Delaware Farm Bureau hires new executive director

poppiti edited.jpgJoseph Poppiti has been hired as Delaware Farm Bureau’s new executive director, replacing Pam Bakerian, who retired after 10 years of service. A native Delawarean, Poppiti currently lives in Kennett Square, Pa., in a farm house that once belonged to his mother’s family. His maternal grandfather was a passionate mushroom grower. Poppiti continued in the family business, growing specialty mushrooms and managing up to 300 employees with $18 million budgets. Most recently, Poppiti consulted for other mushroom growers.

Poppiti also owned and managed JoBeth Farms LLC, a full service urban landscape firm offering design, planting and maintenance. He has worked with Sue Barton and others at the University of Delaware. He served on a committee promoting uses for spent mushroom compost and provided material and did work with summer grasses, especially on DelDOT properties.

Poppiti majored in horticulture at Penn State with a minor in mushroom science. In 2000, he began volunteering in the American Mushroom Institute, a national mushroom farmer member trade association. He served as chairman of the board from 2010 through 2014, managing a $2 million budget. While AMI retains a lobbying firm in Washington, Poppiti has developed relationships with colleagues who monitor happenings concerning agriculture at a national level.

“I am passionate about educating elected officials on what are the challenges of farming today. I am familiar with several state legislators and have colleagues who provide support to the legislators,” Poppiti said.

He also has experience in writing state and federal grants and working with AMI’s Community Awareness Scholarship Foundation.

Poppiti and his wife, Beth, have one grown daughter, Kathryn.

Poppiti started in his new position on Dec. 3.

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Meet Your Farmer: Richard and Donna Wilkins

Richard and cows.jpgRichard Wilkins, who farms in Greenwood, was elected president of Delaware Farm Bureau at its annual meeting Dec. 3.

Wilkins, who received DFB’s “Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award” in December 2015, was elected president of Kent County Farm Bureau in October 2017. A past treasurer and past vice president of KCFB, he had been president of the Young Farmers and Ranchers in the mid-1980s, and he and his wife, Donna, were Young Farmer Achievement Award winners in 1988.

Since 2002, Wilkins has also been active in the Mid-Atlantic Soybean Association, where he was president from 2005 to 2010 and represented that organization at the national level. He then served on several American Soybean Association committees and served as ASA treasurer for two years before being elected ASA vice president, which led to the presidency and then chairman of the board. While his duties at the top of ASA have terminated, he continues to serve on the ASA board, where his main committee assignments are the Farm Bill & Crop Insurance Advocacy Team and the Farm Bill Task Force. He has been the ASA representative to the National Coalition for Food & Agricultural Research since 2010 and is currently NC-FAR’s vice president as well as serving as a director on the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR) Foundation Board.

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How did a farmer from Delaware, which grows soybeans on about 165,000 acres, compete with farmers from states like Iowa, with 6.5 million acres of soybeans, to take the helm of ASA?

By being friendly, positive and building relationships, Wilkins said. “Farming in central and lower Delaware is not much different from commercial agriculture in Midwestern states.” Another thing that helped him, he said, is that Delaware is about 20 years ahead of other watersheds across the country dealing with regulation pressures on water quality and nutrient management issues. His experience makes him a resource for others just beginning to feel pressures on the freedom to operate because of those issues.

Wilkins has been growing soybeans since he was a teenager. By the time he graduated from Milford High School in 1976, he was tilling 65 ares of grain, raising beef cattle and growing hay and straw for horse farms. He double majored in ag business management and ag education at the University of Delaware. He and his wife, Donna, purchased their first farm, 150 acres,  in 1992. By 2000, it had grown to 300 acres of cropland, 1,000 acres of rented cropland and a direct marketed beef enterprise. He grows about 400 acres of soybeans, 400 acres of corn, 250 acres of wheat, 150 acres of barley, 300 acres of vegetables and 400 acres of hay. In 1998 Wilkins became a Vermeer retail hay equipment dealer, which blossomed into a full-service machinery and equipment dealership, B & W Farm Supply.

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Serving as an officer of ASA kept him away from home quite a bit. “I have been to China three times, twice speaking at the Global Food Security Summits. I’ve delivered messages on USA’s sustainable farming practices during many trade missions to EU member nations, Japan, Indonesia and, more recently, at the first Buyer’s Conference for the Asian Sub-Continent region. Advocating and negotiating for increased market access into the emerging global economies has been a passion, as well as eliminating the non-tariff trade barriers that exist in many established economies,” Wilkins said.

