Saint Marys has a long, rich history. Founded on December 8, 1842 by Bavarian Roman Catholics, it has remained a small, tight knit community. With a population of approximately 13,000 residents, our heritage derives from a small group of men and women that were seeking the ability to practice their religion freely, a freedom they could not find back in Europe nor in some of the larger Eastern US cities such as Baltimore or Philadelphia. Early founders sought to honor the Blessed virgin Mary when the town was was named Sanct Marienstadt (“Holy Town of Mary”). Additionally, the first Benedictine convent was founded in Saint Marys and three separate Catholic parishes and schools eventually were established along with a number of parishes by other Christian denominations such as Methodists and Episcopalians.
The economic growth of the town was originally tied to the lumber and mining industries. In the early 1900’s however, investments and developments were being made in the burgeoning carbon graphite and powdered metal industries. Today the region still has a high concentration of businesses working either directly or indirectly in those realms. Ironically for us at the Farm, original settlers found the region not particularly suited to agricultural endeavors given the quality of the soils and the hilly terrain and as such, farming has never been one of our better known attributes.
Our family was and is like many families in Saint Marys…raised Catholic, somewhat large in number (seven children in our family) as well as very close to both our immediate and extended family members and the community as a whole. I, Joshua, am the sixth of those seven children of John & Snooks (Hoffman) Brock. My father John grew up in a family of eight and was raised almost exclusively by his Mother, Edna Brock. Edna was the kind, gentle, rock solid faith foundation and matriarch of the Brock side of the family until her passing at age 98 in December of 2011.
It is my Mother’s side from which both the name of the Farm and the land itself are derived. Ray and Helen Hoffman moved to the land where the Farm currently sits in the mid-1950’s. It was previously farmed by the Swanson family with horses for grain and corn. My grandparents however did not Farm the land when they acquired it and most of the fields sat idle until the late 1980’s, after my grandparents had both passed and we moved from town out to the Farm. My father entered in long term lease with two nearby Farmers for their use of the land for conventional crops. This kept the fields in good condition, relatively weed free and laid the ground work for our hops and specialty grains.
I spent my formative years like many other kids in town…team sports, school, church, summer jobs. One job in particular that helped sparked my interest in the outdoors and sustainable farming was working at my Grandparents doing yard work, leaves, plowing snow and other small jobs. My older brothers also took on this responsibility before I did, so we have always had an attachment to this place. After high school, I attended Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Saint Vincent and Saint Marys have always had incredibly close ties given their shared history of escaping religious persecution. As well, all of the priests that staff the Catholic parishes came from Saint Vincent and many young boys from town left to become monks and priests. Many of the young women from the community of Saint Marys also entered Saint Joseph’s Convent there in town.
After college, I worked in Pittsburgh in both the Broadcasting and Energy industries doing market research. It was during those years my love of a number of outdoor interests such as backpacking, climbing and canoeing really began to talk hold. In 2003 I decided it was time to leave the Mid-Atlantic and do a little exploring, so I packed up my Durango, my canoe, bikes, backpacks and headed on a two month cross country trip with the final destination being Fairbanks, Alaska! I hit every National Park I could hit along the east coast, the south, then up through the plains states over to Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California and up along the Pacific coast. I then traveled through British Columbia and the Yukon ending up in Fairbanks the morning of my cousins wedding on the Summer solstice …the original date/destination I needed to meet.
I then traveled back down to the lower 48 via the Alaska Ferry system where I loaded the Durango on board and arrived in Washington state. I explored the northern states for a time then made the decisions to head back towards Boulder, Colorado. I’d spent a fair amount of time “playing” in Colorado my first time through and knew it was an area I wanted to explore more. I set down roots in Longmont, Colorado (just east of Boulder) and began to look for work. It was now July 2003.
