Most of our long-time customers know Pete’s propensity to experiment with new ideas. His journey as a farmer can be tracked by this very tendency.
We all know the story. In 1989, he was only a few years into his dairy farming career when he tried his hand at growing sweet corn. He started selling it out of the back of his pickup truck, and once word spread around town just how good Pete’s corn was, he opened up a little stand. That little stand led to a bigger stand (on the site that is now Bayard Rustin High School), before it was relocated to its current location at Westtown School. After 30-plus years in the field (ha!), Pete has certainly earned his slogan—“Our business is growing.”
Here’s another story that is lesser known. In 1996, Pete had a new experiment that turned out to be an elegant solution to a fairly common problem. The problem? Fruits and veggies were ripening in the field faster than he could harvest and sell them at the store, which led to his participation in Chester County’s Gleaning Program. This program was designed to gather excess harvest from local farmers to be distributed to our neighbors who were in need. Pete took this idea a step further when he became the first farmer to set aside a portion of farmland with the express purpose of growing specifically for the Gleaning Program.
Each season since has featured its own set of unique challenges and achievements. As the main growing site for the Chester County Food Bank’s Agricultural Program, we’re proud to say we have continually met an obligation to maximize our output for the community. What started as a two-acre project has developed into a tightly efficient five-to-seven acres at any given point in the season. “The biggest challenge right now is this early drought,” says Bill Shick, the CCFB’s on-staff farmer at Pete’s, who’s out there today to give the fields a drink. This time last year, if you recall, he and Pete were faced with a much different set of problems.
Even before COVID-19, almost 75,000 individuals in Chester County were at risk for food insecurity (defined by the CCFB as “a limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate food to feed their families”). Then, when the pandemic hit, Chester County saw a 30% increase in need, and Pete made plans to quadruple the number of plantings for the Food Bank. However, the Food Bank also saw a 65% decrease in volunteers, due in part to corporate groups being unable to volunteer in the capacity that they had in previous seasons. In effect, the CCFB’s Agricultural Program last year produced more food by fewer hands, and we owe a big thank you to the individual volunteers who dedicated their time and labor to last year’s new challenges.
Ironically, the new thing this year seems to be a step toward some normalcy. Corporate volunteers have returned to the fields, and yesterday was the first big harvest of the season. Lucky for us, a team from the local business Venerable wasn’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They picked hundreds of pounds of kale and collard greens, and they planted and staked thousands (!) of pepper plants.
It’s amazing to think that this is our 25th season working with the Chester County Food Bank. We encourage you to visit their site (https://chestercountyfoodbank.org) to learn more about their excellent work for our community—and to look for volunteer opportunities! It’s a pleasure to work with them in service of our mutual goal “to ensure access to real, healthy food.”