BELLEVILLE, Pa. — Ashley Hassinger is doing her best to support grocery shoppers by educating them about farm-to-table concepts.
Marketing farm products and helping shoppers understand both the food source and the people who grow it, are Hassinger’s passions.
Hassinger grew up on Mountain Dale Farm in McClure, Snyder County, a working farm vacation spot owned by her parents, Ken and Sally Hassinger, since 1976.
“I grew up knowing the importance of educating on agriculture,” Ashley Hassinger said.
Families would visit her parents’ farm from all over the U.S. and other parts of the world, many of whom had little understanding of where their food came from.
“We would say to the (visiting) kids, ‘Let’s go get eggs,’ and they would head to their car. They thought we were going to the grocery store,” she said.
Hassinger said she saw this scenario frequently, and always looked forward to certain families who would return.
As early as age 7, Hassinger was helping prepare the food from the farm for visitors. In second grade, she created and wrote a recipe for filling.
Hassinger attended public school until high school, where she was home-schooled so she could help more at the farm.
“As much as she fed people who came in, Mom did not like to cook,” she said. So, Hassinger had no trouble taking on that role.
“I like to garden, and my brother grows beef,” she said of her brother, Isaac.
It was always exciting to explain to guests that their meals were sourced from their property.
“We had people who would say they could never eat vegetables, but they would eat ours,” she said.
Hassinger worked after high school both at the farm and at the Buffalo Valley Produce Auction in Union County.
Hassinger also worked with her dad’s auction business for 17 years.
She and brother Isaac took on a business together as well. At age 13, she and Isaac started a wreath-making business, selling 250 wreaths a year mainly at a business in Mifflin County.
In 2011 the siblings purchased a butcher shop in Freeburg, Snyder County, and stayed open for five years. Ashley Hassinger’s role was working the cutting room and taking care of the bookwork.
Then the siblings were told by a mutual friend to check out a butcher shop tucked away in Belleville, Mifflin County. The shop, called Peachey Foods, is popular with local people in Mifflin, Huntingdon and Juniata counties.
The duo wanted to learn even more about meat processing.
“We came here and weren’t sure at first,” Hassinger said. Her brother works at Peachey Foods on Thursdays, also known as “kill day,” where he aids in that process.
Now Hassinger is the product manager at Peachey Foods, working four days a week, and said she absolutely loves her role.
“I really wanted to learn smoking and further processing,” she said, especially with products such as bacon, ham loaf and ring bologna.
“One of the first things I asked when I got here was, “Do you make smoked cheese?” she said.
The answer was no, but then Hassinger made it happen.
Currently, she is working on a trial of new flavors of jerky. Hassinger also has brought in a pork loin wrapped in bacon to the product line.
“We try to make as much in-house as we can,” she said.
Marketing, Hassinger said, is the farmer’s plight, and it was no different at the butcher shop. Finding new ways to make farms and farm products known is a challenge, she said.
Peachey Foods has reached out to the Wednesday Belleville auction visitors and now has seen that day of the week become its peak.
The store also offers custom butchering of venison.
“We do each order individually,” Hassinger said. “We don’t mix it with others. And the customers really like that.”
When Hassinger is not at the shop, she is busy keeping the community educated on agriculture in other forms.
She serves as secretary of the Beaver Fair board, a role that keeps her “super busy,” she said.
“I have always been involved in the fair,” she said alluding to her time showing animals as a 4-H’er.
Hassinger also serves on the Snyder County Planning Commission, as its voice for the agriculture community.
“It’s good to have someone there listening and paying attention,” she said, to understand the county’s planning decision’s impact on farms.
She still manages to help on her parents’ farm and continues to help out with meals for visitors to Mountain Dale Farm.
Hassinger said she is content in her current roles, but said no matter what new steps she takes, she wants to continue to educate the community on agriculture and to speak up for farmers.
“Farmers really get the short end of the stick. They work so hard,” she said. And, she knows that farms are suffering on so many levels currently and many are forced to sell.
“It won’t be important to John Q. Public until the grocery shelves are empty,” Hassinger said.
Making buyers aware of the importance of their food source is how farms will survive, she said.