Avondale Family Named Chester County’s 2020 Farmers of the Year

Mark Hostutler

The Chester County Commissioners, along with the Chester County Agricultural Development Council, recently presented two annual agriculture awards at First Generation Farms in Avondale.

Farmers of the Year Award

The 2020 Chester County Farmers of the Year Award was presented to Sonya Beltran and her family, owner-operators of First Generation Farms. The Beltran family grows fresh white and cremini mushrooms for restaurant and food service customers up and down the East Coast.

Sonya was initially nominated on her own for the award by the American Mushroom Institute, for excellence as a mushroom grower and industry advocate. Upon receiving notice of the nomination, she requested that her family also be recognized: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents’ hard work and sacrifice.”

Sonya’s parents, Daniel and Maria Beltran, came to the area from Jalisco, Mexico in 1980. Daniel worked his way up through every job in the mushroom industry until he was able to buy his own mushroom houses and start the business now known as First Generation Farms and Masda Mushrooms.

From humble beginnings, the Beltrans’ farm now encompasses more than 50 growing rooms with an average production of around 11 million pounds of fresh mushrooms a year.

Sonya Beltran

Sonya, the eldest of the Beltrans’ three children, officially joined the business eight years ago and is currently the Director of Operations, overseeing worker safety, product marketing, and sales.

Although the pandemic has been extremely challenging for the food service supply chain, Sonya said that worker safety has always been their business’s No. 1 priority. To that end, she partnered with La Comunidad Hispana to offer voluntary onsite COVID-19 testing and has worked with employees when they needed flexible schedules due to childcare disruption.

“Without the harvesters, we wouldn’t be here,” said Sonya.

In addition to her work on the farm, she serves as the Vice Chair of the Mushroom Council, the national mushroom trade promotion group geared toward expanding the consumer market for fresh mushrooms.

“I’m excited about promoting ‘The Blend,’ a cooking technique that combines chopped mushrooms with ground meat to make recipes more delicious, nutritious, and sustainable,” said Sonya. “Mushrooms add Vitamin D, which is critical for healthy immune systems, and they are very cost-friendly for a pandemic budget.”

In the end, it all comes back to family though.

“There aren’t a lot of women mushroom growers, but I didn’t do this to be the next female Latina grower,” said Sonya. “I am honored to be able to do this work and expand my parents’ dream.”

The Duncan Allison Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award

In a typical year, the Chester County Commissioners and Ag Council present the Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture to a deserving individual who has positively promoted, made significant contributions to, or provided exceptional services for the county’s farming community.

Since this year has been anything but typical, the Commissioners and Ag Council have chosen to recognize the entire Chester County agriculture community for its many acts of service and food donations to residents in need during the pandemic.

Examples of this generosity abound, including the Chester-Delaware Farm Bureau’s milk giveaways, the Chester County Food Bank’s longstanding gleaning programs in partnership with area farms, and the mushroom industry, which donated thousands of pounds of fresh mushrooms to food banks for distribution.

“We usually think of agriculture as Chester County’s top industry for economic reasons, but its generosity of spirit, especially during tough times, is what makes agriculture the heart of our communities,” said Chester County Ag Council Board Chair Chris Alonzo.

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