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.
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.”
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.
|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
|Howard and Janet Robinson|
|2014||Robert Lange||Robert Ray|
|2013||Drs. Thomas and Barbara Schaer
|2012||Dave and Roberta Rotelle||Larry Welsch
|2011||Ike and Lisa Kerschner
|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|
|2005||I. Glen Engle Family
|2004||Phillips Mushroom Farm
|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|