Awards go to Sonya Beltran and the Beltran family of First Generation Farms in Avondale, Pa. and the Chester County Agriculture Community
The Chester County Commissioners, along with the Chester County Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council), recently presented two annual agriculture awards at First Generation Farms in Avondale, PA.
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 Beltran’s farm now encompasses over 50 growing rooms with an average production of around 11 million pounds of fresh mushrooms a year.
Sonya, the eldest of the Beltran’s 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 says that worker safety has always been their business’ number one 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,” says Sonya.
In addition to her work on the farm, Sonya serves as the Vice Chair of the Mushroom Council, the national mushroom trade promotion group geared towards 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,” says 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,” says 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 their 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,” says Chester County Ag Council Board Chair Chris Alonzo.
For more information about the Chester County Ag Council and our awards program, visit chescofarming.org.