"When you're a farmer, you work till the job gets done," says Farmer of the Year Darryl King. In his case, that job could be everything from planting and harvesting row crops on his 220-acre farm in West Grove, to mentoring new and beginning farmers, or advocating for environmentally friendly farming practices and land preservation.
"I dream of leaving the land in better shape than how I got it during my turn to care for it," says King. "My goal for my farm is to bridge the gap between farmer and consumer. I want people to understand how much effort I put into the farm and the crops."
King and his wife Pam grow corn, soy, wheat and barley, primarily for animal feed, on their farm and on several other leased properties in the county. He also provides no-till drill rental and trucking services to other area farmers.
King comes from a long line of Chester County farmers with strong ties to the local farm community and the natural resources they steward.
"Darryl was nominated by the Chester County Ag Land Preservation Board for his dedication to farming and to the land," says Geoff Shellington, Agricultural Programs Coordinator in the Parks and Preservation Department. "Darryl is always the first person to help someone in need, whether helping to rebuild a barn after a fire or providing guidance with the settings on a no-till drill."
According to King, land preservation is extremely underrated when compared to other kinds of possible land uses.
"What costs a community more money long term: a farmer or a housing development?" he asks. "Farmland doesn't burden the present infrastructure like development does. Think about wear and tear on the roads, increased police force, installing and maintaining new utilities and infrastructure."
King is also known as a farmer advocate for environmental best practices but acknowledges that he didn't always farm with them foremost in mind.
He cites his friend Jay Hicks, a fellow Chester County crop farmer, who has been a positive influence on how his farming practices have changed over the years. He also credits his wife Pam, a Chester County Conservation District Agricultural Resource Conservationist (and daughter of a former Farmer of the Year award recipient), who has helped him develop their farm's conservation plan as well as practices he uses on the properties they lease.
Not every farmer is lucky enough to be married to a conservationist though, and King understands that no one wants to be told how to do their jobs better. "I can talk to other farmers who are still tilling their fields about the benefits of switching to no-till and implementing cover crops because I've been through the process personally and am willing to help them avoid making the mistakes I've made," he says.
King not only builds soil health, but he also understands the importance of building the agricultural community in southern Chester County.
"When you meet Darryl, you can see that his inclination to work with and mentor other young farmers isn't just a part of his business model, it's his philosophy and way of life," says Commissioner Marian Moskowitz. "It's inspiring to hear young entrepreneurs like him who take the time to build up their communities and share the knowledge with their peers."
"It's important for me to be there when tragedy strikes or when a fellow young farmer gets started," he says. "The world would be such a cold and lonely place if us farmers only viewed one another as competitors and threats to our own operations."
Helping others in need is not just a result of King's deep religious faith and personal beliefs; supporting his fellow farmer also makes business sense.
Says King: "If small dairies go out of business, then feed mills go, and then it becomes too expensive to truck your grain to far off mills so then the smaller row crop farms go. All of our businesses are related."
Developing a strong farming network is a big part of his vision for the future of Chester County agriculture. He and an informal group of about fifteen other young farmers regularly text about weather conditions and what's working and not working on their respective farms. They share equipment and pitch in on each other's farms when needed.
"I don't own a lot of equipment; sharing amongst friends is handy, but I value the relationships I build with other farmers," says King. "In my grandfather's time we all helped each other and if we aren't careful, we might lose that way of life. If we lose that way of life, our farming community will suffer."