The cultural divide between new residents in western Chester County and longtime members of the areas’s Amish community can seem great at times. But when someone breaks that gap, it can leave a sense of wonder.
That’s the feeling that Geoffrey Shellington described when he spoke of the clever manner in which owners of the Pumpkin Farm reached out to residents of the townhouse development that sits nearby in Sadsbury. One day, the newbies were treated to the clop-clop sound of horse hooves on their development pavement.
It was the sound of Elias King’s family bringing produce door to door. “They started brining pumpkins, gourds, and home-grown vegetables in a horse and buggy,” Shellington said recently. “They’d knock door to door. Everyone now loves to see it. It is not everyday that you see a horse and buggy stop at your door.”
Shellington spoke about King and his family in the aftermath of the honor of King being named Chester County Farmer of the Year by the county’s Agricultural Council. The announcement was made at a recent county commissioners meeting. It is the first time that an Amish farmer has been given the award.
At the same time, the council announced that the group’s Distinguished Agricultural Service award was given to Sara Manning, who worked for the American Mushroom Institute for over 20 years before her retirement earlier this year.
Asked in a conversation at his farm outside Parkesburg for his reaction on learning he won the award, King expressed a combination of modesty and gratitude. “It was exciting for me,” he said. “I was surprised; I had never been nominated before. I don’t go around and look at other peoples farms. And I’m not trying to make myself better than anyone else.”
“If a business thrives, you know he (the owner) enjoys what he is doing,” said King, who works the farm with his wife Rebecca, his sister and brother-in-law and their family.
The Kings open their approximately 70-acre Parkesburg farm every fall to thousands of visitors for pumpkin picking right off the vine. King’s Pumpkin Farm also offers the opportunity to explore an elaborate corn maze, feed farm animals in the petting zoo and purchase a variety of locally produced farm products in the farm store.
In addition to the aspects of the farm that are open to the public on a seasonal basis, the Kings grow corn, soybeans and wheat, and operate a dairy in partnership with Elias’ sister, her husband and their family who also live on the farm, the agricultural council said.
At the commissioners’ meeting, Shellington, who nominated the Kings for the award on behalf of the county’s Open Space Preservation Department, said the nomination had come not only because of the Kings’ outreach efforts in their community, but also because of their sensitive farming techniques.
“We are impressed by their dedication to conservation practices like no-till cover cropping in the fields and strategic grazing practices for the dairy cows,” he said. “Elias and Rebecca also play an important role in their community, creating a welcoming atmosphere for area residents and their children on the farm.”
Later, Shelington explained that “no-till” farming had taken some bucking of the traditional system on the King’s behalf. But he said they grew to accept that the practice keeps the precious soil in place.
“They had to change their mindset,” he said. “Don’t disturb the soil. Keep it where we need it, not running down the roadway.”
“The Kings exemplify all the criteria the council looks for in a Farmer of the Year winner,” said council Director Hillary Krummrich. “They serve as role models for their industry, employ good conservation practices and have developed innovative ways to maintain and grow their thriving farm business.”
On a recent visit to the farm, King was happy to show his petting zoo operation, which he started in 2003.
“We always love having the public visit,” he said of the zoo, which has chickens, ducks and a pig.
But he stressed that Pumpkin Farm is an Amish operation. At the farm store, they use an honor system — even though they have had theft problems. He remembered catching a local man after he stole the cash change box.
After police caught the man he confronted him. The man told him his story. “I forgave him, I totally forgave him,” King said. The man said “I’m sorry.” And King said “I hope you come back as a customer.”
“If I can help a person straighten his life out by getting the help they need, that’s what I’m doing,” King said. “It makes me think, God in heaven sees us 24-7. His angels protect us, but we still have our part of actions to do.”
As to Manning, the council said she advocated for critical workplace safety initiatives that have helped bring safety training to mushroom house employees through creative means like convenient, portable iPhone applications,” said Krummrich. “Her passion and enthusiasm for the mushroom industry will be sorely missed by her colleagues across the county and beyond.”
The Chester County Agricultural Development Council promotes agriculture in Chester County by raising awareness on issues regarding the viability of local agriculture and promoting agricultural excellence and farming. For more information, visit www.chesco.org/agdev, Facebook and Instagram pages.