As John Gailey Jr. showed off Woody Lodge Winery to members of the Cambria County Farm Bureau and legislators on a hot, sunny Thursday afternoon, he talked about the importance of envisioning agriculture in a new way.
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John Gailey Jr. (center), Woody Lodge Winery co-owner, examines a cluster of Concord grapes during Cambria County Farm Bureau's Legislative Farm Tour held at the vineyard in Ashville, Pa., on Thursday, August 12, 2021

He bought into the family business about three years ago. The winery grows grapes on two acres of land while bringing in most of its fruits from outside the region. There are also a lodge, a production center and a wedding tent on the property.

Gailey also hopes to soon be the first wine-maker in the Laurel Highlands creating ice wine from locally grown grapes that have been frozen on the vine.

Woody Lodge Winery has also gotten creative, making products such as Tipzy Cow wine ice cream, SweeTea and jalapeno-flavored wine.

“Being an Army officer, I’m used to vision and campaign plans – looking five, 10 years down the road and, ‘Where is my vision going to be?’ ” Gailey said Thursday.

“My mother already had this land. I was like, ‘OK, climate change is happening.’ The average temperature of the floor of Napa Valley has risen one degree in the past 30 years. That affects the acid and the maturity and the sugar contents of that grape, so they’re starting to move up into the foothills.

“Well, look at Germany, look at the whole Saar region of western Germany. They have grapes at a 45-degree angle. You can cultivate anywhere, as long as it’s not wet. Grapes don’t like wet.”

John Gailey Jr. (center), Woody Lodge Winery co-owner, leads a group through his vineyard during Cambria County Farm Bureau’s Legislative Farm Tour held at the business in Ashville, Pa., on Thursday, August 12, 2021.
Thomas Slusser

Gailey gave his presentation during the Cambria County Farm Bureau legislative tour that was attended by several local lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-Centre, 15th Congressional District, the House Committee on Agriculture’s GOP leader.

“It’s extremely important because they’re the ones that are pushing the legislation and they’re our representatives, so our voices mean something when we push an agenda to them,” Gailey said. “So having them come to my small business – me being the first commercial vineyard in Cambria County – is a huge deal.

“I have two acres cultivated, but there are farmers here that have a thousand. I’m seeing the same issues that they are seeing. I think that the discussion here educates me. Now I can go to our local politicians and be on the same sheet of music as the larger farmers around.”

Subjects of discussion included rural broadband, inheritance taxes and transportation.

“As time goes on, everything gets more complicated for everyone, and farming is no different,” Cambria County Farm Bureau President Marty Yahner said. “The issues that affect us and can make or break our business in some cases – regulations and governmental laws – are just so more important now than maybe ever before in affecting our bottom line.”

State Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-Richland, 35th District, said hearing directly from the farm bureau “guides me not only in my voting, but also in types of legislation that I may introduce.”

Participants also spoke about stress on the dairy industry and climate issues.

Thompson has introduced legislation that would again allow schools to serve whole milk to students, which has not been permitted for a decade. That has led to what he believes has been a generation of milk-drinkers being lost because the alternatives lack flavor.

“When it comes to dairy, if we keep doing what we’ve always been doing, we’ll wake up one day in the next number of years and have no dairy farms in Pennsylvania,” Thompson said.

Carissa Itle Westrick, Vale Wood Farms director of business development, talks about modified block voting and whole milk in schools during the Cambria County Farm Bureau’s Legislative Farm Tour event held at Woody Lodge Winery in Ashville, Pa., on Thursday, August 12, 2021. At right, Marty Yahner, Cambria County Farm Bureau president, looks on.
Thomas Slusser

Carissa Itle Westrick, Vale Wood Farms’ director of business promotions, personalized the issue, saying, “We want kids in schools to have the best opportunity to consume milk. I would like not to have to listen to my son complain again about drinking skim chocolate milk in school.”

Regarding climate change and the environment, Thompson called for using a “science-based” approach to dealing with the issues and supporting the efforts of farmers, ranchers and foresters who work the land.

“The extreme narrative that’s been out there on climate has really put a label on the back of every farmer that says ‘climate criminal,’ ” Thompson said. “That is so inappropriate, so wrong. … There’s a new label, and it’s ‘climate hero,’ and every one of you that are actually working in production agriculture, you’re a climate hero for what you do.”

Tommy Nagle, Jr., the local director with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, agreed, saying there is a negative connotation associated with farmers in terms of environmental issues.

“I just hope that we’re getting credit for the job that we are doing,” Nagle said. “Now, can everybody do a better job, and do we want to do a better job? Absolutely. But we are doing a good job. I just hope everyone realizes that.”

Nominations are open for Fonterra’s board election but a repeat of the drama that rocked the vote three years ago can be ruled out.

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