The Board of Chester County Commissioners and the Chester County Agricultural Development Council (Ag Council) present two annual awards, Farmer of the Year and Distinguished Agricultural Service. The Farmer of the Year award recognizes a farmer, farm family, partnership, etc., who maintains and exemplifies outstanding farming practices.
The Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Agricultural Service, named after a former long-serving and incredibly dedicated board member, honors an individual(s) who has positively promoted, made significant contributions to, or provided exceptional services for the Chester County agricultural community.
The 2023 Chester County Farmers of the Year award was presented to the Miller family, Ken and Sue Miller and their sons Randy and Jesse, who own and operate Birchrun Hills Farm, a dairy and cheesemaking business in Chester Springs, Pa. The Miller family was recognized for their dynamic business model, commitment to sustainable farming practices, and local food system advocacy.
First generation dairy farmers Ken and Sue Miller started farming in 1980 when Chester County farmland was plentiful to lease and milk prices were strong. After weathering years of volatile milk prices and rising land costs, they took a chance on cheesemaking in 2006 to secure more a stable future for their farm. Sue, the primary cheesemaker, credits support from Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, cheesemaking mentor Peter Dickson of Parish Hill Creamery in Vermont, and Di Bruno Brothers gourmet shops in Philadelphia for her early successes.
"It wasn't easy for us to start making cheese," Sue recalls. "Randy and Jesse were so young back then, and it took many special relationships with fellow farmers and a lot of family cooperation to allow us to explore this new venture."
Ken Miller, one of the first no-till farmers in the county, oversees the crop growing side of their business using sustainable farming practices to feed their 80-cow herd on owned and leased land. He is forever mindful of the watershed he and his family are stewards of and how the quality of the land and water is reflected in the flavors of the cheese they produce.
Birchrun Hills award-winning cheeses have developed a strong following of chefs, food critics and specialty retailers across the region. Cheese fans can find them at the Phoenixville, Bryn Mawr, Kennett Square and Headhouse farmers markets, and at their regular cheese and wine on-farm happy hours. They've even branched into hosting virtual cheese tasting events.
The Milller family is grateful for the ongoing support from their neighbors, friends, and farmers market customers as they look to eventually transition the farm to their sons Randy and Jesse. The next generation of the Miller family currently oversee Birchrun Hills' herd management, farmers market operations and assist Ken with the crops. Together the family compliments each other's skill sets and challenges one another to strive for excellence in all they do.
"We love connecting people with their food and what better way to do that than feeding them really good food on the farm it comes from," says Sue Miller. "We encourage people to get to know us and see how we raise the cows, and to truly appreciate the land our food comes from."
Listen to Sue Miller talk about what it means to be a dairy farmer and cheesemaker in Chester County on this episode of the Start Local podcast:
The Chester County Commissioners and Ag Council gave the Duncan Allison Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture to Dr. Kevin Hicks of Malvern, Pa., for his volunteer work shepherding sustainable forestry practices and invasive species removal at Lundale Farm in Pottstown. Lundale Farm is a community of regenerative farmers enhancing the ecology, health, and diversity of the land, and serves as a model for local food production and forest stewardship on over 500 acres of preserved land outside of Pottstown.
A retired USDA scientist, Hicks has brought his scientific acumen and problem-solving skills to help Lundale plan for and improve its wooded acres through exploring timbering, reforestation, managing invasives, planting riparian areas for agroforestry and the sale of carbon credits. As the board chair of the Sustainable Forestry Committee, Hicks is also tasked with leading groups of volunteers to implement his recommendations.
Hicks contends that the biggest question a landowner faces is what happens if they choose to do nothing to manage their woodlands.
"A hundred or even 50 years ago, nature would have taken its course," says Hicks. "We didn't have invasive species like we do today. Now Chester County is at the edge of the storm front, dealing with a huge amount of invasive species coming in on shipping materials from our nearby ports, things like lanternflies, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, stilt grass, and emerald ash borers."
Hicks and his wife Pam, also a board member at Lundale, work hand in hand with Lundale's leadership and tenant farmers to make sure any actions taken are a good fit for the nonprofit's organic, regenerative focus.
"Dr. Hicks is a wonderful ambassador for sustainable forestry in Chester County," says Ag Council Interim Director Ann Lane. "He cares deeply for the environment, on both a personal and professional level, and gives so much of his time to show what's possible for Lundale and other forested lands."
|Farmer of the Year
|Distinguished Service to Agriculture
|The Miller Family
|Dr. Kevin Hicks
|The Baily Family
|Sonya Beltran & Family
|Chester County Agriculture Community for Pandemic Food Assistance
|The Gable Family
|Duane and Marilyn Hershey
|Elias and Rebecca King
|The Team at Seven Stars Farm
|Howard and Janet Robinson
|Drs. Thomas and Barbara Schaer
|Dave and Roberta Rotelle
|Ike and Lisa Kerschner
|Norman Laffey Family and
Anthony and Karen Vietri
|Nancy L. Mohr
|Joseph and Ben Cordivano
|Donald (Buster) Needham
|Stan and Cathy Guest
|I. Glen Engle Family
|Phillips Mushroom Farm
|Angelo J. Zunino and Son Inc.
|Charles L. Roten
|Knight Run Farm
|George and Sue Lamborn
|Walmoore Holsteins, Inc.
|Gottlieb Strohmaier Family
|Gary W. Smith
|David Lantz Family
|The Raymond Harnish Family
|Furman Gyger, Jr.
|Tim Barlow and Ben Beiler
|Omar and Nelson Beam families
|G. Pownall Jones
|Hoopes Yarnall Family