“When you buy something that was not just sold locally, but crafted locally, then it’s such a beautiful thing,” said Beth Ward, co-owner of Maple Hollow Products.
That was exactly what crossed my mind as I opened the Christmas gift from our daughter-in-law, Tabitha Wagner. The gift bag held items that Wagner had purchased locally. Soap and lotion from Maple Hollow Products, popcorn from Mill Street Treats, pretzels from Barnstead Pantry, chocolates from Sand Dollour Sweets, and maple mustard from Jelliff’s Maple.
“We also gave (my daughter’s) teachers gift certificates from local restaurants,” said Wagner. “I think a lot of people did that this year.”
There are many people in our community who not only make their craft locally, but they also obtain their materials locally. They are totally local artisans.
Kris Kistler is well known in her neighborhood for her beautiful unique wooden crafts. Kistler doesn’t just make them locally; she sources most of her wood from her own trees.
Kistler has a variety of trees on her property that she manages. When she finds a fallen tree or a tree that needs to come down, she has a local tree cutter come in to take care of it. Once the tree is down, a local sawyer comes with his portable sawmill and custom cuts the tree into boards for Kistler. She stacks them and stickers them. Then they air dry for one year per inch of thickness of board. She does her own planning to ready the boards for her projects.
Some of her projects include birdhouses, yard décor, Christmas items, and Adirondack chairs. What’s not used for lumber is cut and split, and used for firewood to heat her shop.
According to Kistler, both her dad and her uncle were woodworkers who were a great influence on her. She spent time with them in their shops when she was growing up.
“With COVID and the forest fires out west, the price of lumber has gone through the roof,” said Kris Kistler. “I feel really good that I can utilize these local resources to make items for others.”
Lily Hollister also uses local resources when she makes salves, or balms. Her ingredients include her local herbs, either grown or foraged. Some of the herbs she grows include tulsi, lavender, chamomile, calendula, rosemary and lemon balm. She forages for comfrey, plantain, all heal, yarrow and mugwort.
Hollister infuses these herbs in olive oil and coconut oil. She then combines the infused oils with beeswax to solidify them into a salve consistency. The addition of Vitamin E preserves them without the use of chemicals.
Hollister also makes tinctures made from mushrooms that she forages including oyster, chaga, and turkey tail and lions mane. She grows her own shitake mushrooms.
Hollister utilizes the resources on her land for making baskets. She has recently planted basket willows that she manages as a hedge, more than a group of trees. According to Hollister, the trees are cut down to the ground every two years and when the new shoots are between three and eight feet, they can be used for basket weaving.
Tanning deer hides was something Hollister tried for the first time recently. She used the deer hides a neighbor had given her to make buckskin and rawhide. From the buckskin she made moccasins and little bags. From the rawhide and gourds she made musical instruments. One of those was a dotar, an instrument with two strings.
“When my neighbor who had given me the hide saw the buckskin and the instrument I had made he was so excited and amazed because he had hunted deer all his life and never seen anyone do that with the hide,” said Lily Hollister. “It was a very nice moment for me. I was very moved and touched by that.”
Joe Perry’s Winery, located behind the East Troy Diner, first opened for business in September 2019. Winery owner Dave Pierchorowicz purchased the Century Farm that was formerly the Case Farm on Elms Road in Troy. There he started his vineyard and his winery.
“This is Troy’s best kept secret,” said Bob O’Krogly, the self-taught winemaker at Joe Perry’s Winery, where they make their own wine mostly from their own locally grown grapes.
“When the grapes are ripe, the birds know it first!” said San Juanita Dwyer, Pierchorowicz’s partner. She added that running a vineyard is a year round business.
The process from grapes to wine starts with picking grapes, which are then crushed, pressed and de-stemmed so the juice can go into the fermentation tank. According to Pierchorowicz, they don’t add water to the juice.
“Adding water dilutes the flavor of the grape,” said Dwyer. “And we try not to filter the wine any more than we have to. That takes away from the flavor too.”
For white wine, the picking, crushing, pressing and de-stemming is done the same day. For red wine, they wait a week after picking the grapes to begin the crushing process to get the tannins from the skins. It’s the tannins that give the red wine its red color. The whole process takes about five months to get white wine; a year for red wine.
O’Krogly and his wife Terrie are the official winemakers. Pierchorowicz has been friends with the O’Krogly’s since he moved here.
“I came to help and I’m still here,” said O’Krogly. “We make our wine here from field to glass. It’s all included.”
“We really want to have people’s special events here,” said Pierchorowicz. “We want to touch people’s lives and help give them memories like our Summertime Apple wine.”
“And what keeps us going is the pride we take in our wines and knowing we’re Troy’s winery,” continued Dave Pierchorowicz. “I want the people of Troy to feel that this is their winery, as like Taverns of old.”
Two local families collaborate to locally produce and sell delicious apple pear cider. The apples and pears are grown, harvested and delivered to Milky Way Farms by David and Heather Loomis at Bohlayer’s Orchards in Farmer’s Valley. Once at Milky Way, the fruit is pressed, bottled and sold.
In addition, Milky Way has been famous for their milk and beef from grass fed cows. That milk has tingled the taste buds of many county residents and visitors in the form of chocolate milk and milkshakes for many years.
The Loomis’s also raise Romeldale CVM sheep at Bohlayer’s Orchards. A rare breed of sheep, they produce soft wool in colors ranging from white, brown, gray and black.
“We recently launched a line of dog coats named “A Woof in Sheep’s Clothing,” said Heather.
According to Heather, the coats are made from wool felt.
“We send our wool to Gurdy Run Woolen Mill in Halifax, Pennsylvania where they make it into sheets of felt,” explained Heather. “I designed the coats with the help of friends and their pups. I sew each of the coats. In addition to our regular sizes, I offer custom coat sizes for hard to fit dogs.”