“The only reason I can do what I do is that I have a very marvelous wife who helps to keep things from falling apart while I’m away from home. She and my nephew, Christopher Neibert, are the backbone of our farming and business operation.”

Meet Your Farmer: Stewart and Wendy Ramsey

MOD Ramsey Farm closeuphigh res.JPGStewart Ramsey is the fifth generation to operate Ramsey Farm, located between Brandywine Creek and the Pennsylvania State Line north of Wilmington. He has significant help from his wife, Wendy; his son, Carl; his sister, Jane, and his brother, John. His mother, Jane, also helped before her death, and cousins help, too, on occasion.

The largest share of their operation occurs on what was owned by the Ramsey family from 1860 through 1986, at which time all but 2 acres, the house and garage, was sold to a conservation organization. The land has since become part of the First State National Historical Park.

About the same time as the sale, Ramsey got his bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Delaware and went to Pennsylvania with his father, where they milked cows.

“I decided to come back, get my master’s degree and start farming on my own,” he said. He has rented the home farm since about 1990.

“It was obvious to me that we would be not able do things the way they had done historically. Corn, soybeans and a small livestock herd were not a viable enterprise for me.

“We started off growing pumpkins immediately for pick-your own and agritourism.”

Within two years, the family added a corn maze, then hay rides, nighttime hay rides, bonfires and school tours. In October, several thousand students of all ages visit the farm for educational programs, a hayride and to pick a pumpkin.

“Now we do all those things plus offering corporate bonding/team-building, parties and weddings. We host a mountain bike race and 5Ks. In 2019 we will host the local Great American Pumpkin Run, a multi-site race held in 20 locations in the eastern United States. We will be the Pennsylvania/Delaware host. It’s a big race with about 1,000 runners.”

The farm also produces hay for sale to the local horse industry. In 2013, the farm totaled roughly 120 acres across all crops and more than doubled in size in 2014. The Ramseys also now have a small equine boarding facility.

Ramsey’s wife, who has worked in information technology in the pharmaceutical area and now works with a small consulting company, takes care of the equine boarding logistics. “A barn was offered to me, so we added equine to our portfolio of things we do,” he added. The farm has hosted trail rides, including the Delaware Equine Council’s fall trail ride. With preserved land, riders can weave their way through miles of trails on about 10,000 contiguous acres. The hilly land has areas that are too steep to farm and plenty of woods with huge trees.

Ramsey said he had to start all over, since the entire farm and all its equipment had been sold. He thought he’d wear out the pin of his first tractor, hooking and unhooking equipment. Now he has seven commercial-scale tractors, many of which stay hooked to a piece of equipment  all season.

“I hope my son will not have to start over like that. Farming can be exhausting, and running equipment from one field to the next can wear you out.”

He added that his grandfather, born in the late 1890s, would shake his head at all the equipment farmers use today. In his father’s time the farm transitioned from horse to tractors, back in the 1940s.

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It’s Carl’s decision whether he will continue the farm as its sixth generation. He is presently a senior at Penn State, studying ag business management and economics. “As a family we’re trying to figure does it make sense for him to return to farm full-time for me. Wendy and I have full-time jobs off the farm. (Ramsey is a senior principal in IHSMarkit’s Agricultural Forecasting and Consulting Service.)

“It’s not an easy decision, not one that anyone can take lightly. We don’t want him to come back and be hostage to something. I know he loves the farm, but the economics is challenging.”

Agritourism is keeping the farm alive, but is still subject to weather. This has been a horrible year for hay.

“Everything we do turns to mud,” Ramsey said.

Deer are a significant problem and cannot be hunted because the land is a national park. They’ve challenged the sweet corn, pumpkins and alfalfa hay. “It’s unbelievable how much they eat. They’re more a challenge to get under control than most people realize. I’m sure glad deer don’t eat hay rides!”

Ramsey has spent his professional career applying his knowledge of farming and his formal education to help large companies plan their business for the future. This work has allowed him to learn about agriculture in other parts of the country and around the world. He is passionate about telling agriculture’s very positive story about continuous improvement and the use of technology to make food affordable, plentiful and safe.

