This week's Mid-Atlantic Master Farmer Awards Luncheon brought 150 of the region's best farmers and ag leaders together at Harrisburg, Pa., to honor the 73rd class of Master Farmers. The nine people feted at the luncheon spoke of their long-standing passions to farm, be good farmers and pass the heritage to their next generations.
That's why they were selected to receive the coveted Master Farmer award from more than 150 nominees from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia. The award, given to outstanding farmers since 1927, is sponsored by American Agriculturist and Cooperative Extension in the above noted states. And all five families had different success formulas.
'Working together' mindset
Working together, yet thinking for one's self is a mindset that Jim and Naomi Brubaker always cultivated in their children, Sharon, Curt and Jerrel. It's the foundation of Buffalo Valley Farms, Lewisburg, Pa.
Today's partnership of Jim, Curt and Jerrel encompasses 644 acres, 1 million broilers and more than 17,300 finished hogs. After marrying Matt McClellan, Sharon and husband moved to Bradford County, Pa., to set up their own hog finishing business.
By any farmer's measure, Jim and Naomi Brubaker accomplished their primary goal: To instill family values and a sense of agricultural foresight in their children. "We spent a lot of time talking about planning for the future," notes Naomi.
"But farming was always a choice," adds Curt. "We've looked at hogs (and broilers) as a means to do what we love to do," adds Jerrel.
Relying only on family labor is another underlying principle. "Working together as families, we can achieve a level of efficiency that's hard to beat," notes Jim. "Yet we are careful to not be so busy that we cut into our well-being and become burned out."
'Planted' their next generation
D. Wheatley Neal just always knew he was going to be a farmer â€“ a good one! His tenacious mind-set steadily gathered momentum as he grew. What's more, his positive mindset rubbed of on his daughters. Today, Charlotte Brown and Cynthia Clopper, with their husbands, are the next-generation management of Neal Farms, Inc., near Federalsburg, Md.
Wheatley fanned his daughters love for farming. Wife, Carol Ann encouraged their sense of business as the owner of a successful insurance business.
Today, nothing pleases Neal more than having a granddaughter ready and wanting to work in the fields. The 3,500-acre family cash grain business succeeds because of those built-in values and a strong sense that family and fun are tied together.
Farm 'mushroomed' with family
As a young man, Donald "Buster" Needham started growing mushrooms in his parent's barn. Today, Needham Mushroom Farms is the parent company of four business enterprises employing 160 people at West Grove, Pa.
Needham and wife Julie raised three children, Linda (Raimato) Arthur and Don. When his sons became interested in joining the business. "A partnership was formed, and life grew more interesting," says Buster. "It's still very much a farm and a family operation," he adds. And he's quick to credit his sons for developing the successful entities.
Arthur is in charge of growing more than 10.5 million pounds of portabellos, marketed to fresh wholesalers and processors. He also manages the production and marketing of about 5,000 cubic yards of substrate each week under the Hy-Tech Mushroom Compost division. Son Donald manages the equipment maintenance and leasing, plus the Fastrak Express truck division.
Blended 'familying' and dairying
Peace & Plenty Farm in the rolling hills of central Maryland is a perfect picture of a family dairy farm â€“ just as Joe and Nona Schwartzbeck planned when they first found it near Union Bridge, Md. "It had good soils, lots of springs and a large cow barn -- and a huge house with water pouring through the roof, no water and electricity in only half of it," recalls Nona.
That's where they "grew" their sons, Richard (Gus) and Joseph Shane and now where their grandchildren are learning the "ropes" of farming in a modern dairy built into a high-reputation registered herd of 345 Holsteins. Today, Peace & Plenty also owns close to 550 acres and rents another 600 acres.
"We still do all our own remodeling and building," says Joe. "It greatly reduces our total cost of expansion.
It all happens via family ingenuity and labor. "We love it, and wouldn't have it any other way," adds Nona.
Off-farm jobs built their farm
Jim and Libby Walizer are living proof that if the desire to farm is strong enough, it can be done via "sweat equity." The Bellefonte, Pa., couple worked fulltime jobs off-farm and gradually built Walizer Farms without acquiring major debt.
"We were a couple of city kids who started housekeeping with outdoor plumbing," says Jim. Walizer Farms slowly grew into three farms with a variety of enterprises, including two rounds of dairying, a 90-cow beef herd and direct-marketed natural beef, 500 sheep and strawberries.
Now, sons Michael and Dennis are following somewhat the same paths. Both still live on the farm. Dennis and his father handle the livestock and fieldwork plus numerous projects on their forest land.
Today, Walizer Farms includes about 240 acres of cropland, pasture and woodland plus another 50 acres of rented cropland. Anticipating retirement, their home farm was put into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program for 10 years. An avid conservationist and semiretired farmer, Jim Walizer's passion is developing chestnut saplings into nursery stock that will one day help repopulate America with genuine disease-resistant American Chestnut trees.
Watch for more on the 2006 Mid-Atlantic Master Farmers in the April and May issues of American Agriculturist.