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Jessica Mulvey finds balance on the family farm

August 17, 2011
By DIANE?CHASE - Special to the Enterprise , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Special to the Enterprise

Jessica Mulvey wants her children to grow up and love what they do. She is leading by example and practicing what she preaches. Taking over the Wilmington family farm is only part of the picture.

Her cozy Adirondack Farm Market sells organic produce from their half-acre plot as well as her own organic chickens and eggs. The shelves are snug with local condiments and artisan jewelry. Yes, Jessica is also known through the craft fair circuit as the "porcupine quill jewelry lady."

Article Photos

Jessica Mulvey poses with her son Anson, daughter Trillium and mother Barbara at the Mulvey Adirondack Farm Market.
(Photo — Diane Chase)

Jessica creates a comfortable environment with picnic table overlooking the greenhouse and an enclosed playground nearby with the idyllic sound of chickens scratching in the background and an occasion rooster crowing. The two resident bunnies, Blackberry and Smokey the Hare, are in their pen eagerly nibbling on grasses.

She was born in a small hospital in Keene Valley that now houses a senior assisted-living community called the Neighborhood House. The Mulvey Farm has been in the family since 1940, when her grandparents Edna and Roland purchased the property and began working the land. Jessica's parents, Russell and Barbara, purchased the farm from his parents on the GI Bill after Russell served with the military in occupied Japan during World War II.

"My sister, brother and I were all born in Keene Valley," grins Jessica. "My mother brought us back here to the farm. Now the hospital is the Neighborhood House, so we always joke about how we started out there, we may end up there.

"My grandparents had a small dairy herd when they ran the farm, but we no longer have that. We still have all the stanchions, but they converted half the barn to chicken tables. They eventually went to mostly chickens. They had some pigs, meat birds and also got into some more unusual birds like pheasants."

Jessica buys chicks for her laying hens and meat chickens.

"We now have a freezer full of meat. We keep the rooster population down. Since roosters can be aggressive, we kept only one."

Right now she has two barred rock hens and five Rhode Island reds that are mature enough to lay. Back at her house she has another eight that will be mature in January.

"We also have 11 guineafowl, which are a really interesting meat bird. We tried 15 Cornish cross meat birds this year to see how we would like them. They are wonderful for eating, but they are bred for meat and all they do is eat. They can't even roost. They get so heavy so fast. If you pick up one of those birds you have to set it all the way down onto the ground or it could break its legs."

"We are growing a lot of the produce you see here. We don't make the preserves you see, but we are crazy busy with the garden. We also have these handmade Westport chairs that are the original Adirondack chair.

"We are doing some unusual veggies this year. We grew three types of string beans - purple, green and yellow - and seem to have gone with a purple theme." Jessica smiles as she points out that she grew purple broccoli, string beans and kohlrabi.

"The kohlrabi is part of the cruciferous family and looks like a little space ship. It is so juicy. All you have to do is peel it, cut it up and serve with a bit of salt. My kids will eat it, so I love that about it, too."

Continuing to draw from her artist's palette, one year Jessica grew red, white and blue potatoes. The cultivated area of the land is only half-acre of the family's 200-plus-acre wooded property. She describes the farm as "intensively planted" along with the benefit of now having a high tunnel that allows for an extended growing season.

"With the high tunnel we can produce herbs and warm weather crops sooner. Since we are in the AuSable Valley rather than the Champlain Valley, we are in Zone 3 right here on this farm, which means a two-month growing season, if that," Jessica says. "There have been some years that we have gotten frost every month of the year. We have to use season extension tricks to supply this market."

There is always something to do all year long on the farm, though for now the retail market is open from Memorial Day through Columbus Day.

"People can always call 518-946-8375 on the shoulder season to make sure we are open," says Jessica. "We are open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., though we are always here later. We can be found out back in the garden."

Sister-in-law, mother and Jessica's children, Anson and Trillium, show up at various times of the morning, making the market truly a family affair. Having performed locally for years, the multi-talented Mulvey family (a combination of Jessica, her brother, sister-in-law and mother) now plays music on Sundays at the Mulvey Farm Market front yard and welcomes anyone to stop by.

