For Allan Schanbacher and Chris Gangi, building Kreeky Tree Farm was a natural progression in careers devoted to gourmet food and sustainability. They talked to us about building their business from the ground up, farm-to-table practices, and how they use PittMoss® Prestige to keep their egg-laying chickens happy.
Allan: I was a chef in New York for many years, and then we moved out to Arizona. I did chef and food editorial styling work out there for the magazine that Chris was working with also. I merged into that on top of doing restaurants and things and went from savory into baking. We kind of just wanted to figure out what we could do for ourselves. So that’s why we ended up thinking it was time to get out of Phoenix and maybe come back here [Pennsylvania], because we had more connections and wanted to get back into the east coast seasonal thing.
Chris: The reason we chose this area [Slatington, PA] is because—I don’t know if you know the publishing company Rodale, it’s out of business now—but they used to publish Men’s Health, Prevention, and Organic Gardening. I came out here for a job back in ‘99.
Allan: I learned about it through John [Eatherton] at Moyer’s Chicks. I actually worked for his dad at Tabora Farm & Orchard when we lived out here the first time for a little while. He contacted me one day and said, “I have someone that I want you to talk to, he’s looking for someone to do test trials.” So that’s how we got ahold of PittMoss®.
Allan: The sustainability of it.
Chris: That you can just add to it and take away a little bit of it and keep adding to it is a nice idea. I tried it out with my mini horse and it worked. I did it for about 3 weeks and didn’t have to clean out the stall completely. I just focused on areas that were clumping up, and that seemed to work really well for the little guys.
Allan: The ability not to have to clean it out completely every week. Having something that’s easier to deal with than straw, something that actually neutralizes the ammonia and is easy, compostable, and sustainable. It breaks down really quickly.
Allan: Well, two things. It’s supporting local [businesses], and it’s putting back what you’re getting out. We did a farmers market last year, which was really great because we got to have our product going out to local people. They’re happy to have something that’s of high quality. We’ve gotten really amazing compliments on the flavor of our birds and the texture. That makes the hard work worthwhile, to have that kind of response come back from people.
Chris: It’s seasonal, too.
Chris: We do a lot of composting.
Allan: We recycle.
Chris: All the bedding and manure and the stuff that comes out of the chicken coops and comes out of my horse and donkey barns and the goat barns gets turned into compost piles, which I turn into really great compost that I put back into the garden, which makes the gardens more viable and organic. We also are strict about no chemicals on the property. The chickens are fed high-end organic feed that costs us more, and that's why we charge more. I don't use any chemicals in the garden whatsoever, which is sometimes difficult, but I never wanted to use chemicals. So it was just a natural way to grow. Plus I know too many of the downsides of the chemical industry, so that played a big part in it.
Allan: The person we get feed from for our chickens and things is a local Mennonite. We try to support local [business] as much as possible.
Chris: We wanted to combine both of our talents. I’ve always been into gardening, especially organic gardening. By working for Organic Gardening, I got a wealth of information, so I knew how to do that really well. Allan, being a chef, could always use the produce that I was creating to make something for us. So we were thinking along the lines of, I’d grow the stuff, he’d make something. It morphed into chickens soon after because we wanted eggs. And then Allan got into the butchering. So, little by little, it morphed into more livestock and produce.
Allan: Just over 6 years. Nothing was here in the beginning. It was basically just a house and a garage. We put in all the fruit trees that Chris is talking about. They’re young, so they’re just starting to produce. Last year, we had our best crop of peaches so far. Chris put in more plums, Asian pears, apples, strawberries...all in the last three years or so. They’re going to start producing a lot more in the next year or two.
Allan: It was basically just a woodlot. The property was a wedding gift to the people that were living there before us. The home was new but built to look old. The reason we came up with Kreeky Tree Farm for the name is because I watched the trees in the first winter we had when we came back here. It was really intense and really cold. I would be home alone and I’d just sit here and watch the trees sway in the cold wind and just creak, and creak, and creak. It was just something that popped into my head, and it just kind of worked.
Allan: Just being in the restaurant business and as a chef, I wanted this to be my little restaurant. We dealt with the same people that built the barn for us. Basically, we got a raw barn that we finished the downstairs of, and then the upstairs we use as a hay storage loft. The front show kitchen has a professional stove, hood, and all of that. We’re hoping to get that certified this year. And then we did a little dining area that we actually made out of some old floor boards that were up in the barn. We have a show display fridge in the front of the room so we can have some products on display…cheese, chickens, things like that. And then in the back I have the storage and the dish pit area and a functioning bathroom.
Chris: The garden’s probably a quarter of an acre. We also have fruit trees and strawberry patches, berries, that kind of thing. They’re scattered all over the property. Before we became official, we started having farm days where we would do a weekend event in the spring, something mid-summer, and something in the fall.
Allan: The chickens kind of started very simply from just wanting to have chicken for ourselves. We started with a traditional Cornish Cross that we ended up getting at an auction house in Lancaster. It wasn’t a bad process and the butchering was fairly easy.
Allan: We do a farm day. I think we’ll do one in the spring at least. We do little private functions. Being a chef, I still have a show kitchen that we can do little private dining events, cooking classes, demos.
Chris: Last year, we were part of an auction for the Bethlehem Historical Society. They did an event at Christmas-time. The person won an eight-person, five course meal here at the farm, prepared professionally by Allan. We participate in charitable events as well.
Allan: We’re supporting local businesses and charitable causes. Silent auctions, things like that. We put our products in baskets for silent auctions also.