With summer right around the corner, it’s a great time to pick up the new edition of The Chester County Farm Guide to find local farms and markets near you.
This Chester County Ag Council publication features the county’s diverse array of farms and locally grown products from artisan cheeses, flowers, and wine to heirloom tomatoes, meats, and eggs. The guide, highlighting over 125 family-owned farms and markets, includes a map and farm addresses, plus a chart that indicates what’s currently in season.
“In this year’s issue, you’ll meet the county’s Farmer of the Year Jamie Hicks, visit Red Dog Market with the de Long family, learn what makes Avon Grove Charter School’s Micro-Farm such a big deal, and stroll through fragrant greenhouses with Lewis Barnard,” said Chester County Agricultural Council Interim Director Ann Lane. “We hope the guide inspires readers to explore all the flavors Chester County has to offer and appreciate their farming neighbors.”
Chester County Commissioners Marian Moskowitz, Josh Maxwell and Michelle Kichline emphasized the importance of farming in the county.
“With approximately 31% of Chester County’s land devoted to farming, agriculture is a critical industry for our region’s economy and the county’s sense of place,” the Commissioners said. “Even as the county’s population continues to rapidly expand, our farming legacy endures with a great variety of farming types.”
Chester County ranks second among all 67 Pennsylvania counties (and 53rd in the U.S.) in the total value of agricultural products sold with annual sales of more than $712 million.
In this year’s guide, Farmer of the Year Jamie Hicks of Hicks IV in Cochranville cites sustainability and innovation as his primary business drivers. He sees opportunity in new markets and customers including the hemp industry and partnering with online retailers looking for environmentally-friendly packaging materials.
But first and foremost, Hicks focuses on the soil health of the thousands of acres he leases.
"The more we can retain and build healthier soil, the better our crops will be when we harvest them in the fall," Hicks said.
The new Farm Products Guide also celebrates the vibrant network of Chester County farmers and service providers who serve as the backbone of our local food system.
For Aaron and Emma de Long, that spirit of cooperation means sourcing products from many of their farming friends to stock Red Dog Market, their new business endeavor outside of Pottstown.
"The earth, air, and water where you live become a part of who you are when you eat locally," said Aaron de Long. "Customers can always ask us how things in the market are grown because I walk the fields and talk with the farmers we source from."
For Lewis Barnard of Barnard’s Orchard in Kennett Square, community spirit means respecting the sacrifices of the prior generations who founded his family’s nearly 300-year-old farm and working with Chester County’s agricultural land preservation program to preserve the farm for the many families who visit year after year.
"Every season I have at least one person come up to me to shake my hand and say that they've been bringing their family here for over 30 years and thank me for making it possible," said Barnard. "I farm for them as much as I farm for me."
And speaking of the future, Avon Grove Charter School’s Micro-Farm is making a big impact on over a thousand students a year from the Avon Grove, Oxford, Coatesville, Kennett, Octorara, and Unionville regions.
Micro-Farm manager and agriculture teacher Krista Lauterwald works with her fellow teachers and school administration to weave farming into everyday curriculum with hands-on experiences like caring for the school’s livestock, “Bee Academy,” and hydroponic garden systems in the greenhouse.
"You can't appreciate our food system if you aren't aware of our food system,” said Lauterwald.
The Chester County Farm Guide is available free-of-charge at libraries, township and County offices, Kimberton Whole Foods locations, and at select farm stands across the county. Readers can also access the guide online at chescofarming.org.