Growing up in a suburban neighborhood in Berwyn, no one in Liz Hopkins' family ever imagined that she would grow up to be a farmer. But Hopkins thrives on challenges and breaking the mold.
"I've always been an independent person," she laughs. "My parents can vouch for the pains I've caused them."
Hopkins puts those qualities to work every day as she and her husband Gary grow their Oxford farm businesses: Honeymoon Farm and Medina Mushrooms. They currently sell nine varieties of mushrooms including familiar white button mushrooms and exotic varieties like Lion's Mane and Maitake, and pastured poultry at farmers markets in Chester County, Maryland and Delaware.
"Our dining room is our marketing headquarters. We have a commercial refrigerator for mushrooms and shelves for market bags and equipment. We haven't had dinner in there in months," says Hopkins.
Hopkins' journey from non-farming suburbanite to beginning farmer was anything but direct.
Inspired to help the public, she initially pursued a career in public safety administration and trained as an EMT and firefighter. Although she is still passionate about public safety, she always felt pulled towards agriculture.
Hopkins, first meaningful contact with food production happened when she befriended culinary students in college.
"Food was my introduction to the idea that good ingredients come from good farms," she says.
Through her friends' studies, she got to see how butchers break down a whole animal into parts and joined them as they visited different kinds of restaurants in their college town.
Another pivotal influence in her farming journey came when she met her now-husband, Gary Hopkins, a fourth generation mushroom farmer.
"Our first date was an evening farm check at his family's mushroom farm,"she recalls.
After her husband's family took some steps into mushroom direct retail sales, Liz officially established Medina Mushrooms in 2016, bringing the family mushroom business more permanently to retail markets.
While her husband, his father and other family members continue to focus on production for their wholesale and contracted accounts, she enjoys bringing mushrooms to the public at farmers markets.
"I love sharing our farm story with people and talking about all of the new ingredients and recipes they are trying at home," she says.
Hopkins was initially worried that her parents might not approve of her farming aspirations after training so long for public safety, but her worries were unfounded.
"They have seen the struggles and the successes as we have built our farm business and have always supported me," she says.
Although their fresh, exotic mushrooms are often what draw customers, poultry is Hopkin's true passion.
Instead of taking a traditional honeymoon after they got married, the couple decided to invest the money in expanding their farm to include pastured heirloom and conventional breed chickens and turkeys. They also wanted a new farm name to encompass future products they plan to sell.
"We had been talking about what trips we wanted to take, but that money would have equaled a lot of chickens and infrastructure. Gary said he'd much rather spend that money on our forever honeymoon — our farm."
But starting a farm hasn't been as simple as picking a great farm name and sacrificing a honeymoon.
Like many new and beginning farmers, Liz and Gary Hopkins are working towards either buying the farm they currently lease or looking for an affordable property where they can expand their operations to include more types of poultry and adding a processing facility.
With the pandemic highlighting the importance of a strong, local meat supply and the shortage of nearby meat processing facilities, they are pursuing training and certification to build a USDA- inspected poultry processing facility designed to support their farm and other farms in the region.
"I see real opportunity to strengthen our local food systems and farming communities," says Hopkins. "But we need to get the property first."
As Hopkins' parents can attest, this new and beginning farmer thrives on a good challenge.