Ramsey admitted he is quick to get on a soapbox. That’s one reason he is involved with Farm Bureau. He has been a member of Delaware Farm Bureau since 1995. He soon became a New Castle County Board member and has served as secretary/treasurer since 2001 and is now president also.

“I have no problem talking in front of folks about the importance of agriculture, our values, and sharing the good story that farmers in our state and nation have in terms of stewardship, sustainability and the environment — what we do and the investments we make to make food safe and keep our water clean. We don’t apply fertilizer or chemical pesticides haphazardly. They’re very expensive. They’re used when needed, when it makes sense and there’s an economic benefit.

“I care about our ability to feed the world. We have a responsibility to try to produce economically viable food and affordable at the same time. We must be careful not to take sound production technologies out of the hands of farmers because of the philosophies of others.”

In 2007, he was appointed chair of the Delaware Farm Bureau Agricultural Education Committee, chair of DFB’s Ag in the Classroom Program, and DFB education ambassador to American Farm Bureau Federation. He has served as the public relations chair at the county and state levels since about 2010. He is a member of the board of directors of the Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation.

Ramsey serves as co-chair of the Milk Run, a joint effort of the Foundation and New Castle County Farm Bureau which has generated nearly $75,000 to benefit two charities: the Ministry of Caring’s Milk for Children Fund and the Neighborhood House Inc.

His farm holds annual food drives to collect food and money to help provide for the Food Bank of Delaware, Lutheran Community Services and The Ministry of Caring. He plants 2 acres of sweet corn each year to donate to them.

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Ramsey is a regular volunteer at the Delaware Envirothon which brings teams of the top high school students in the state together each year to test their knowledge of environmental impacts on the land.

He has served on the University of Delaware Agricultural Alumni Board and is a past president of the Ag Alumni Association. He received a distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Delaware College of Agriculture. He and the farm were awarded the 2013 State of Delaware – Governor’s Conservation Award for Agriculture in New Castle County. That same year the Ramseys were named Delaware Farm Bureau Farm Family of the Year.

Meet Your Farmer: Jim and Janet Mitchell

Jim Mitchell, second vice president of the Delaware Farm Bureau, is the seventh generation of his family at Woodside Farm in Hockessin, a few miles from the Pennsylvania state line. The farm was established by Jim’s great, great, great, great grandparents in 1796 and was mainly a dairy operation for its first 165 years. Jim’s parents, Joe and Kathy, gave up milking cows in 1961 and produced various other crops until 1995, including poultry, eggs, sheep, flowers and pumpkins.

DSC_0825In 1996, the Mitchell family celebrated its 200th year of family-owned farming in New Castle County and the farm was recognized by the state of Delaware as one of the few remaining Centennial farms in the first state.

Also that year, the cows returned. Decades earlier, the dairy’s main source of income was butter, made from the cream of their cows’ milk. Jim and his wife, Janet, and his sister, Debbie Mitchell, looked for a new way to add value to the milk. Jim attended an ice cream making short course at Penn State University, then came home to turn a farm building into an ice cream plant. An old wagon shed was converted into a retail stand.

By 1998, Woodside Farm Creamery was producing some of the best ice cream in Delaware from their own Jersey cows. About a third of their milk production goes to a company that makes ice cream mixes for the Mitchells. The rest is sold through a cooperative.

The Mitchells add ingredients to create as many as 35 ice cream flavors which include Bacon, Butter Brickle, Cotton Candy, “Dirt” (for the kids), and “Motor Oil,” a flavor developed for a nearby steam museum. This blend of ice cream, coffee, fudge ripple and caramel ripple dyed green may look strange, but people really like it, Jim says.

Ice cream is sold in cups, cones and sundaes or by the pint or quart, and in milkshakes, banana splits, ice cream cake or pie.

A section of the farm is available for birthday parties under a tent, with cups of ice cream provided, of course. Or, the ice cream makers will “hit the road” to bring a trailer with freezers and staff to your party, reception or barbecue.

woodside.jpgOnce the farm was a sprawling 1,000 acres. For a time it was reduced to 75 acres, split by two main roads. The cows are rotated daily to pasture in one of 22 paddocks, with hay and silage growing on the other side of the road. Sometimes the cows even graze in the front yard of the Mitchells’ home.

Recently, though, the Mitchells were able to purchase an adjacent farm that was part of the property originally, which brought total acreage to just under 90 acres.