"I just play the guitar and sing with the group," Jessica modestly states. "My brother plays standup (and) electric bass and guitar. He can play with anyone and all types of music from jazz to bluegrass. My mother plays the dulcimer, the dobro, accordion, piano and standup bass."

She quips how she seems to like naming things after flowers in reference to her daughter Trillium and the old family band name, Trout Lily. When the family first started performing professionally they expanded their horizons to play rock and other genres but now have gone back to their roots, folk and bluegrass.

Music comes naturally to the family. Jessica mentions her cousin Speedy Arnold, (who credits the Mulvey side of the family for his musical capabilities.

Trillium interjects excitedly to tell how her uncle is now teaching her grandmother how to play the standup bass as well. This 12-year-old brings her guitar to play on occasion with her family at the market.

"This is what I know and what I love," says Jessica about the farm. "There are parts of the work that I tire of like any job but just when I am tiring of one segment the season changes and I have a new job. I am never, ever bored. When I sense burnout starting to happen, I ease up a bit."

A graduate of Norwich University, Jessica never envisioned herself in a military school. One of the only English majors in her class, it was her art portfolio from a previous school that made her innately incorporate her art into everything she does.

Farming is only part of Jessica's passion. An artist, Jessica has participated in craft fairs and the Adirondack Artists' Guild Artist at Work Studio Tour, where she demonstrates her Winona Studio Porcupine Quill Jewelry she has been making since 1988. For the past eleven years she has been making pack baskets and recently added pack basket classes and materials to the Mulvey Adirondack Farm Market inventory.

The hand-painted farm signs were designed and laid out by Jessica and completed by her mother. She engaged her children "somewhat" but wants to make sure that they also grow to love the farm and not consider it a burden.

Her daughter Trillium comes in briefly from collecting the eggs. Jessica explains some of the issues of raising chickens. The surrounding wildlife is a constant threat, and recently raccoons raided their chicken coop.

Jessica encourages her children's participation in the family business.

"Trillium is also creating her own jewelry line, 'Trillium Moon Design,' and also started an adopt a hen program. She adapted the idea from a book she got at the Organic Growers Conference we attended in January. It is similar to traditional CSA but for eggs. So if a customer is here for six weeks, you buy six dozen eggs up front and come in each week to pick up your fresh eggs. She is also included compost as part of the program and people can name and visit their hen.

"We have always been growing here, at the Mulvey Farm. We have never stopped. We have never quit. There is a fine line between 'cracking the whip' for the kids to complete the necessary and pushing them away," says Jessica. "It is a balance I am still working on. I remember growing up and hating to weed corn, and I don't want my children to grow up hating this life. I don't want them to dread that corn field or potato field."

Jessica mentions how thankful she is for the new technology like the high tunnels that extend the growing season. Since her family has been farming since the 40s, a lot of experience and trial and error has gone into having a successful farm. From saving artichoke plants from cutworms to applying methods learned from her grandparents and parents, Jessica continues to broaden her farming knowledge while keeping with her philosophy of pesticide-free crops. She continues to use and share their basic practical knowledge.

"Small family farming and organic farming comes down to integrity. If you don't have integrity, you will find farmers who jump through every loophole there is and there are many," says Jessica.

Her son quickly rounds the corner with some fresh cherry tomatoes to taste. Jessica laughs about ordering new types of seeds in the middle of an Adirondack winter when the "enthusiasm to grow different vegetables" is infectious. Some produce works while others does not, but she relishes the experimentation.

"We will eventually do Christmas trees again, and I used to make wreaths," Jessica points across Route 86 to a stand of Scotch pine. "We used to grow them. That is the remains of our Christmas trees. That used to be open hay fields. My dad was a forester, and that's what you'd do with your extra farmland in the '50s and '60s."

"I am grateful for all of this," Jessica said. "It provides a great work ethic and is a great lifestyle that my children can embrace or not. I can see utilizing our arts strength as my children grow older."



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