Resilience lauded – from white canes to grains

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Howard and Janet Robinson, recipients of Chester County's Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award, are shown on their farm in Oxford.

After being voted “most flirtatious” in high school, a Chester County resident went on to became a regional agricultural ambassador, and a woman whose father represented her first encounter with a blind person now works as an advocate for the visually impaired.

White Cane Day Proclamation
Carl Wenrich, board member of the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (left), and Mary Sue Boyle, the center's development director, display the proclamation from the Chester County Commissioners for White Cane Day on Oct. 15.

They were among the speakers on Thursday, Oct. 8, at the Chester County Commissioners’ meeting, a session that included a primer on challenges facing the blind as well as tributes to some of the county’s exemplary farmers.

Mary Sue Boyle, the administrative and development director for the Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired, said she appreciated the commissioners’ willingness to help raise awareness of White Cane Day, which will be observed on Thursday, Oct. 15.

Colleagues and members of the West Chester and West Goshen Lion’s Clubs joined Boyle, an avowed history buff. She said White Cane Day has been observed since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the first proclamation and commended the blind for their growing determination to be self-reliant. Boyle said one of the goals is to make motorists aware that the white cane signals people’s efforts to travel independently and safely. Boyle even brought along her father’s white cane as a visual aid for the audience.

The bulk of Thursday’s meeting involved agriculture, which remains the county’s leading industry. Hillary Krummrich, director of the county’s Agricultural Development Council, presented the Farmer of the Year Award and the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award.

Krummrich said for the second year in a row, two contenders were so impressive that the council decided that both deserved recognition: the team behind Seven Stars Farm in Phoenixville and Lewis Wilkinson of West Grove.

Seven Stars Farm Manager Mark Dunphy, a first-generation farmer, received kudos for a biodynamic, certified organic operation, occupied by what Krummrich called “the happiest-looking cows I’ve ever seen.” Seven Stars produces 10,000 pounds of organic yogurt per day that’s distributed nationally, Dunphy said. The farm operates on approximately 350 acres of preserved land leased from the Kimberton Waldorf School, with whom Seven Stars shares a strong reciprocal relationship.

Dunphy said it’s particularly gratifying to help children understand their natural surroundings: “to milk a cow, see a calf born.”

Lewis Wilkinson, who farms 1,000 of acres of preserved land each year, is shown on his farm in West Grove.
Lewis Wilkinson, who farms 1,000 of acres of preserved land each year, is shown on his farm in West Grove. He is one of two recipients of the county's Farmer of the Year Award.

The co-recipient was Lewis Wilkinson, who is known as a crop or custom farmer because he not only farms his own property, but he also tends thousands of acres of preserved open space, such as parts of the former King Ranch in West Marlborough Township.

“Lew is integral to that [farmland preservation] system,” said Krummrich, explaining that his hay crop benefits both the mushroom and dairy industry in the area.

Wilkinson cited advances in agricultural technology, in both precision farming equipment and genetic engineering, as the key factors that have enabled him to increase yield and scale over his 38 years of farming. For example, GPS on his combine ensures that rows don’t overlap during planting, he said. To save the soil, he sows no-till corn, soy, and alfalfa.

“On the face of it, Lewis Wilkinson’s operation and Seven Stars Farm appear to have little in common,” said Krummrich. “However, both family-run operations play vital economic roles in the county and are the products of farmers who care deeply for the land and natural resources in their care. We are fortunate to have such a diversity of successful farm businesses here in Chester County.”

The Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award went to Howard and Janet Robinson, active Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau members since 1968. Both have held long-term leadership positions in the chapter and its various subcommittees. They are also active members of their local Grange organization and school board, and they supported the creation of the Oxford Village Market, which has helped revitalize the downtown Oxford area.

Janet Robinson said both of them grew up on farms. “Agriculture has played a major role in our lives,” she acknowledged, noting that they felt “proud and blessed to live in Chester County, where agriculture is still the No. 1 industry.”

Howard Robinson jokingly linked his wife’s ability to sign up 200 new Farm Bureau members during their 47 years as members to her “most flirtatious” designation in high school. “I think that’s helped us a lot,” he said.

In other business, the commissioners accepted a recommendation to name Chester County Bridge No. 185, which traverses French Creek in the Borough of Phoenixville, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge, and they presented a citation to Jan Leaf, who runs the Lord’s Pantry, a Downingtown-based food cupboard celebrating 50 years of service to the community.

The commissioners also adopted a resolution authorizing participation in the Stepping Up initiative, a program designed to reduce the number of people with mental illnesses in the criminal justice system.

Commissioner Kathi Cozzone said Chester County is the fourth county in the state to sign on, and she said she believed that the program would enhance some of the efforts already underway in the county to provide effective services to residents whose mental illnesses are often at the root of their infractions. Cozzone expressed thanks to fellow Commissioners Terence Farrell and Michelle Kichline for their support.


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