Location is a key factor in the success of Woodside Farms, which is located about 20 minutes from Wilmington and 15 minutes from Newark, in a suburban area that encompasses thousands of people. Unfortunately, most of those people do not know much about farming. While the Mitchells don’t open their farm to the public for general tours or visiting, visitors are welcome on special occasions such as National Ice Cream Day, the third Sunday in July. Visitors can see the production room, double-three milking parlor, and learn about manure composting and soil conservation. For other special dates, the farm maintains a “Cowender of Events” on its website.

The Mitchells have worked to reduce their carbon footprint and their impact on the environment. They installed solar panels in 2009 which now provide about 85 percent of their energy needs. They also use bioplastic containers made of dextrose (corn) that are biodegradable and compostable. Their ice cream is also manufactured directly into biodegradable cardboard boxes instead of plastic tubs.

For their efforts, and their demonstration of adaptability to bring the farm into the 21st century, the Mitchells were presented the 2009 Family Owned Business of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Delaware office.

mitchell.jpgWoodside is one of only four remaining working dairy farms in New Castle County, and the only one currently with its own creamery onsite. The business is still a family affair. Jim’s father, Joe, milks the cows twice a day and grows 1,500 chrysanthemums to sell each fall. Jim’s wife, Janet, along with managing the ice cream stand, is a small-animal veterinarian. The family sells farm fresh brown eggs and frozen grass-fed beef.

Several dozen sheep and goats also are raised on the farm. Jim’s sister, Debbie has the sheep sheared for their wool which she spins into yarn and puts to various uses including the making of crafts and clothing.

The Mitchells are hoping that someone from the next generation may be interested in continuing Woodside Farm for at least the eighth generation.

Mitchell said, “People really appreciate the fact that we’re still here with the farm. And they appreciate the fact that we have a place they can come and spend some time with their families and friends, sit under the oak tree and relax.”

Monsanto grant will help Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation in outreach to consumers

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DOVER, DEL. (Sept. 26, 2018) — Kent County farmer Richard Wilkins, president of the Kent County Farm Bureau, directed a $2,500 donation to Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation as part of the America’s Farmers Grow Communities program, sponsored by the Monsanto Fund.

As part of its mission, Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation will use the funds for an outreach program informing consumers and the public about the benefits of innovative agricultural production techniques.

Delaware Farm Bureau President and Foundation chairman Kitty Holtz said, “We appreciate the opportunity to be able to reach consumers through an upcoming project called ‘My Delaware Farmer.’ We hope to provide stories of how local farm families are utilizing science and technology to provide more nutritious foods to our consumers.”

Since the program began in 2010, the Grow Communities program has partnered with farmers to support nonprofit organizations important to them in their local communities. The program has given more than $29 million to farming communities since its inception, including more than $3 million in 2018. Each year, farmers enter for a chance to direct a $2,500 donation to a nonprofit they care about in their community. The organizations reflect the makeup and character of rural America, including emergency response organizations, schools, youth agriculture programs, food banks and many others.

“Farmers play a pivotal role in rural communities, and through their commitment to the Grow Communities program, we are able to provide the monetary support these nonprofit organizations need to make an impact,” said Al Mitchell, Monsanto Fund president. “We’re proud to play a part in helping these rural communities grow and thrive.”

To see if a nonprofit in your local community is a 2018 America’s Farmers Grow Communities recipient, visit www.GrowCommunities.com. You can also learn more about the Grow Communities program by checking out Facebook.com/AmericasFarmers.

From now until Nov. 1, eligible farmers in eligible counties can enroll for a chance to win a $2,500 donation for their favorite local nonprofit. To enroll or learn more, farmers can go to http://www.GrowCommunities.com or call the toll-free number 877-267-3332. Winners are randomly selected in December and in January the winning farmers are announced and organizations that have been selected to receive funding will be contacted.

 

About America’s Farmers

The America’s Farmers campaign highlights the importance of modern U.S. Agriculture through communications and community outreach programs that partner with farmers to impact rural America. To learn more, visit America’s Farmers at www.AmericasFarmers.com.

 

About the Monsanto Fund

The Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of Monsanto Company, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the communities where farmers and Monsanto Company employees live and work. Visit the Monsanto Fund at www.monsantofund.org.

