The New Face of Farming
Times change, and so do farms. In the information age, GPS and the Internet are keeping Delaware’s family operations on the cutting edge. Some good ol’ fashioned ice cream doesn’t hurt.
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Even in the densely populated Wilmington suburbs off Foulk Road, a family farm still thrives. Surrounded by the developments Perth, Pembrey and Penart, which were built on part of the original farmland, sits the retail shop for Highland Orchards. Today it is owned and operated by mother and daughter Elaine and Ruth Linton. Ruth is a sixth-generation farmer on the last six acres.
Ruth’s grandfather sold only what he grew. To appeal to today’s customer, which is accustomed to one-stop shopping, “We’ve had to expand what we grow and carry.” That means you can find out-of-season items, milk, baked goods, juice and specialty items such as olives in the Highland store. “They can get practically their whole food selection here,” Linton says. She also sees an increase in the demand for local produce. “We’ve got a core group of people who support the farm and local produce. They understand that if they don’t, it will be replaced by a housing development.”
One of the common threads between Hastings, Hopkins, the Lintons, the Fifers and Fennemore is that each was encouraged to leave the farm, get an education, and explore their interests and careers. Yet each at different stages acknowledged the importance of family heritage, and each chose to return to the farm.
Kee points to an ongoing challenge. “How do you make farming attractive enough that the next generation is interested in doing it?” he says. “That’s where family history comes in.”
Working on the farm growing up, Hopkins was determined to break away.
“I guess I kind of resented it awhile, and I really wanted to get away from the farm,” he says. Talking to buddies about their aspirations one day during his freshman year of college, “I said I knew what I wanted to do. I guess I had to get away to realize.”
Fennemore and Linton also pursued
different careers before returning to Delaware. For several years after college, Fennemore worked in chemical marketing in Charlottesville, Virginia. After his first son was born, he found himself drawn back to the family business. Linton was a museum curator and operated an art gallery in Colorado. She, too, grew to miss the family business.
Some Delaware farms will start and end with one generation, but they will still carve out a niche in today’s market. Bob and Barbara Russell grow an assortment of herbs, vegetables, micro greens and other specialties exclusively for upscale restaurants at the beach.
After leaving northern Delaware for other careers, Bob and Barbara returned to Sussex County to help run a family-owned marina. They bought a farm and began gardening on the side. In 1985 Bob decided to promote his product to local restaurants.
The Russells farmed in Milton for 18 years, but fled to a new location when nearby development threatened. Now working two acres in Milford Neck, they are enjoying their 26th year.
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