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Farm family recognized

CHEST SPRINGS — Once purchased by John Itle in 1842, Vale Wood Farms in Loretto is now operated by the fifth and sixth generations of the Itle family.

Regarded as one of Cambria County’s oldest farm families, the Itles and Vale Wood Farms have provided a wide range of dairy products to residents throughout the region for nearly two centuries.

For their continued efforts, the Itle family was recognized by fellow area farmers as the 2021 Farm Family of the Year Thursday night during the 54th annual Cambria County Farm Bureau meeting at St. Monica Church.

“This is such an honor,” said Carissa Itle Westrick, the director of business development at Vale Wood Farms. “It’s amazing to be recognized by your peers. This is really an extended family reunion tonight, because farming is a family, and we’re thankful to be honored by them.”

The Farm Family of the Year is an exclusive award, said Cambria County Farm Bureau President Marty Yahner, who is also co-owner of Yahner Brothers Farms in Patton.

The Itle family is only the fourth family to earn the prestigious distinction in the county Farm Bureau’s history, and officials said they were chosen for their long-standing commitment to dairy farming.

“This award recognizes families that have gone above and beyond the call to provide food to the table in Cambria County,” Yahner said.

Vale Wood Farms has passed through generations of the Itle family and has evolved into one of the area’s leading dairy farms.

After initially selling milk in glass bottles and delivering it in horse-drawn wagons, the business has grown into growing various crops and producing a wide array of dairy products.

The farm currently has about 250 cows and completes the entirety of its milk processing locally, overseeing its product “from moo to you.”

“The Itle family has continued to provide generations of local families with farm-fresh products,” Yahner said.

Dan Itle, who was one of eight Itle siblings that accepted the award Thursday evening, said family has been at the forefront of Vale Wood Farms’ business model.

Operating a farm involves many days of long and hard work, and Dan Itle said there can be numerous obstacles along the way.

But using its strength in numbers and tight family bonds, he said the farm has been able to survive and conquer.

“Farming isn’t an easy business, and my father always used to tell me that if you break even at the end of the year, it wasn’t too bad of a season,” Dan Itle said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a nice place to raise a family, and that’s been our goal all these years.”

One of the largest obstacles the Itles, and the entire agricultural industry, has been forced to overcome is COVID-19.

Restrictions from COVID-19 put a strain on farms throughout the world, Westrick said, and it forced farmers to be creative and adapt to an ever-changing climate.

Westrick said that with a direct need to serve the community, Vale Wood Farms did not skip a beat and found unique ways to continue to bring dairy products to the table.

“There are a lot of examples of farmers doing things differently now,” Westrick said. “Us farmers are business people, and we have to be aware of our environment. We make changes and adapt, and we’ve really become masters of our own destiny. We have to recognize and adapt to these changes.”

Looking toward the future, members of the Itle family said they plan to keep growing.

Vale Wood Farms has been passed down from generation to generation, and family members said they plan for the farm to be a mainstay in the community “for generations beyond.”

“The growing season has changed, and our crops aren’t dying like they have before,” said Joe Itle. “We are continuing to thrive and to grow. We have a very bright future ahead of us.”

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