DOVER, Del. — Four more families have been inducted into one of Delaware’s most exclusive clubs.
There are only 121 members in the club and the waiting list is long.
The “club” members are Delaware Century Farmers. The four families inducted on Nov. 1 bring the number of Delaware farms honored for being continuously in agriculture for at least a century to 121.
Delaware is a small state, but agriculture is still big business here. The Nov. 1 ceremony at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village attracted a number of state legislators, some of them former farmers themselves.
One legislator, Rep. David Wilson, R-Bridgeville, was among the four farm families honored.
Another century farm honored two sides of a family, the Pepper Family.
As always, family members spoke about the need to protect a heritage of farming and preserve the land for the next generation.
The audience included a number of previous Century Farm honorees, including three whose lands had been tilled since before the Civil War. One farm dated back to 1791.
“These families who farm generation after generation show a deep dedication and a love for the land,” said Gov. Jack Markell. “Looking back at Delaware’s agricultural history shows us how much we owe to those who came before us. I hope that their children and grandchildren will continue to carry on the tradition for many years to come.”
Century Farms must have been farmed by the same family for at least 100 years and must include at least 10 acres of the original parcel or gross a certain amount in agricultural sales.
The program began in 1987.
“These awards are testament to the dedication and hard work of many generations of Delaware families,” said Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Austin Short.
The four families honored included the Pepper Family, which has two parcels of land near Milton and Georgetown dating back to 1876 and 1879. The farm produces corn and soybeans.
The Walls family farm near Greenwood has been in the family since 1911 and is now in grain production.
Wilson Acres is a 105-acre farm near Georgetown that has been in the family since 1907 and now grows corn and soybeans.
The Breeding family was honored for its farm near Greenwood which has been in the family since 1911.
Guest speaker Tom Summers of the Delaware Public Archives spoke about the history of Delaware agriculture. Early settlers in Delaware grew tobacco successfully, but the quality was inferior to that of crops grown in Virginia, North Carolina or other states, he said.
One early written record describes a man being fined for smoking in the courthouse, he said.
His fine for the offense — 50 pounds of tobacco —he laughed.
Grain and beef cattle were early farm crops. Beef cattle took some four years to mature at the time, but are now ready for market in about 10 months, Summers said.
Milling would soon become a very important industry. Begun by the Quaker community in Brandywine in upstate Delaware, the milling industry was widely known as far away as Virginia, he said.
It was considered so important that George Washington advised millers to bury or hide their millstones to keep British troops from destroying the stones and crippling the industry.
Milling would eventually decline in importance, but other farm industries would arise.
In the 1830s, the first peach orchards were planted in Delaware. By 1890, Summers said, there were four million peach trees in Delaware. Now, only two peach orchards, located in Bridgeville and Camden, remain. Strawberries, potatoes and apples all enjoyed popularity at various times.
Canneries developed in the 1830s and almost 50 canneries dotted the state, including large and famous canneries like Draper-King Cole in Milton. Tomatoes, beans and sweet corn were among the crops handled by Delaware canneries.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for today’s Delaware farmers, the broiler chicken industry is believed to have started in Ocean View in 1923. That industry began when too many chicks were delivered to a farm in Ocean View.
Instead of simply keeping the chickens and producing eggs for sale, the Steele family raised the extra chickens and sold them to hotels for the summer tourist trade.
“The stories that these families have to tell are a vibrant and vital part of Delaware’s rich history,” Summers said. “Their farms and this program help make people more aware of the contributions of agriculture to our heritage and lives today.”