Fall on the Farm
Among the last of its kind in our region, Chester Springs’ Milky Way Farm has been family owned and operated for over a century. We tag along with the Matthews family during their busiest season of the year.
Photos by Jared Castaldi Published September 23, 2009 at 01:55 PM
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There are two telling moments in the lives of the first and current matriarchs of Chester Springs’ Milky Way Farm. On a clear night in 1947, Frances Matthews saw the Milky Way galaxy and found a name in the stars. Thirty-eight years later, Melba Matthews, her daughter-in-law, climbed the highest ascent, the crest at the front of the 103-acre farm, and took photographs in every direction of the vast open space.
Melba is fond of retelling Frances’ story—and her own. “In those days, there were no lights,” she says. “You could see the Milky Way. It’s still there—even today. There were no homes. Just original farmhouses.”
Milky Way Farm remains an anomaly—a piece of our vanishing rural past. It’s been owned and operated as a dairy farm by this extended family for more than a century. Today, it grows 20 acres of corn, 12 acres of oats, and 30 acres of alfalfa and orchard grass to feed 30 milking cows, heifers and steers. Seasonally, there are 9 acres of pumpkins and an acre each of squash, gourds and Indian corn.
Hay is dried, baled and stored in a traditional Chester County bank barn. The whole corn plant is chopped and stored in the silo, and ear corn is dried in cribs. Oats are ground and mixed with corn for cow feed, and the oat straw is baled and used for bedding.
On average, each Holstein-Friesian (black-and-white) cow produces 60 pounds (about 7 gallons) of milk per day. It’s stored in a refrigerated bulk tank for a truck that comes every other day to take the contents to various processing plants as part of the Land O’Lakes Cooperative.
In 1986, the Matthews began giving farm tours to schools, scouts and other groups. Carolyn Eaglehouse, Melba’s daughter, had the foresight to open the Chester Springs Creamery. Since 2001, premium ice cream has been made there and sold to the public in the spring, summer and fall. Flavors like Polly’s Pumpkin Pie and Bessie’s Black Raspberry are named after the farm’s cows.
“Raise your hand if you like milk,” Carolyn tells three groups of first-graders from a Lancaster County elementary school. “How about yogurt, whipped cream or sour cream? Raise them high if you like ice cream.”
Lori Beiler, one of the chaperones, grew up on a Pennsylvania dairy farm in Morgantown 30 years ago. Then her father sold out in the mid-1970s, when so many did. She’s most amazed by the newer automatic milking machines. “Years ago, all the farmers did was milk cows from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” she says. “You had no freedom as a farmer.”
The tour continues on two hitched hay wagons pulled by a John Deere tractor. It’s off to the pumpkin patch. “We’ve seen cows, chickens and pigs,” says teacher Jen Shaffer. “It was all visual and hands-on, and not just something in their books. This is my second year [at Milky Way], and even I’m amazed. We’re surrounded by farms [in Lancaster County], but at home we don’t have this availability or opportunity.”
In the fall and spring, there are usually two school visits a day. With some guidance from Sam Matthews, this batch is now holding their newfound pumpkins between their legs.
“Now, what do we say to Farmer Sam?” their teacher poses.
The school children respond in unison: “Thank you!”
An almost teary-eyed Beiler thanks Farmer Sam for a trip down memory lane. “Just to be in the barn and smell the smells, it made me miss it,” she says. “I guess it’s just being out in the country. I’m just sorry my dad couldn’t be here.”