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'City slicker' wins farming award

December 08, 1997

'City slicker' wins farming award

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Chambersburg

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Ask Tom Mossellem what he does for a living and he hesitates to answer.

Though he toils on 150 acres of steep land between the mountains in Mercersburg, growing hay, corn and other grains to feed his herd of 30 beef cattle, Mossellem can't bring himself to tell people he's a farmer.

"I'd like to say that, but I know I'm not. I'm trying. That's about the maximum extent of it," he said.

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So when Mossellem found out he was to be named this year's Conservation Farmer of the Year in Franklin County, he was shocked, as was his family.

"Our children still can't believe it," Mossellem said.

"When we told them, they said, 'what?" said his wife, Jane.

It's not receiving the award itself that's shocking, since Mossellem spent years working with the county's Soil and Water Conservation District to virtually stop soil erosion and water runoff on his farm, which backs into the steep mountainside and borders the state game lands.

Following a long-range plan for the property, Mossellem and conservation district officials created two long water diversion ditches that run across the back of the property, trucked in 100 tons of stone to fill waterways, and placed 8,000 feet of drain tile in wet spots in the fields and pastures, among other soil and water conservation efforts.

His next project is to fence off a spring-fed stream that runs along the lower edge of his property to keep the cattle from trampling along its banks.

What surprises the people who know Mossellem most about receiving the farming award is that he's what country folk might call a true-born "city slicker."

Mossellem humbly admits it, though he covers it well wearing his work boots, blue jeans, sweatshirt and cap.

"Did you ever see the movie "City Slickers?" I could've written the script for that," Mossellem said, laughing. "I didn't know a thing about farming."

Mossellem grew up in Pittsburgh, joined the Air Force and ended up working in the State Department. His wife grew up in Washington and also worked in the State Department.

Both from city-raised parents, the couple moved to northern Virginia and raised their three children in the hustle and bustle of city life, commuting to work daily on increasingly congested highways and putting up with more people.

But the call for open space pulled the couple away from their fast-paced life to the small, run-down farm.

"We see nothing but green. Our dogs can run free. It's a way of life, really," Mossellem said.

For seven years, the Mossellems spent weekends renovating the old stone farm house, built in 1850, which was nearly falling down.

When they finally took early retirement and moved to the country, Mossellem decided that since he owned a farm, he might as well use it.

He soon found out there's a certain technique to plowing a field and a right and wrong direction to mow hay - lessons he learned from good-humored neighbors.

The couple had to find out the hard way not to get too attached to their animals, after caring in their home for a premature calf that died after three weeks. They also found out that taking vacations is nearly impossible when there are animals to feed and corn to harvest.

But through it all, the Mossellems have produced a grand champion and two reserved grand champion beef animals at the Fulton County Fair, and the latest farming award has proven, at least in this case, that even "city slickers" can make a go of farming.

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