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Chester County Ag Council

Celebrating the Past, Farming for the Future

A feature from the 2021 Farm Prodcuts Guide.

Visitors come to Chester County for many reasons, but arguably the region's historic significance and vibrant farming community are two of the biggest reasons.

Thornbury Farm (Westtown Twp.)

Thornbury Farm

In many cases, history and agriculture beautifully intersect to create unique visitor experiences steeped in Chester County charm.

History is Randell Spackman's passion. As the third generation owner of 300-year-old Thornbury Farm and president of the Chaddsford Historical Society, he knows he is simply the current owner in a long line of stewards of a farm whose story includes being the site of the final troop engagement of the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777.

In addition to hosting troop activity, Thornbury Farm's barn and spring house were used to hold prisoners and the main house was used as a hospital. Many paranormal enthusiasts have reported that spirits still haunt on the property.

Other notable Thornbury history includes the fact that the "main house" was the first quarried home in Pennsylvania and was built using the property's own quarry. It was later used as Chester County's first public library. In addition, the main house and a second farm house built in 1812 were used as stops on the Underground Railroad.

Although he loves the past, Spackman runs the farm with an eye to the future. He recognizes how important a farm like this is to upcoming generations: "Thornbury isn't only a place to learn where our country comes from, it's where we can bring our kids to show them where our food comes from."

Spackman says his biggest challenge is trying to celebrate Thornbury's history while keeping it a working farm. Previously, much of the land was used for crop production, but Spackman started a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) operation in 2009 as a way to engage the community more closely through offering a range of produce.

Over the years, he and his family have developed other creative ways to captivate guests with a blend of farm experiences. Visitors can explore the farm through special tours and visits to the on-farm store for fresh produce. They also hold weddings, corporate retreats and live music events with accompanying food trucks.

"Hosting events on the farm introduces people to Chester County's history, and when event caterers use Thornbury-grown vegetables and fruit, they enjoy the flavor of our region," says Spackman.

Spackman's favorite part of owning a historic farm is when people visit for the first time: "I love when people get to see what we are doing to preserve our farm's history and then get to taste the food we grow here. Their eyes open up with amazement."

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Warwick Furnace Farm (Warwick Twp.)

Warwick Furnace Farm

Warwick Furnace Farm's many historic structures, including stone buildings and barns dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, had stood unoccupied for decades when the Rosen family came across the property listing in 2016. The early 19th Century dairy barn — one of the largest in Chester County — was being considered for demolition.

"It was a captivating place, much like the Secret Garden overgrown and a bit neglected, but there was something special here," says Dolly Rosen, matriarch of the family.

The farm is adjacent to the historic Warwick Furnace, established in 1738 by Anna Nutt, who oversaw its completion and its operations after her husband died. The furnace furnished armaments for George Washington, produced the Franklin stove and manufactured the components for the first metal-clad ship during the Civil War. In the mid-20th Century, the farm was an award winning dairy.

Warwick Furnace Farm is now home to Dolly and Ed Rosen and their four grown daughters (Claire, Lillie, Charlotte and Camille), a pandemic arrangement that has proven beneficial to their budding lavender business.

"We love that this property was established by a woman, it's so fitting for our family," laughs Lillie.

The Rosens currently grow several varieties of Certified Naturally Grown lavender, which they distill into essential oils onsite and process into a line of home and beauty products. The restored buildings set the tone for their business's aesthetic, as well as housing their farming operations and on-farm store.

"We strive to be environmentally thoughtful in our farming, production and packaging choices, taking inspiration from the past" says Lillie.

They also welcome visitors for pick-your-own lavender harvests starting in June in fields overlooking the preserved French Creek valley.

Starting their farm business has been a labor of love for the entire family, however, the preservation of the farm's historic structures continues to be a significant undertaking. They encourage municipalities to appreciate how powerful a tool adaptive reuse can be for long term preservation of historic properties.

"We have received wonderful support from our neighbors as they've seen the farm come back to life," says Claire. "We are very lucky to be a part of the story being told here."

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