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Chester County Ag Award Winners

The Board of Chester County Commissioners and the Chester County Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council) present two annual awards, Farmer of the Year and Distinguished Agricultural Service. The Farmer of the Year award recognizes a farmer, farm family, partnership, etc., who maintains and exemplifies outstanding farming practices.

The Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Agricultural Service, named after a former long-serving and incredibly dedicated board member, honors an individual(s) who has positively promoted, made significant contributions to, or provided exceptional services for the Chester County agricultural community.

Meet the Chester County Farmers of the Year

Sonya Beltran

Sonya Beltran, along with her family, received the 2020 Farmers of the Year award.

The Chester County Commissioners and the Ag Council presented the 2020 Chester County Farmers of the Year Award to Sonya Beltran and her family, owner-operators of First Generation Farms in Avondale, Pa. The Beltran family grows fresh white and cremini mushrooms for restaurant and food service customers up and down the East Coast.

Sonya was initially nominated on her own for the award by the American Mushroom Institute, for excellence as a mushroom grower and industry advocate. Upon receiving notice of the nomination, she requested that her family also be recognized: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents’ hard work and sacrifice.”

Sonya’s parents, Daniel and Maria Beltran, came to the area from Jalisco, Mexico in 1980. Daniel worked his way up through every job in the mushroom industry until he was able to buy his own mushroom houses and start the business now known as First Generation Farms and Masda Mushrooms.

From humble beginnings, the Beltran’s farm now encompasses over 50 growing rooms with an average production of around 11 million pounds of fresh mushrooms a year.

Sonya, the eldest of the Beltran’s three children, officially joined the business eight years ago and is currently the Director of Operations, overseeing worker safety, product marketing and sales.

Although the pandemic has been extremely challenging for the food service supply chain, Sonya says that worker safety has always been their business’ number one priority. To that end, she partnered with La Comunidad Hispana to offer voluntary onsite COVID-19 testing, and has worked with employees when they needed flexible schedules due to childcare disruption.

“Without the harvesters, we wouldn’t be here,” says Sonya.

In addition to her work on the farm, Sonya serves as the Vice Chair of the Mushroom Council, the national mushroom trade promotion group geared towards expanding the consumer market for fresh mushrooms.

“I’m excited about promoting “The Blend,” a cooking technique that combines chopped mushrooms with ground meat to make recipes more delicious, nutritious and sustainable,” says Sonya. “Mushrooms add Vitamin D, which is critical for healthy immune systems, and they are very cost-friendly for a pandemic budget.”

In the end, it all comes back to family though.

“There aren’t a lot of women mushroom growers, but I didn’t do this to be the next female Latina grower,” says Sonya. “I am honored to be able to do this work and expand my parents’ dream.”

The Duncan Allison Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award

In a typical year, the Chester County Commissioners and Ag Council present the Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture to a deserving individual who has positively promoted, made significant contributions to, or provided exceptional services for the county’s farming community.

Since this year has been anything but typical, the Commissioners and Ag Council have chosen to recognize the entire Chester County agriculture community for their many acts of service and food donations to residents in need during the pandemic.

Examples of this generosity abound including the Chester-Delaware Farm Bureau’s milk giveaways, the Chester County Food Bank’s longstanding gleaning programs in partnership with area farms and the mushroom industry which donated thousands of pounds of fresh mushrooms to food banks for distribution.

“We usually think of agriculture as Chester County’s top industry for economic reasons but its generosity of spirit, especially during tough times, is what makes agriculture the heart of our communities,” says Chester County Ag Council Board Chair Chris Alonzo.

Previous Winners

Year Farmer of the Year Distinguished Service to Agriculture
2020 Sonya Beltran & Family Chester County Agriculture Community for Pandemic Food Assistance
2019 The Gable Family Duncan Allison
2018 Duane and Marilyn Hershey Charles Graydus 
2017 Don Cairns Deborah Ellis 
2016 Elias and Rebecca King Sara Manning
2015 The Team at Seven Stars Farm
Lewis Wilkinson
Howard and Janet Robinson
2014 Robert Lange Robert Ray
2013 Drs. Thomas and Barbara Schaer
Peter Flynn
Daniel Miller
2012 Dave and Roberta Rotelle Larry Welsch
Terry Brett
2011 Ike and Lisa Kerschner
David Hodge
Joseph Fecondo
2010 Steve Castorani
Jane Pepple
2009 Norman Laffey Family and
Anthony and Karen Vietri
Nancy L. Mohr
Joseph and Ben Cordivano Donald (Buster) Needham
2007 Stan and Cathy Guest Charles Harris
2006 Karen Vollmecke
John Arrell
2005 I. Glen Engle Family
Dennis Byrne
2004 Phillips Mushroom Farm
Betsy Huber
2003 Angelo J. Zunino and Son Inc. Charles L. Roten
2002 Knight Run Farm George and Sue Lamborn
2001 Walmoore Holsteins, Inc. Arthur Hershey
2000 Gottlieb Strohmaier Family Gary W. Smith
1999 David Lantz Family Cheryl Fairbairn
1998 The Raymond Harnish Family Furman Gyger, Jr.
1997 Tim Barlow and Ben Beiler

1996 Matthews Family Robert Lange
1995 Rosazza Family Hoopes family
1994 Omar and Nelson Beam families G. Pownall Jones
1993 Yeatman Bros. Charlie Brosius
1992 Horace/Hazel Walton Charlie Gable
1991 Ken/Marilyn Umble Hoopes Yarnall Family
1990 Bill Beam Harold Kulp
1989 Mason Brothers Charlie Wollaston