Meet Your Farmer: Laura and Roland Hill

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Laura Hill, the first woman to be elected as a Delaware Farm Bureau officer — as second vice president in 2012 — is now first vice president of Delaware Farm Bureau. She has been a Farm Bureau member since 1977 and was a longtime 4-H volunteer. She has previously served as Sussex County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee Chair, and also serves as chair of the Farm Bureau Food Booth and Legislative Committees and on the Farm Bureau Executive Committee.

Hill also has served on the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission since 2009, appointed by the House of Representatives to represent Sussex County poultry farmers.

Roland Hill served on the Delaware Soybean Board years ago and now serves on the Sussex Conservation Board. He is also a Sussex County Farm Bureau Director.

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The Hills own and operate the 1,600-acre Deerfield Farm in Lewes along with their sons, Roland III and Jerad. “It takes all four of us collectively to make this farm run successfully,” Laura said.

Their daughter, Jamie, moved with her family from Pennsylvania three years ago and bought a home in a development located next to the farm. Jamie holds an agriculture degree from Delaware Valley College.

“Hopefully, someday Jamie will be able to take over my job on the farm,” Laura said, “but for now she is a full-time soccer and lacrosse mom and assistant track coach at Beacon Middle School and Cape High School.”

Jamie’s husband, Brian Loucks, is also heavily involved in their sons’ sports activities when not at work for Eastern Shore Utilities as a corrosion engineer.

The family grows grain and vegetables — including peas, lima beans and black-eyed peas — and also operate a 105,000-capacity poultry operation, Roland Hill Poultry Farm, growing for Mountaire Farms.

“We built our first two houses in 1979,” Laura recalls. “We added two more in 1986 and a fifth in 1990. It’s been a long, long time!”

DSC00798.JPGIn 2014, Laura and fellow Farm Bureau member Barbara Sapp of Milton were honored for their service and contributions with the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service to Delaware Agriculture. They were the first women to receive the award, which was presented at the Delaware Agricultural Industry Dinner.

Ed Kee, then Delaware Ag Secretary, said, “Laura Hill and Barbara Sapp are two of the most outstanding leaders in First State farming we have today. Both have served their communities and state with great distinction as part of the Delaware Farm Bureau and representing agriculture on the Nutrient Management Commission. Their hard work and dedication to promoting and advancing agriculture are without peer.”

Then Governor Jack Markell also praised their contributions to farming. “Agriculture is a critically important part of Delaware’s economy, and no one has carried that message forward more than Laura Hill and Barbara Sapp,” Markell said. “Their deep community involvement and leadership deserves our thanks and praise.”

Meet Your Farmer: Kitty and Dave Holtz

087.jpgKitty Holtz, president of Delaware Farm Bureau, grew up “a country girl” — not on a farm but surrounded by farms. Her husband, David, on the other hand, always farmed. He grew up on a farm in New Jersey. They met in the summer of 1967 which prompted him to decide to move to Delaware in 1968.  It was nearly 50 years ago that they married and struck out on their own in the farming business.

“Over the years, we’ve felt proud of the fact that we were able to start with nothing, save every penny we could to build and pay for our farm.  There were some tough years with a young family – but we did it.”  Their current home farm between Clayton and Kenton is 250 acres. They lease another 1,450 acres throughout Kent County.

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“We grow grain — corn, soybeans and wheat. Most of the corn and soybeans go to feed the poultry industry,” Kitty said, adding that even if every single acre of farmland in Delaware were planted in corn there wouldn’t be enough to supply the industry.

Both Dave and Kitty are still very actively farming.  Dave and Kitty have three children, Cherie, Craig and Brent.  Their youngest son, Brent, is a partner in the farm operation.  A nephew, Lucas Holtz, works full time for the operation.  Chris Bergold (Cherie’s husband), Ruby Holtz (Brent’s wife), and two grandchildren, Jessica Bergold and Tucker Holtz, complete the family.  All members of the family have been known to jump in and help in a pinch.

The Holtzes have been Farm Bureau members since 1976. Dave has served as Kent County Director since 1987. Kitty, who retired as an Administrative Officer for the Delaware Department of Corrections after 20 years, has also been active in service to Farm Bureau. She served as the Kent County Women’s Committee Chair for eight years; State Women’s Committee Chair for one year; and served on both county and state boards. She served as Kent County Farm Bureau President for two years before being elected the president of the Delaware State Farm Bureau.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAThe Holtz family was honored as the Delaware Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year for 2008, after winning the Kent County Farm Family of the Year award.