With a mediocre economy, it took a bit longer than hoped but in October I landed not one but two jobs. A full-time job at eToys Direct (now part of Toys ‘R Us) in downtown Denver and a part-time sales associate position at the famed REI, in Boulder no less. In between working my two jobs and making the hour long commute to Denver, I did find time to join the Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) and took every climbing course they offered. I met some dear, dear friends and saw some of the most beautiful places imaginable…and stood on top of many of them. In 2007, I transitioned from part-time work at REI to full-time and left my job at eToys. Being involved in the outdoors on a full-time basis, whether selling the gear for it or better yet using it for another CMC course or my own personal enjoyment, was a great fit!
It was in my last year at Colorado, after attending the numerous farmer’s markets in Longmont and Boulder, that the farming itch kicked in. These towns sit in a very fertile valley at the foothills of the Rockies. The soils are rich and sandy. It was at the Longmont market that I struck up a conversation with a local Certified Naturally Grown farmer, Mark Guttridge who is the owner of Ollin Farms. I’d asked if he might be looking for an unpaid intern and sure enough the timing was right. He’d been growing for a few years and his stand there at the farm and the two farmer’s markets they participated in were growing steadily and he needed an extra hand…perfect timing.
He had me doing everything from planting seeds for transplants, helping with construction of the high tunnel, to tilling, cultivating, harvesting, selling at the farmstand and the two markets. It was exactly what I needed with the type of Farm I loved…small, family owned, dedicated to sustainable practices and their community…all of it. In the Summer of 2009 I decided this was then the full-time course I wanted to take so I stepped down from my supervisor position at the Boulder REI, staying on as a part-time associate. I worked full days on the Farm and at our markets. It was also at this time that after reconnecting with my grade school crush from back home, I determined it was time to come back East. All my family was either in Saint Marys or within a three hour drive. I’d missed holidays and special events over my six years in Colorado, and with an engagement to the woman I now am proud to call my wife now unfolding, back East I came in October 2009.
I arrived back in Pennsylvania in early November 2009 after a 3 day, full on cross country trip. I got held up in Nebraska just after crossing over from Colorado, when our first big snow storm of the year showed up. Other than that, it was full steam ahead. Landing back in State College, where Jenn and I now live, I first found work at an organic (non-certified) Farm in Howard, Pennsylvania where I worked for a full season – this again reinforcing my decision to move back East to give agriculture a try here. I knew in the back of my mind that where I wanted to end up was back at our family’s place in Saint Marys and get things going there.
When work at the Farm in Howard concluded, I began working at an organic certification agency in Spring Mills. Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO). PCO is one of the oldest certification agencies around, it was there from the beginning of the USDA’s creation of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the resulting standards for Organic we know today. Once again, my full-time job allowed me to explore a passion of mine. Even as the IT guy, I was often viewing first hand the incredible work our many Farms, dairies and processors were doing in the name of sustainable agriculture.
Within my first year at PCO, I determined I wanted to try and get something going at the Farm in Saint Marys, even if it was to be on a temporary basis. When I could, I would travel to Saint Marys and work building a small garden with the initial thought of possibly starting a small CSA for friends and family. It became evident not long into the venture, that the travel between State College and Saint Marys (approximately 90 minutes one way) was going to be tough. We then also applied for, and received, a grant from the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for the purchase of a high tunnel. It seemed like this was the fire that needed to be lit to set a schedule and get things rolling. With the volunteer efforts of my father-in-law, my Dad and my brothers…over the course of the Fall in 2012…we got the high tunnel completed in early December just a few days before the snow started falling. Sadly it was short lived.
An ice storm in the third week of January took out the high tunnel like it was a pile of matchsticks. I was emotionally crushed and wanting to call it quits. After a year of reflection and encouragement from my family and friends, a new opportunity presented itself out of the blue…hops! A good friend and colleague of mine at PCO had grown a few hops plants in his community shared garden but he didn’t have the time to attend to them. After learning from him how they grow (they’re perennials not annuals), the type of soils they grow in (our less than stellar soils would support them) and about the growing craft brewing market just developing in our region, I realized this might be what I was looking for.
And the rest as they say…is history! That brings us to the current day. Please follow along with our other links and pages here on the website. There’s much to share what’s been happening at the Farm since the Spring of 2014 when we planted our first hop yard.