By Duncan Allison
The title of Chester County 2015 Farmer of the Year is being shared this year by two outstanding farmers who represent the diversity and excellence of our farming community. The awards are given each year by the Chester County Board of Commissioners, along with the Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council).
The ceremony took place in the Commissioners Board Room last Wednesday and prompted much interest, questions and support from Commissioners Terence Farrell, Kathi Cozzone, and Michelle Kichline.
Mark Dunphy, a first generation farmer and manager of Seven Stars Farm outside Phoenixville and his team, produce certified organic yogurt for sale nationwide by nationwide outlets including Whole Foods, Giant, and United Natural Foods.
Commissioner Farrell was pleased to note that Dunphy was a positive example of those who take advantage of the many agricultural career opportunities available here in the county, especially for those like Dunphy who don’t come from traditional farming backgrounds.
The Seven Stars team uses biodynamic principles which ensure total sustainability so they raise all their own livestock and produce all their feed. Highly detailed management ensures each pasture is grazed to ensure optimal production of high quality feed. Daily operations at Seven Stars start at 4.00 am and continue until 7.00 pm.
The other Farmer of the Year Award winner, Lewis Wilkinson, is a multi-generation farmer who manages thousands of acres of field crops, primarily hay to supply two of our biggest farming segments – early cut hay for the production of compost for mushrooms and second cutting to supply dry matter to feed dairy cows. He grows crops on his own land but also custom farms fields for others.
Wilkinson has practiced no-till farming wherever possible for 30 years to maintain soil structure and organic matter. Precision technology, involving software programs and GPS on the farm equipment, makes sure that only the necessary amount of fertilizer is applied to each part of the fields.
Wilkinson’s use of GPS and autosteer also avoid both overspraying and particularly overseeding which is important since corn seed has increased from around $100/bushel to as much as $300/bushel.
Both Dunphy and Wilkinson were anxious to point out the tremendous value of ag easements for farm preservation to ensure the land they have been stewarding will continue to produce food for future generations.
Dunphy welcomes visitors to the farm, particularly children who get to have hands on experience with farming, often for the first time. Wilkinson is proud of the many youths who have worked on his farm who later got jobs in agriculture. His son has returned to the farm and is assisting with high-end agricultural technology employed in their operation.
Hillary Krummrich also introduced Howard and Janet Robinson who received the 2015 Distinguished Service to Agriculture award. They have been members of the Farm Bureau since the 60’s and have served in many capacities as well as being heavily involved in the local schools, grange and their municipality. They also have their own farm in Oxford.
Janet Robinson has a passion for people which has served her well during her tenure as Secretary of the Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau as well as in her current role of Treasurer. Howard Robinson is the chapter Farm Bureau Membership Chair recruiting over 200 new members during his time with the organization – the largest county Farm Bureau in the state.
“Agriculture has played a major role in our lives,” say the Robinsons. They feel proud and blessed to live in Chester County.
All of the award recipients gave credit to the Commissioners for their unwavering support of agriculture over the years and for making Chester County a welcoming place for the industry in all its forms. As Commissioner Kichline pointed out, agriculture is the number one industry in our county.
Duncan Allison gained degrees in horticulture and extension education in the UK and US and spent most of his career working for the DuPont Company developing and marketing crop protection chemicals. Recently he has written reports for a global ag publisher and for New Jersey-based international business consultants Kline & Co. For the last 16 years he has been heavily involved in the local farming of Chester County where he has lived with his wife and family since 1980.