They began selling coats this past December and have since shipped coats nationally and hand delivered them locally.
This is a product made entirely here in Pennsylvania, with the wool grown and the coats sewn here in Farmers Valley, Troy.
On another farm, between Troy and Mansfield, Amanda Kennedy has become famous for her cheeses, Backroad Creamery Cheese.
“I’ve always wanted to make cheese,” said Kennedy. “Because I love cheese and cows.”
She found out about a class in Massachusetts that taught cheese making and enrolled. She also took a short course through Penn State on cheese making.
Once Kennedy was educated, she was ready to actually start making cheese. She started making small batches in her kitchen – trial and error.
“I’ve thrown away a lot of cheese,” said Kennedy, who explained that cheese making is a very scientific process. “There’s a lot going on there that has to work just right.”
Today she has a 500-gallon bulk tank in her milk house. She processes milk from her own cows into cheese.
On a “cheddar day” Kennedy starts her day between 1:30 a.m. and 2 a.m. That’s when the milk from the bulk tank gets transferred into the cheese vat where it starts to heat up. Her cheese vat is also the pasteurizer.
“In order to sell fresh cheese in Pennsylvania it has to be pasteurized,” explained Kennedy. “To sell raw milk cheese it has to age at least 60 days.”
While the milk is heating, Kennedy milks the cows. That fresh-from-the-cow warm milk is added to the cheese vat. This efficiently helps to warm it.
Once the milk is pasteurized, it’s cooled back down to 90 degrees and the culture is added. When culturing is finished she adds the rennet. The curd sets and then she cuts the curd and cooks it back up to 102 degrees. It’s stirred until it’s the proper pH. Then the whey is drained off. The curds are collected together and pushed together.
“At the proper pH they’ll automatically knit together and form a big solid mass of curds,” explained Kennedy.
Her cheddar curds are the most popular. She offers different flavors including Original, Shedd Ranch, Buffalo Ranch, Garlic Dilly, Crazy Cajun and Pickled Jalapeno. Pennsylvania Maple is limited to the spring season.
“These are delicious,” said Dan Wagner after trying the Pickled Jalapeno curds for the first time. “Best curds I’ve ever had!”
Jim Cook makes beautiful baskets from grapevines that grow wild on Barclay Mountain. But you’ll never get him to sell you one.
Cook uses his baskets for local fundraisers. He makes the baskets, brings them into work and co-workers at Western EMS do the rest, filling them with items to fit a certain theme. According to Cook, they have done at least fifty fundraisers of this fashion.
“We have sort of partnered on the charity fundraiser baskets for the local folks in need,” said Cook. “I was surprised that my baskets were such a hit and I’m humbled by the joy they seem to bring folks.”
Cook remembers making his first basket when he was about nine years old.
“My grandparents were among other things weavers and wool spinners with a giant loom,” said Cook. “They showed all four of their grandchildren how to weave.”
His grandmother, Kathryn S. Cook also caned chairs and loved taking walks at the base of Barclay Mountain on family property where grapevines were in abundance and still are today. Baskets were easily woven to use while foraging for mushrooms and edible plants, including moss.
“She was such a wonderful teacher,” said Cook, who explained that he uses only the vines; no glue, wires or screws to make the baskets as his grandmother taught him.
It’s obvious that Cook loves making baskets and in addition to the fundraisers, he makes them as gifts for family and friends.
“Hundreds,” said Cook. “It’s such a simple task. It completely clears the mind when you need to do exactly that. Deep in the woods sometimes in the same patch of grapevines I walked through five decades ago with my grandmother. It’s a feeling of connection not just with the land, but the folks that shared the love of the hillside.”
“Jim has a caring heart, an intense love and respect for nature, and a genuine gift for serving others,” said co-worker Tracy Froelich. “Those qualities are so evident in the baskets he creates.”
“Jim’s baskets not only bless the recipients, but they also encourage generous donations that benefit many deserving individuals and families in our community,” added Froelich. “When someone has a need, Jim is the first person to jump in and help in a personal and meaningful way. He also inspires generosity in others.”
For Sara Hamburger, art is not just her passion; it’s been her journey. And it’s been a journey that brought out many passions that flowed together to make her the artist that she has become.
“My journey making art and following the unbeaten path has been interesting, to say the least,” said Hamburger. “It requires immense strength that, I believe, everyone has in them. It requires resourcefulness and most of all a dream and a passion.”
Her journey along that unbeaten path has taken her from early days of art to “Untamed Art” where her passion for three-dimensional art has flourished.
One of the unique things about Hamburger’s art is that her raw materials, metal scraps of all kinds are just that – scraps. She doesn’t buy new, but finds locally. She turns metal objects from junk, including old vehicle parts and silverware into something new – something beautiful and artistic.
“Make something beautiful out of something thrown away. Remember your beauty is more than what others see in you,” said Hamburger. “Real beauty is what you see in yourself.”
The process she uses to create her sculpture is welding.
“I grew up working with my dad in his construction business,” said Hamburger. “I learned and fell in love with working with my hands, giving me an endless search for more to build and create. I eventually found the art of welding while I was in college and kept on learning as I progressed as a sculptor.”
It’s not easy being creative round the clock; some days it’s harder to see past the roadblocks Hamburger sometimes runs into.
“Remember, it’s part of the journey. After a day that feels uninspired and daunting, you can find yourself transformed into someone new. You find a way through those dark moments and you pick yourself up and you see things in a different perspective, which allows you to create something you’ve never created before. Give yourself that time to rebuild because it can lead you to some of the best-inspired moments of your life,” said Sara Hamburger. “Stay Untamed.”
You can view more local photos in the gallery below.