty products, all raised within 100 miles of Pittsburgh.
“One of the neat things about PCFA is that we now offer products 52 weeks a year,” Matthews said. “In spring, there are microgreens, ramps, rhubarb, shell peas; summer offers beans, beets, basil, corn and melons; in fall, there are apples, root crops like turnips and potatoes, pumpkins, and herbs; and in winter, there are greenhouse-grown lettuces, squash and edible flowers, among other things.
“We also have farms that offer beef, pork, chicken, rabbit, honey and eggs,” he said. “Restaurants like that they can work with fresh ingredients all year round, and that is possible through the cooperative effort that PCFA provides.
Matthews Family Farm and Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance both offer weekly CSA memberships to local families and individuals, and those are quite successful, Matthews said.
Each week, deliveries are made to neighborhood drop-off locations where people can have their boxes filled with produce picked a day or two beforehand.
“Shares can last for 32 weeks, or from Easter to nearly Thanksgiving, and cost approximately $25 per week. You won’t get fresher produce for that price anywhere else,” he said.
“At our farm, we work to supply PCFA as well as our own customers,” Matthews said. “My brother, John, directs all planting and is manager for our LLC while my sister-in-law, Jane, coordinates all daily harvesting and deliveries for Penn’s Corner as well as to farmers markets. Their kids, Ian and Johnna, work on planting and harvesting all summer. MFF remains as much of a family affair today as it has been for the past several generations.”
There was a time when being from the country was somewhat embarrassing because farmers weren’t respected and their contributions weren’t valued, he said.
“But more and more, it is a source of pride to know that what we do — at MMF, PCFA and farms everywhere — is appreciated the way it should be by people who once again understand what an important service farmers provide to our communities,” Matthews said.
For more information on the Matthews Family Farm, go to www.matthewsfamilyfarm.com. For more information on Penns Corner Farm Alliance, go to www.pennscorner.com.