Founded in 1944, Delaware Farm Bureau is celebrating 75 years of promoting and protecting Delaware agriculture through education and advocacy. By grassroots action, all the way up to the American Farm Bureau Federation, Delaware Farm Bureau stays on top of national, state and local issues of interest to its farmer members and advocates on behalf of those farmers in Dover and Washington, D.C.
The three county Farm Bureaus support community efforts such as helping pack food for Mountaire’s Thanksgiving for Thousands, providing milk to hungry children by means of the annual 5K Milk Run/Walk and stocking the cupboards at the Ronald McDonald House at BayHealth Kent General in Dover.
Educating consumers is a key goal of Delaware Farm Bureau and the Delaware Farm Bureau Foundation. That education starts at an early age, with a mobile Ag Lab available to visit elementary schools and a Book Barn project that aims to place a colorful bookcase with “ag correct” books in every elementary school library in the state.
In this anniversary year, Delaware Farm Bureau would like to salute women in agriculture. Women have always played a role in farming operations, whether handling the bookkeeping, preparing dinner at noon or taking meals to the fields, driving trucks and tractors, feeding livestock or serving as go-fer. Many women contribute to a farm’s success by working an off-farm job for the sake of a steady income and health insurance. In more and more cases, the farmer is female.
According to the 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture, 36 percent of U.S. farmers and ranchers are women, and 56 percent of all U.S. farming operations have at least one female decision maker.
One of these decision makers is Dr. Janet Mitchell, an essential part of Woodside Farm in New Castle County, where her husband, Jim Mitchell, and his family have farmed for more than 220 years. Janet is a practicing veterinarian, now a part-time associate at Hockessin Animal Hospital. In spring, when not in the veterinary clinic, Janet can be found in the barn, taking care of the Jersey calves. She helps if a cow has a problem giving birth — like the one this year that had a calf born breech, then surprised them with a second calf.
“Jim calls me his first line of defense,” she said. Being a small animal veterinarian, Janet works closely with the large animal veterinarians at University of Pennsylvania New Bolton’s field service. She helps with all vaccine protocol and feeding recommendations for the dairy.
Janet also oversees retail sales of farm-made ice cream at Woodside Farm Creamery, an enterprise the couple added to the farm operation in 1998. She single-handedly “manned” the creamery’s ice cream truck during the DFB Foundation’s recent 5K Milk Run/Walk in Dover.
While Janet has been active in the Delaware Veterinary Medical Association and twice served as its president, Jim has been active in Delaware Farm Bureau. He served as second vice president last year and has served on the New Castle County Farm Bureau board of directors and the state board.
Roland and Laura Hill own and operate the 1,600-acre Deerfield Farm in Lewes along with their sons, Roland III and Jerad. “It takes all four of us collectively to make this farm run successfully,” Laura said.
The family grows grain and vegetables — including peas, lima beans and black-eyed peas — and also operate a 105,000-capacity poultry operation.
In their case, Laura is the one more heavily involved in the Delaware Farm Bureau. She was the first woman to be elected as a DFB officer — as second vice president in 2012 — and was elected to a second term as first vice president in 2018. Roland serves on the Sussex County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and Sussex County Conservation Board and has been active in the Delaware Soybean Board.
Laura is also chair of the DFB Food Booth at the Delaware State Fair, the principal source of funding for DFB Women’s Committee scholarships. She also has served on the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission since 2009, appointed by the House of Representatives to represent Sussex County poultry farmers.
When she and fellow DFB member Barbara Sapp of Milton were honored with the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service to Delaware Agriculture in 2014, then Ag Secretary Ed Kee said, “Laura Hill and Barbara Sapp are two of the most outstanding leaders in First State farming we have today. Both have served their communities and state with great distinction as part of the Delaware Farm Bureau and representing agriculture on the Nutrient Management Commission.”
Mary Bea Gooden comes from a well-known farming family in Woodside. Olin Gooden, her father, farmed all his life and was active in farm organizations, as was her mother, Bea. Olin was president of the Kent County Farm Bureau for years while Bea was secretary/treasurer and state women’s chair, a position her daughter now holds.
Mary Bea learned from her parents the value of hard work. Her father told her once, “Don’t you follow. You lead. Get up and go. Drive yourself to go.”
Olin’s advice has served his daughter well. She was active in school affairs, 4-H and FFA. She was president of the FFA for two years and a state officer for two years. For two years she was listed in “Who’s Who among American High School Students.”
She married, had three children and worked on the farm. She drove herself to go on, even after two bad auto accidents. “You laugh out loud and you go on. I taught my kids by being a model: work, rehab, and go on. I do what I like to do: agriculture. The best thing is to be out on the tractor farming the ground.”
When she started out farming on her own, Mary Bea custom farmed. She bought a hay baler, a bale wrapper, a tractor and a truck. “Wherever they needed help with hay, I went,” she said. “I came off the road when I inherited my parents’ farm.”
She will help a friend or neighbor any time there is a need. She has milked cows, mowed hay, worked ground, hauled liquid manure… “whatever needs to be done, that’s how I go.”
Mary Bea also shows horses, qualifying for world championships twice. She is president of the Eastern Shore Western Horse Show Association.
Busy? Yes. Mary Bea said, “I’m far from being done. I’ll probably still be going, with my kids trying to keep me from the tractor, when I’m 80. I’m a full-time farmer and I love it.”
Delaware Farm Bureau salutes these women and all those involved in agriculture.
All women who are farmers, ranchers, employees in an agricultural business or students in ag-related higher education are invited to participate in a “Women in Ag” online survey launched by the AFBF. It is accessible at fb.org/women. Respondents need not be Farm Bureau members but must be U.S. residents.
“You don’t have to be a farmer to join Farm Bureau,” said Laura Hill. For more information on the Delaware Farm Bureau, visit defb.org or call 302-697-3183.