Six generations on the farm
From left, Mark, Randy and Cathie Miller at Miller's Charm Farm Custom Butchering stand at the Mahoning Valley Farmer's Market. Not shown is Mark's twin, Kevin. STACEY SOLT/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Miller's Charm Farm has been offering fresh and custom butchering at the Mahoning Valley Farmers Market since 2013.
But while the family-owned farm's public stand is a fairly recent acquisition, the family has been a mainstay in dairy products and butchering for generations.
"We're the sixth generation on this family farm," said family matriarch Cathie Miller. "When my husband, Randy, got out of school, his dad asked him if he wanted the farm."
The Millers raised their children on the dairy farm, and the family has also been custom processing meat and deer for decades.
"When our kids got old enough, they wanted to stay on the farm and there wasn't enough to keep it going with just the dairy farm and custom butchering. Our sons wanted to follow in their father's footsteps," she said. "We heard the farmers market was looking for a butcher. I looked at Randy and said, 'We can do this.'"
Today, youngest son Mark is the farm's main butcher, working alongside his parents, twin brother Kevin, and other family members.
The twins are also active in the dairy farm.
Weekend stand work begins on Thursday, when Mark begins preparing meat for sale on Friday. Fresh sausage products are indeed fresh - prepared on Thursday night for sale on Friday morning.
"We're very careful with how we handle it, so that it stays as fresh as can be," said Miller. "The fresher the meat, the nicer of a product that you're going to get. We put a lot of hard work into the product."
This care, and the time necessary to prepare an entire 70-foot display case while still operating a dairy farm, makes for long days for the stand workers. Thursday's work day might begin at 7:30 a.m. after milking, and end at supper time - when the cows are due to be milked again.
To keep the stand operating from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday, the work day might run from 4 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
One hot topic with today's shoppers is knowing where your food comes from. Miller fields this question frequently, and is able to tell customers where each type of meat comes from: Beef from a farm in Middleburg in Snyder County, pork from a nearby farm, and chicken from a small farm in New Jersey.
"We like to support Pennsylvania growers as much as we can," she said. "People also don't want the added hormones, the antibiotics in their products. We try to do this as natural as we can. No preservatives, no additional hormones in these animals."
Meats for ring bologna and beef sticks are smoked on the farm.
"People are still looking for somewhere to go for fresh meat," she added. "You can look at the product and see it - it's not Cryovac. It's not kept on a shelf for months before it is cut apart. It's fresh, and it's an old butcher shop kind of deal."
The stand also has requests for "old style" cuts and pieces, such as liver and tongue, which they are able to accommodate.
Miller's Charm Farm has seen rapid expansion of its business, outgrowing a smaller display case at the Mahoning Valley Farmers Market within their first year. Miller noted that this growth was not expected, especially since the stand does very little advertising outside of their Facebook page.
"There's no sign out front," she exclaimed. "The local community is supporting us very well. It's expanded into something that we just didn't think would happen around here. We can't say enough positive things about how well the community has treated us."
In addition to their butchering and dairy products, the dairy farm currently operates three crop farms to raise feed for its dairy cows. They'll soon have even more cows to feed, however - the family recently purchased a Highland bull and several heifers to start their own beef herd.
"The beef herd is just getting started, but we are looking to produce our own beef," she said, noting that each cow will have just one calf per year - and if it is a male, that calf will take roughly 18 months to grow before it can be harvested. "Highland beef is very much in demand. It's a different kind of meat, but it's supposed to be better for you, leaner and lower in cholesterol. If we can offer the public a better-quality meat, then it's worth it."
"One of our goals is to offer people locally grown beef. It's hard to find," added Miller. "We go all the way to Middleburg to get Pennsylvania-grown meat."
While the family's farming and butchering is a demanding way of life, she said the hard work is worth it.
"It's so satisfying to see that we're doing something right, and that we're getting good feedback," Miller said. "Everything we put into that case is quality. We don't like to see second-rate stuff. What we sell is what we eat ourselves."