NEWARK, Del. — The Cooperator of the Year Award recognizes the outstanding efforts of local farms producers in New Castle County, Delaware. For the first time, an urban agriculture enterprise was recognized along with a traditional agriculture operation.
Bellevue Farms, overseen by farm director Elisa King and her team, began life in 2014 on the site of a former baseball field located behind the Bellevue Community Center in Bellefonte, DE. Elisa had previous experience starting a community garden (the Garden at Linden) in the town of Elsmere. It consisted of raised beds on top of a former basketball court. Bellevue Farms consists of community garden beds and the farm market growing area. At Bellevue Farms, Elisa and her team have received many grants to support the expansion of the farm. Grants from the New Castle Conservation District funded an outdoor food prep station, the installation of a water line, a 1000-gallon water cistern, and a drip irrigation system. In addition, Madison Walter, urban ag coordinator for the Conservation District, worked with Bellevue Farms to offer virtual and in-person workshops during the 2020/2021 growing seasons. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service provided funding for a hoop house. The First State Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. provided grant funding for pollinator habitat, a bee condo, and a portable farm market stand. A Sprouts Farmers Market Foundation Neighborhood grant in 2021 helped to expand garden and nutrition-based afterschool programs for middle and high schoolers to reach more youth, build partnerships with Junior Achievement Delaware and New Castle County 4-H Clubs, and create year-round growing opportunities with hydroponics in the classroom. Bellevue Farms offers a very robust educational program for local youth.
During 2020, Bellevue Farms was a distribution site for the USDA Farmers to Families program delivering 200 fresh food boxes per week to community members in need. Bellevue Farms believes building a stronger local food system makes communities more resilient. Pivoting during the COVID response, the farm focused on partnering with other small growers and organizations, expanding outreach for youth garden and nutrition through out of school programs, and connecting the community to local food access points including the on-site farm stand.
Elisa is very involved with the Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition where she serves on the groups steering committee and has been working towards establishing a local food hub. Bellevue Farms is working with Urban Acres Produce in the City of Wilmington to establish a food distribution business that supports small local farms and increases fresh food access equity. 2020 saw the expansion of Bellevue Farmer’s Market when the New Castle County Farmer’s Market program adopted it as an official site. The market operates on Fridays from May through October and hosts many local businesses, food trucks, craft brewers and educational outreach as well as live music.
Willoughby Farms in Middletown, DE is run by the father and son team of Robert Willoughby Sr. and Robert Willoughby Jr. They are a small family grain farm primarily growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and barley. The farm was established in 1933 and Robert Sr. took over from his parents in 1972 and Robert Jr. in more recent years. They farm approximately 1500 acres with 84 acres on the home farm and the remainder as rental acreage. Robert Sr. began using no-till back in the early 1980’s and they now practice both no-till and minimum tillage using a no-till ripper. They use the District’s Cost-Share program and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service EQIP program for planting cover crop – usually wheat, barley, clover, and radish. Regular barley is grown as well as malt barley for Proximity Malt Brewery in Laurel, Delaware. Cover crops help to hold nutrients in place and have increased the organic matter in the soil to around 2.5%. Besides minimum tillage, they practice in-furrow nitrogen application and have the soil tested annually. Precision agriculture is practiced using the tractor’s GPS system to take grid samples and perform yield mapping. The corn is tissue tested to check on nitrogen levels.
Robert Sr. and his wife Dorothy have four children: Glen Willoughby, Connie Willoughby, Robin Blendt, and Robert Jr. Robert Jr. and his wife Michelle have four children: Thomas Brittingham III, Robert Willoughby III, Macie Napoli, and Hunter Willoughby.
An awards ceremony will be scheduled in spring 2022
–New Castle Conservation District