2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Michael Short Delaware Correspondent
DOVER, Del. — A very surprised Walter C. Hopkins Sr. was honored with the Distinguished Service to Delaware Agriculture Award during Delaware’s annual agriculture industry dinner.
Hopkins is a dairy farmer in Cool Spring, a community near Lewes, and he’s well known in agriculture circles. His Green Acres Farm is a fourth-generation century farm, and his newest venture, a creamery, has drawn rave reviews from ice cream lovers who regularly overdose on its 14 percent butterfat delights.
Chocolate banana walnut is among the favorites at the creamery, which boasts that it isn’t the place “for serious year-round dieters.”
The annual dinner was held on Thursday, Jan. 24 at Dover Downs. The distinguished service award was treated like a state secret, no easy task in a small state where secrets are hard to keep.
But the Delaware Department of Agriculture and Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee were able to keep the news, the highlight of the 42nd annual dinner, under wraps. A number of Hopkins’ family were in the audience, but they were seated at different tables out of his sight.
The subterfuge worked.
“I am at a loss for words,” Hopkins told the audience of about 400, who gave him a standing ovation.
“It really stunned me. I felt very honored to be included in such a prestigious group of men,” he said. “I never considered myself worthy of the honor. ... Some of the others have just dedicated their whole lives to agriculture beyond their farms.”
Green Acres is Delaware’s largest dairy farm, producing more than 12 million pounds of milk each year. They have more than 1,000 head of cows (about 500 milkers), according to the Hopkins Farm Creamery website.
In 2012, the farm was honored with the Sussex County Agricultural Conservation Award from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).
“Walter Hopkins exemplifies the best qualities of Delaware agriculture: hard work, dedication and community leadership,” Kee said. “His service to our state is exceptional, and the economic contributions and innovations on his family’s farm are unparalleled. We need more people like him to lead our industry.”
Gov. Jack Markell praised Hopkins’ contributions to agriculture.
“Delaware farms are a vitally important part of our economy, and no one knows that better than Walter Hopkins,” Markell said. “He has continued his family’s long tradition of excellence and service, and deserves our thanks for his leadership.”
Every spring, Hopkins and his family work with the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Service to offer school tours to young children, who get to see farm animals, hold baby chicks and experience a taste of life on the family farm. Hopkins said he feels it’s a duty to help educate people about farms and farming.
Green Acres Farm has been owned and operated by the same family for four generations, according to the creamery’s website. Grandfather William Hopkins started at the current location in 1942, after separating his dairy farm business from great-grandfather Alden Hopkins, who started the original dairy. Walter C. Hopkins Sr., the son of William, took over the farm, and now works side-by-side with his son, Walter C. “Burli” Hopkins Jr.
Walter Sr. came up with the idea for an on-farm creamery, and Burli took it and ran. Hopkins Farm Creamery opened in 2008. Burli’s goal is “to help people gain a better firsthand understanding of how dairy food products are actually produced, and how they get from the farm to supermarket shelves,” according to the website.
Hopkins has served on the board of MidAtlantic Farm Credit since 1988. He also is a member of the Delaware Farm Bureau, Land O’ Lakes Cooperative, Genex Cooperative and the Holstein Association, as well as Jefferson Lodge No. 15 A.F. & A.M. and Coolspring Presbyterian Church. He is a former president of the Cape Henlopen School Board.
Past recipients of the award include U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Michael Scuse, a former Delaware secretary of agriculture (2012); Delmarva Farmer senior editor Bruce Hotchkiss (2012); James Baxter of Georgetown (2011); brothers David, Ed and Robert Baker of Middletown (2010) and Bill Vanderwende of Bridgeville (2009).
The award was the highlight of the evening, but attendees were also treated to the short film “Delaware Agriculture: Farming in the First State.” The new film is expected to be distributed to Delaware schools.
A representative from the Miyagi Prefecture in Japan also spoke. The Miyagi Prefecture is a “sister state” to Delaware, and the region devastated by the Japanese earthquake and tsunami has been the site of agricultural exchanges between Delaware and Japan.
Delaware wines have traveled to Japan with Markell and Thursday’s dinner included samples of a new type of Japanese fish cake, a popular snack food in Japan, given to guests as they left.
Takahiro Ito thanked Delawareans for their help after the tsunami. He read a statement from the governor of the prefecture, saying the region has been able to “stand strong” with “support from our friends in Delaware.”
Delaware farmers and producers interested in selling their products overseas, including to Japan, can apply for funding to help get their products to international markets through the STEP Grant program offered by the Delaware Department of State International Trade Group. The deadline for applications is Feb. 15. More information is available at www.STEP.delaware.gov.