People throughout the state of Delaware began celebrating harvest time at autumn in October and the end of September through the cornstalks they tied to their mailbox posts or the hayrides they took at places like Fifer Orchards.
Thursday morning, state officials kept the harvest celebration going by presenting Century Farm awards to two farming families from Kent County and two families from Sussex County during a ceremony held at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village off U.S. Route 13 in Dover. Each year in early November the Delaware Department of Agriculture presents Century Farm awards to landowners who submit documentation that proves that their land has been farmed by the same family for at least 100 years.
The addition of the five farms honored on Thursday meant 121 farms had been enrolled in the state's Century Farms Program since 1987, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Austin Short said Thursday.
Short noted that farming in Delaware is a $1 billion per year industry, proving its value to the Diamond State's economy.
Farming has been a vital part of Delaware's rich history that goes back to American Indians and then the early Colonial settlers, said guest speaker Thomas Summers, outreach services manager for the Delaware Public Archives.
Among the farms honored by the state were the 54-acre Walls farm near Andrewville, southwest of Harrington in Kent County. This farm owned by Mildred Walls once produced peppers, soybeans, corn and lima beans as well as chickens, cows and horses. Today, the farm produces corn and wheat.
"My husband's grandfather was the original owner and he left it to his daughter," Walls said. "She left it to her son and I'm the son's wife."
The 12.75-acre Breeding farm west of Farmington in Kent County was also honored. The farm owned by Chris and Karen Breeding has produced beans, hay, beef cattle and hogs. Chris recently left the Kent County Conservation District to work for Synagro, and Karen teaches agriculture in Bridgeville.
"You just got to love it," Chris Breeding said. "I like to plant sees, watch them grow and be able to harvest it. We grow corn and soybeans. We have Black Angus cattle and it's exciting every year to see the new calves in the spring and to watch them grow.
"We pretty much grind all our own feed," he said. "We just started getting in the hog business and a little bit of vegetables."
The 105-acre Wilson farm north of Georgetown was also honored. The farm owned by State Rep. David Wilson (R-Lincoln) and his wife, Carolyn has produced corn, soybeans, strawberries and cucumbers over the years. The farm is now rented out to tenant farmers who focus on growing corn and soybeans.
Page 2 of 2 - "My grandfather bought it in 1907 and my dad purchased it in 1955," Rep. Wilson said. "My father passed away in 1966. Then, we purchased it from my mother 1971. It's just family heritage. You just hate to see it go."
He credited one of his sisters, the late Gladys Donovan, for conducting the initial research that led to the state's recognition on Thursday.
Lastly, the state honored two more Sussex County farms owned by Thomas and Elizabeth Pepper. The 34-acre Pepper farm near Milton was farmed by Thomas Pepper in 1879 and continually farmed by the family until 1968. It is now farmed by tenant farmers that produce corn and soybeans. Thomas and Elizabeth Pepper also own the 53-acre Wilson farm near Georgetown. The original 150 acres were purchased by Thomas Wilson, great grandfather of Thomas Pepper. It too is now farmed by tenant farmers.
Thomas Pepper said his family had been in Georgetown since the 17th century.
Tributes were presented to each of the families by their respective state legislators, namely State Sen. Gary Simpson (R-Milford), State Rep. Harvey Kenton (R-Milford), State Rep. Bobby Outten (R-Harrington), and State Rep. John Atkins (D-Millsboro). State Sen. Joseph Booth (R-Georgetown) helped write the tribute for the Sussex farms in his district but was unable to attend Thursday's ceremony, Simpson said.
Gov. Jack Markell was also unable to attend the ceremony. But, in a press release, he said the families honored Thursday had shown "a deep dedication and love for the land."
"I hope that their children and grandchildren will continue to carry on the tradition for many years to come," Markell said.