AVELLA, Pa. —Manchester Farms is not like many other farms. The farm has a distinct past, a trying present and a promising future.
The owners, Margie Manchester and Joe Pagliarulo, have transformed what was an aging Washington County farm with fallow ground into a burgeoning organic grass dairy, while preserving its distinct past. They purchased the 213-year old farm in 2005 and then made the move from Connecticut to their western Pennsylvania heritage.
Manchester and Pagliarulo didn’t take long to decide they wanted to purchase Manchester’s grandfather’s farm in 2005.
The year before, they had taken a ride with Manchester’s father on Memorial Day weekend when they were visiting, and the farm seemed to pull the couple there.
When it came up for sale — for the first time in eight generations of Manchester ownership — Manchester and Pagliarulo knew they didn’t want their generation to end the family’s legacy. And in no time, they were purchasing the farm.
Like their forefathers. The couple said they knew it would be a lot of work, but they were up for the challenge. They figured if the forefathers could start out with nothing, then they could start out what was already available on the farm and make a life from it.
The farmhouse was built by Isaac Manchester after he purchased 400 acres in 1797. The land was bought from Samuel Teeter in 1797 after Manchester moved from Rhode Island with five children and his wife. The home was finished in 1815 when the last capstone was laid.
The first Manchester built the home and, with the help of his 12 children, built the farm’s outbuildings. The family was very self sufficient in its original days, with a separate building for its blacksmith work, a loom and they even made their own shoes.
No farming experience
Pagliarulo was working in the antique reproduction business, so a farm filled with antiques seemed like a natural fit. The couple were knowledgeable about antiques, but the farming part was a little more difficult.
Then the couple found out about Pennsylvania Farm Connect, a service in Pennsylvania that matches farmers with landowners having facilities for livestock or ground acreage to be farmed. The program currently is being phased out.
Today, Manchester, Pagliarulo and their farming partner, Steve Magan, are working to make the farm a living part of history and a profitable farm at the same time.
Steve Magan grew up in the city, but when it came time to choose a career, he knew where his heart was pulling. He wanted to farm.
He attended a school in Wisconsin and learned everything he could about the dairy business. And even on his three-month honeymoon in New Zealand, he studied farming. One month was spent honeymooning and the rest was spent working on a dairy farm there.
Magan knew what he needed most to farm and be happy: cattle and land.
Then he got connected with Manchester and Pagliarulo through Pennsylvania Farm Connect and began renting the farm in 2005. They had the land and a barn. That was a start.
“All of this is my dream from when I was a boy,” said Magan.
He purchased a herd of mostly Holstein and Jersey cattle and began milking in 2006, and is currently milking 120 head.
However, the dairy industry wasn’t as simple as either party had thought.
Magan found out in the first year that the farm ground was not very productive, and poor pasture conditions resulted in low milk production. He supplemented with purchased feed — just when grain prices began to soar. Ultimately, even the premium milk prices for organic milk did not cover the herd’s cost.
To improve the herd, the farm needed updated infrastructure, and some of the acreage had been fallow for many years and it needed a lot of fertilizer and care to get it producing again.
Manchester and Pagliarulo decided to invest with Magan, and the team went to work building a dairy. Pagliarulo handles the retail end of the business and Magan concentrates on the cattle and the labor end.
Changing the path
Pagliarulo said the low milk prices in 2008 and 2009 brought the end of the wholesale milk business to the farm.
The trio decided they would enter the retail market and take out the middle man. They also realized they were the only organic dairy close to a major metropolitan area — Pittsburgh — which would make marketing easier. Today, the milk is shipped to Colteryahn Dairy in Pittsburgh for bottling, but the farm markets it.
“We have to control our own destiny,” said Pagliarulo.
The farm today
Magan is now farming a total of 700 acres. All of it is organically certified, 250 acres is pasture and the remainder is used for crops.
Manchester Dairy produces USDA certified organic whole milk and skim milk. They also produce organic beef and 100 percent Berkshire pork from their farm.
The milk can be purchased at various locations around Pittsburgh, and on the farm itself.
In addition to basic farm survival, Manchester Farms has another threat on its front steps, one that drew the attention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and earned the farm a place on the trust’s list of the most endangered historic places in America.
A drive through the area tells the rest of the story: There are gas well sites popping up all around them, and mining equipment along the back roads.
According to Manchester, Consol Energy has been working in the area, longwall mining and has attempted to purchase the farm. The couple have told the company they aren’t interested in selling, but that might not be enough to keep it safe, in light of Pennsylvania’s intricate mineral rights laws and the fact that Consol owns many seams of coal that run through the area.
It’s a threat that has no current resolution.
But for now, Manchester, Pagliarulo and Magan work together to make the farm a success and look forward to a future of farming.
“Family farming is dying and we need to help stop it,” said Pagliarulo.
Manchester and Pagliarulo live on the farm with their sons, Dante, 22, and Marcus, 22.
Magan also lives on the farm in a separate home with his wife and one-year-old son.