By Emmet Jamieson
for Hometown magazine
Along the stretch of US 119 that connects Punxsutawney and DuBois, the hills and forests of rural Jefferson County roll on. Tucked away in the verdant scenery are acres upon acres of fertile farmland, as well as the farms and farmers that harvest that land to feed local and distant communities. If you follow PA 410, a branch of US 119, and turn onto the bumpy gravel-asphalt mélange of Cider Mill Road, you’ll see one of these farms. Its buildings sit on a high hill, and its fields occupy the gently sloping hillside. This is Wise Farm, owned by the Wise family, and its 1837 founding predates Punxsutawney’s incorporation as a borough.
Rick Wise and his wife Kathy currently own Wise Farm. The farm, Rick said, covers about 650 acres — 300 for hay to feed the cattle, 300 for row crops, and the remainder for the buildings — and produces wheat, corn, soybeans and oats, which it sells for profit. But Rick said Wise Farm’s main focus is its cattle: 600 head of cattle, about 250 of which are mature, live at the farm. Wise Farm makes the majority of its revenue by selling cattle for buyers to breed with their own cattle, present in livestock shows or slaughter for beef products.
The Wise family has always owned the farm, but Rick said it has changed greatly since its founding. The Wises originally came from what is now Germany, and they immigrated to America on a French ship in 1837. Rick said they did not bring much with them but immediately set to work farming when they arrived in Western Pennsylvania.
“They came with practically nothing, but they made a go of it,” he said.
The Wises built a log cabin at the site of the original farm, but the cabin is gone now. In 1860, the family built the house where Rick and his wife now live.
In the farm’s early days, the Wises were peddlers. They tended fruit orchards and crop fields, and they sold their products door-to-door and in old mining towns like Stump Creek and Sykesville. Wise Farm did not have cattle until 1922, when William and Marie Wise, Rick’s parents, purchased five Angus cows in Virginia.
It was shortly after purchasing these cows, Wise Farm would shift its focus from crops to cattle.
“It’s economics,” Rick said. “Cattle are just more profitable.”
The Wise family promotes their cattle online at wisecattle.com, where he posts pictures and videos of the cattle that are up for sale. The website’s home page emphasizes the cattle’s quality: It says that the farm’s steers (neutered male cattle raised for their beef) are “competitive” for livestock shows and characterizes the females as having “beautiful udders and great dispositions.” The website also shows off the ribbons that Wise Farm’s cows have earned at livestock shows. In 2018, for instance, seven Wise cows achieved distinctions at state and county level farm shows.
Rick said he and his family use several methods to boost the herd’s quality. Wise Farm’s cattle eat only the hay and crops that are grown on the farm. Their son Adam and his wife Ashley are instrumental in their breeding program using artificial insemination, embryo transfer and cross-breeding, which improve the profitability of the cattle by introducing their offspring to “superior” genes that bolster longevity, carcass quality, and increased growth. Finally, Rick’s son Ben and brother Bill, operate a veterinary clinic located less than a mile from the farm and provide services to keep the cows healthy, treating the cows for illnesses and supplying vaccinations. The family helps prevent bovine diseases by practicing bio security on their farm.
Of course, there is another disease on the forefront right now — COVID-19 — and although cattle cannot contract the virus, Rick said Wise Farm has seen fluctuations in business since the start of the pandemic. He said he has noticed two big trends: Crop sales have gone down while beef sales have gone up.
Crop sales have declined partially because of the trade war between the United States and China, one of the primary consumers of American soybeans, corn and wheat. The trade war has intensified since the start of the coronavirus outbreak as both countries blame the other for the current state of the pandemic and levy mutual immigration restrictions.
But while crop sales struggle due to the virus, beef sales have thrived because of it. Large meat processing plants have shut down across the country after huge outbreaks ravaged them, but smaller, local processers that Wise Farm use, have stayed open.
“People want to know where their meat comes from, you know?” Rick said. “People want to know how we’ve been taking care of the animals, and they know our cattle are all natural. Plus, there’s been shortages of meat in stores.”
Rick said this trend of more people buying meat locally started before the pandemic, but he said the pandemic has accelerated the trend. It has accelerated it so much, he said, that local meat processing plants are swamped due to new demand.
Livestock shows, which Rick said are one of the main ways Wise Farm interacts with the community, have been postponed since the start of the pandemic. But Rick said the farm is helping the community through this time in other ways: Increased beef sales are keeping people fed, and by staying with his family on their farm, he is doing his part to socially distance.
Rick shares the farming lifestyle with all of his family — he works the farm with his son Adam and wife Ashley, Ben, his wife Tash and children, contributes with farm work in addition to his veterinary work and Kathy maintains the farm’s finances and chips in outside. Rick said he encouraged Adam and Ben to get involved with agriculture from a young age, just like his parents did with him. Rick said that as a result of his upbringing, he enjoys everything to do with working a farm, even the long hours and hard labor.
“I love being outside every day, being around cattle, growing crops,” Rick said. “That’s why I like to be here. It’s a good life.”
Although he enjoys farming for the sake of farming, Rick said it makes him happy to live in a community that is becoming increasingly appreciative of agriculture. He said he is grateful to the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, who he said have recently been more vocal in its support for farmers. Some of the county commissioners have visited Wise Farm, he said, and a new video on the Jefferson County website that promotes the county’s agriculture shows Wise Farm in the opening shot.
Rick said that he feels that people do not give agriculture enough attention since modern conveniences make it possible for one to spend his or her whole life never understanding how much work goes into producing food. He does not want a spotlight on himself in particular, he said, but he appreciates the county government’s efforts to highlight what he and other farmers do to benefit the community.
“I think agriculture is often under looked,” Rick said. “We should be spotlighted more, not me, per se, but the agricultural communities. I think people that are far removed from the farm don’t realize what it takes to put a wholesome product on their table. So, I’m very appreciative of agriculture having a voice in our area.”
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