Mother-Son Team Designs Wreaths for Farm Show

1/5/2013 7:00 AM
By Anne Harnish Food and Family Features

MANHEIM, Pa. — Throughout the farmhouse of Charlie and Roberta Hartz are signs of creativity. Roberta’s wispy, colorful holiday wreaths decorate the old-style painted doors, crafted baskets rest on Charlie’s handmade wooden cupboards and hutches, and beautifully repaired antiques liven up every corner.

But most of all, this family’s creative pursuits are blended with their interest in farming and their desire to spend time together as a family.

Last year, Roberta and her son, Scott, 33, teamed up to design a wreath that won a Best of Show honor at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg. The mother-son duo is back at it again this year, their third year competing in the wreath categories.

On Wednesday, Scott and his brother, Adam, 31, will bring several of their antique hit-and-miss engines to the farm show to display during Wednesday’s antique tractor events at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center.

Their involvement at the Pennsylvania Farm Show is a natural extension of the family’s interests. A lot happens on the Hartz’s unassuming seven acres of land in Manheim, Pa. The family, who moved there from Berks County, Pa., in 2004, has raised a market garden; the Hartz’s younger son, Adam, grows crops like hay and grain; and, hidden away in a large, no-longer-used chicken house is a significant collection of antique farm equipment, including at least a dozen antique trac tors, 9 or 10 hit-and-miss engines, corn shellers, feed grinders, antique kitchen appliances, wash machines and many more items, mostly from the 1900-1930s era.

Though the family members mainly work at off-farm jobs, agriculture has become a passion for all.

“My brother and I were always interested in farming, since we were kids,” Scott said.

The boys had their own lawn-care business as youth, which is partly what led Scott to a degree in horticulture, and Adam to pursue a degree in agronomy and crop science, both from Delaware Valley College.

For five years, the Hartz family raised and sold produce at the Mt. Joy farmers market nearby. They raised mostly lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes and peppers.

The market garden was something the Hartzes had always wanted to do. “It was another adventure ... we wanted to do it and see how it all worked out,” Roberta said. “It was the camaraderie of being there with the other standholders and being part of the market (that was important).”

They stopped doing the market garden when their two boys got married and didn’t have as much time to work in the garden.

Now, Roberta, who retired from school administration work in 2005, and Adam both work at the Lancaster County Conservation District. Scott takes care of the landscapes at a retirement community in the area.

Adam and Scott are passionate about collecting antique farm machinery, and, with assistance from Charlie, repair it and display it at various historic shows and events.

“That’s what we spend our money on — old farm equipment!” Scott laughed.

Their dad, Charlie, a now-retired middle school industrial arts teacher, spent many hours building and repairing things, from antiques to farm equipment and other items. He must have been an excellent teacher.

“He taught us all that stuff,” Scott said. Roberta agreed.

The Hartzes also went to Steam School at the Rough and Tumble Engineers Historical Association in Kinzers, Pa.

“This is definitely going to be a hobby for life,” Scott said.

Is the family passionate about farming, or is farming just the activity that keeps the family spending time together?

“It’s about family,” Roberta said about all their farm-related activities. “Our family is very close. We are always doing everything together.”

And, she added: “Now it’s nice to have the girls. They like to be part of it too,” referring to her daughters-in-law, who have both joined in with the family’s pursuit of farm-related activities.

Adam’s wife, Stephanie, is a manager at the Tractor Supply Co. in Mt. Joy. Scott’s wife, Karen, works as a nurse. The families all live within a few miles of each other.

The family has regularly attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show for decades, but only recently has started participating.

“We used to go up the first Sunday each Farm Show to see the draft horses because our friends had some,” Roberta said.

For their competitive wreath entries at the farm show, Roberta and Scott view their material selections as a matter of inspiration. Both mother and son, who said they share the project work 50-50, like a natural look for their wreaths.

“We collect throughout the year,” Roberta said about gathering various materials.

Some years, Scott has dried a few of their own crops for wreath materials, like barley and oats, or gathered them, such as ferns. To dry them, he hangs them in the top floor of their chicken house.

“We try not to use any dyed material,” Roberta said, “just natural colors.”

The most challenging part of wreath-making is deciding which materials look good together, they said. Roberta and Scott try many different combinations over time, until they get something they both agree looks good. It takes less time to actually cut it to length and clamp it into the wreath shape on their wreath-making table.

“Some years we do all right. Some years we don’t place as well,” Roberta said. “We just do what we like.”

They have entered wreaths at several other fairs and shows. In 2011, they won first place at a Clinton County Christmas show. That year, they also got a third-place ribbon at the Manheim Farm Show.

Their first year at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, they entered three wreaths and took home second place. Last year they took home two first-place ribbons for two wreaths and the Best of Show.

“I’d like to try gourds another year,” Roberta says to Scott.

But most of all, this is a family that truly enjoys spending time together.

“Sometimes we stay up at night (during Farm Show), watching PCN showing the different events,” Roberta laughed.

“When it isn’t fun anymore, we won’t do it,” Roberta said.

Does milk have a lot of untapped potential in today’s competitive beverage market?

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