On October 3, 2002, members of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture and guests visited the 200-acre Bend-in-the-Creek Farm near Middlebury, Pennsylvania owned and operated by Dr. and Mrs. Gary Sojka. The theme for the field day was “sustainable agriculture and preservation of endangered breeds of farm animals.
Dr. and Mrs. Sojka are engaged in the preservation and improvement of Tunis sheep, one of the oldest breeds. Tunis sheep originated in Tunisia and were derived from the “fat-tailed” sheep referred to in the Bible. The breed was introduced into the United State in 1799 when the ruler of Tunisia made a gift to Judge Richard Peters of Philadelphia, one of the early members of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture. Subsequently the breed became popular along the East coast and in the South. During the Civil War many of the southern flocks were lost but some flocks in the East and New England survived. Although the breed is presently listed as rare, there are over a thousand lambs registered each year by owners of small flocks in the eastern states. Merino sheep have become the most widely grown breed in the United States. Tunis sheep are medium sized animals with slender heads, long ears, tan to copper colored heads and legs and produce creamy colored wool. The Sojka flock currently contains about 50 head. Each year lambs are carefully evaluated using the official Tunis scoring system and only the highest scoring individuals are retained in the flock.
Mr. Brian Snyder, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) was the principal speaker. Among the objectives of PASA are the preservation of farmland, the support of small farmers and the attraction of young people to farming. The Association stresses the importance of cultivating a close connection between farmland, farmers and consumers and promotes the concept of profitable small farms that produce wholesome food while improving the natural environment. It is believed that farm products should be viewed as food products rather than simply agricultural commodities. This may involve the production of so-called “organic” foods, foods that are partially processed or foods that have some other value-added characteristic that make them more valuable to the consumer than similar items sold as conventional commodities. In this connection, PASA members seek to market their products directly to consumers wherever possible and in forms that most nearly meet their needs. The concept of “community supported agriculture” exemplifies PASA’s goals. Under this plan consumers contract with local farmers to regularly deliver a specified share of their fruit and vegetable products for a fee of between $500 and $600 per year. This plan supports the small farmer and provides the consumer with wholesome fruits and vegetables that meet their needs in an effective and economical manner. Farmers involved in these plans typically employ practices that maintain or improve soil productivity and protect the environment. Consumers involved in these plans share some of the risks involved in farming and come to more fully understand the problems with which farmers must contend. PASA strongly believes that factors such as absentee ownership of land, emphasis on exportation of agricultural commodities and the declining biodiversity of plants and animals lead to failure of national and international food production and distribution systems. The overarching goal of PASA is to attract farmers and consumers interested in working together to influence the economic, environmental and social factors affecting food production.
Dorking and Dominique Chickens
A representative of the Society for Preserving Poultry Antiquities displayed and described several very old breeds of chickens. This Society is composed of people interested in the preservation of original breeds of chickens, bantams, geese, ducks and turkeys. Some of the breeds displayed originated in Asia, Japan and Madagascar and were involved in the development of modern breeds of chicken currently grown commercially in the United States. The Dorking was one of the original breeds displayed that was of special interest. This breed is one of the oldest domesticated races of chickens. Dorking chickens are believed to have been developed in Italy by the early Romans; they were introduced into England during the reign of Julius Caesar and were one of the first chickens brought to America by early settlers. Dorking chickens are used for both meat and egg production. There are several races of Dorking chickens, some having black or gray feathers while others are distinguished by different plumage or comb colors. The Dominique is another very old breed of chickens that was displayed and discussed. This breed is believed to have been developed in America in the early 1800s by crossbreeding various European and Asiatic chickens. For a many years it was the most popular chicken in the United States but by the late 1800s it had lost popularity. The Dominique was one of the parents of the well-known Barred Plymouth Rock breed which it closely resembles.