Celebrating Produce

2/2/2013 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Special Sections Editor

Fruit, Vegetable Groups Honor Growers, Educators

HERSHEY, Pa. — Fruit and vegetable growers gathered for their annual awards banquet Tuesday as part of the 2013 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center.

“We have a national treasure here in Pennsylvania with our rich farmland, our strong agricultural heritage,” Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary George Greig said. “More and more people are looking for fresh, local produce, and you provide them.”

He said the department commissioned a study that found 93 percent of respondents wanted to purchase local produce.

To help improve the reach of specialty crops, 25 grants were issued last year through the specialty crop block grant program to look at different aspects of the industry such as food safety, nutrition and sustainability, said Greig, who thanked the farmers who participated and encouraged others to review the research to improve their own operations.

The Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association made history with the presentation of its annual award to Kathy Demchak, the first woman to receive its top honor.

Demchak is the Extension associate at Penn State who leads the university’s small fruits program. She and her sons also have volunteered at the vegetable association’s Ag Progress Days booth.

“She has developed a national reputation by coordinating writing and revision of the Mid-Atlantic Berry Guide,” Brian Campbell, the association’s president, said. “And she is a recognized authority on berry crop production in high tunnels. Most importantly, this person has gained the respect of the berry growers of Pennsylvania.”

Demchak was surprised at the announcement, and in accepting the award, she said her growers are like an “extended family” and thanked them for the opportunity to work with them.

Two lifetime membership awards were presented to a pair of retiring Extension educators — Bob Leiby of Lehigh County and Eric Oesterling of Westmoreland County. The vegetable association selected the pair for their work with growers.

Dwight Mickey collected the top grower award from the State Horticultural Association of Pennsylvania. The award was presented by last year’s award winner, Phil Baugher.

Mickey is a common fixture at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, Baugher said, logging more than 3,000 volunteer hours with the commodity displays over 27 years.

“He literally puts everything aside Farm Show week to support the industry he loves,” Baugher said. “He’s been there through blizzards, floods, ice storms, snowstorms, and always the fruit seems to make it to the Farm Show.”

His orchard, Shatzer Fruit Market, has collected more than 3,000 ribbons, 50 best of show and six best bushel awards.

Mickey has also volunteered his farm for research projects and has served on the horticultural association’s research, Farm Show, endowment and Extension committees.

Mickey said he’s seen a lot of families grow up during his time with Farm Show, and he thanked his own dad for “giving him the leeway to run the farm as I see fit most of the time.”

He also praised all the Extension staff for their work, saying, “They don’t get enough credit for what they do.” They were the ones, he said, who helped him “learn how to grow fruit.”

Carolyn McQuiston, president of the Pennsylvania horticultural association, presented the Best Bushel and Best Roadside stand exhibit awards to Hollabaugh Bros. Orchard.

Dave Duffield of the New Jersey Horticultural Society recognized Rutgers University Extension agent Jerry Frecon on his retirement. Frecon has a national reputation for his work with peaches.

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