Through his current position as an IT Coordinator for Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO) in Spring Mills, St. Marys native Joshua Brock is able to combine his love of organic farming, database design and Macintosh computers.
"We are a USDA-accredited organic certifier with clients in nine states and the District of Columbia. A large portion of our clientele are Amish farmers and processors," Brock said.
Brock is responsible for maintaining the organization's 15-person, all-Macintosh shop, a job that includes database maintenance and design, software and hardware installations and maintenance, phone system, staff support and training.
For Brock, one of the most interesting aspects of his job is interacting with the company's Amish clients.
"I've learned a great deal about their kindness and work ethic from both my work at the PCO and my work this past season at Howard's End CSA/Farm," Brock said.
He added that one of the current challenges he is facing is that many of PCO's hardware and software applications need to be upgraded.
"Allowing staff to continue their time-sensitive work, while upgrading, installing and maintaining systems is a real challenge," Brock said. "In addition to offering many electronic communication options to clients, working with a large Amish clientele means we also have to offer many traditional non-technology-based solutions as well. It's often a bit more time involved keeping in contact with our Amish clients, who communicate and file their organic system plans via traditional written mail and notes, or in person if they arrive via horse and buggy to our Spring Mills offices, but it's completely worth it."
Brock recommends that individuals get involved with as many different jobs or fields of study as possible while they are growing up.
"I particularly value my liberal arts education at St. Vincent for exposing me to a wide variety of fields and possibilities. I'm quite a believer in the 'jack-of-all-trades' mantra. It's important to have a diversified skill set and interests, (and) not just to make you more valuable as an employee. I think it makes life in general much richer," Brock said.
Joshua is the son of John and Snooks Brock of St. Marys. He has four brothers, Mike, Dave and Devin Brock, all of St. Marys, and the late Matthew Brock; and two sisters, Amy of Erie and Mandy of San Diego, Calif. He is the grandson of the late Ray and Helen Hoffman and the late Edna Brock.
Growing up in St. Marys, Brock attended St. Marys Parochial School and graduated from Elk County Christian High School in 1989. While in high school, Brock participated in cross country, track, and Interact Club. He also studied martial arts under Mike Kriegisch for 20 years and attained a second-degree Black Belt.
Brock noted that his father and late grandfather Ray Hoffman were especially influential in his life.
"I attribute my work ethic, love of nature and compassionate attitude toward all people to these two men," Brock said. "My mother [had a big impact on me because of] her dedication to us seven kids, her support and love, and her encouragement to get involved in sports and activities that were unique and different than those my older siblings had tried. My grandma, Edna Brock, who just passed away in December 2009, basically raised my dad and his seven brothers and sisters on her own and taught me a great deal about family, commitment and compassion."
He added that his grandfather Ray Hoffman also enjoyed photography as a hobby, and that helped spark Brock's own interest in the pastime. He has his own website, www.joshuabrock.com, devoted to his photography.
Jim Wortman, who was Brock's cross country coach in high school, was also particularly influential, and Brock referred to him as a "very patient, focused and hard-working individual."
"The nuns of St. Joseph Convent and the monks and priests of St. Vincent who staffed our parish and school were all dedicated educators and incredibly hard workers who taught me the values of being independent, yet caring for your community, being resilient and acquiring many skills, self-sufficiency and stewardship. Indirectly these individuals sparked my interest in organic farming as well," Brock said.
After graduating from Elk County Christian, Brock went on to attend St. Vincent College in Latrobe, graduating in 1993 with degrees in Business Computer Systems Analysis and Communications. He participated in cross country during all four of his years at St. Vincent.
Brock and his wife, Jenn (Engel), currently reside in Bellefonte. The couple was married on Sept. 3 at his family's home on Taft Road.
Brock noted that he returned to Pennsylvania in November 2009 after spending six years in Boulder, Colo.
"While I was there, I worked for eToys.com as their research analyst for two years. I also worked part-time at Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI) as a sales associate. Then I quit eToys and became a full-time employee at REI, and for my last two years there I was a supervisor at the Boulder REI," Brock said. "My last year in Colorado, I also started part-time as a farmhand for Ollin Farms, which I later transitioned to full time in July 2009. This is a small to mid-sized organic farm in Longmont, Colo."
During his time in Colorado, Brock also began rock and alpine climbing, trail running and back-country telemark skiing, pastimes he hopes to continue now that he's back in this part of the country.
Prior to his grandfather's death in 1988, Brock spent a great deal of time doing yard work, mowing and landscaping at his home on Taft Road. It is at this residence that Brock and his wife are now planning to start their own farm, Hoffman Appalachian Farm.
"My goal is to move back to St. Marys soon and develop our farm, specifically a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, a farm stand. Additionally, our hope is to partner with the local schools and hospitals to provide some of their produce as local, organic produce all year long," Brock said. "We are developing the farm using hoop houses, passive heating techniques and permaculture principles to help it stand as independent as possible from fossil fuels. We also hope to make use of horses or burrows to replace the tractors, also helping to decrease fossil fuel use and dependence, as well as return to a truly more organic, sustainable farming practice much like the Amish do."
Brock currently makes it back to the St. Marys area about every other weekend.
"As the farm grows, I expect to be there a couple times a week and eventually hope to move back within a few years once the kids complete school here and in the State College area," Brock said.
He added that he and his wife truly love the St. Marys area.
"[We] feel very blessed for the people and opportunities which have gotten us to this point in our lives. Our eventual return to the community to develop our organic farm, we hope, will be part of the 'thank you' we feel is owed. We enjoy the natural beauty of the area and the kindness of the people who call it home," Brock said.