Mar 20, 2009
Growers Operate On-campus Farm Market

As spring was breaking, an unusual “marriage” was taking place in southeast Pennsylvania.

Shady Brook Farm, one of the few remaining working farms in Bucks County just north of Philadelphia, had struck a deal with Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., one of the few non-land-grant colleges in America with programs that teach agriculture.

Shady Brook is owned by the Fleming family, which operates a successful farm, farm market and garden center near Yardley, Pa. This spring, the Flemings took over management of the farm market at Delaware Valley College, a market the college started in 2003 with a beautiful facility and ambitious goals, but closed after only four seasons.

This new arrangement has created lots of excitement and re-ignited idealistic aspirations. Under the new management, the market was scheduled to re-open on March 20, followed by a grand opening two weeks later. The atmosphere during preparations was like homecoming, spring break and the senior prom all rolled into one big package.

In a nutshell, the Flemings will manage the market and sell what they produce on their farm at this new location, as well as through their established Shady Brook Farm market. The college will provide products the students raise on almost 200 acres of land, plus incorporate the market into the agricultural curriculum as a hands-on place where students can work and learn how to run a retail facility.

The management agreement was signed in January and many of the details were ironed out during a meeting at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Hershey, Pa., in February. The name of the new market: The Market at Delaware Valley College by Shady Brook Farm.

Delaware Valley College

DelVal, as everyone calls it, is a different kind of place. It has about 2,000 students, who pay $12,364 a year for tuition and another $4,531 for room and board. Students attend a college that combines aspects of an Ivy League liberal arts program with lots of agricultural programming – backed by actual work in production and marketing.

Jackie Ricotta, a professor of horticulture at DelVal, said the school requires 500 hours of work in the field for graduation. Half the students graduate with agricultural majors.

The overall campus contains 571 acres, and 200 are devoted to crop production. Some 50 acres are in apple orchards and vegetable crops like pumpkins, sweet corn, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. But crop acres also support an equine program, an animal science program with hogs, beef and poultry and a 60-cow dairy. In addition, students run a 3-acre composting area that uses animal manure, as well as yard wastes and leaves from the campus and surrounding area.

The project generates a thousand yards of finished compost every year, and the dairy generates 500 gallons of milk a day. Another goal is to develop processing capacity for bottling milk and manufacturing dairy products like cheese, butter and ice cream.

In the horticultural program alone, Ricotta teaches commercial vegetable production, principles of sustainable agriculture, integrated pest management, horticultural techniques, organic crop production and marketing of horticultural products. She has a Ph.D. from University of Illinois, a master’s from North Carolina State and a bachelor’s from Cornell.

The professors in the agriculture programs focus on teaching in both the classroom and the field, but some research projects are also carried out – mostly to educate students in the processes of science.

The college has good relations with Penn State, the land-grant university in Pennsylvania. William Lamont Jr., the plasticulture guru at Penn State, is a DelVal alumni and helped the school build its high tunnels.

The roots of DelVal go back to 1896, when the college was founded by a rabbi who believed young Jewish men should learn how to farm, although the school has always been non-sectarian. The first name was the National Farm School.

Things have changed a lot – including the nature of the students, 58 percent of whom are female. Two of the college’s graduates are Ed Fleming, class of 1953, and David Fleming Sr., class of 1963. Dave’s sons David Jr. and Paul, their sister Amy and their mother Beverley, all play large roles in managing Shady Brook Farm, along with Ed’s daughter Wendy, who will now be working to coordinate it all with DelVal.

“We wanted to use the market as a classroom,” Ricotta said. “We also took students to Shady Brook Farm. In the end, though, the market grew too big and we decided to bring in the Flemings to help us.”

Shady Brook Farm

Shady Brook Farm is a large family enterprise. The farm itself, run by Paul, 39, “the farmer” in the operation, is large and diversified in fruit and vegetable production. The market side, managed by David Jr., 41, not only sells the farm’s produce, but has a garden center large enough to be a stand-alone business, plus a deli, ice cream shop and winery.

Shady Brook is also an agritainment enterprise, with tours and concerts, hayrides and Easter egg hunts, a corn maze, Halloween activities and a holiday light show, which attracts people who pay $20 a carload to view spectacular light displays (almost all created by farm employees) from dusk to 10 p.m. between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, apples, peaches and pumpkins are a large part of the business, too.

The farm market, which began as a roadside produce stand, was expanded to its current size in 2004, when the deli was added. The market also sells bedding plants, trees, shrubs, hanging baskets, garden supplies and mulch. One neat feature is the potting shed. Its page of the farm’s Web site (www.shadybrookfarm.com) says, “Bring your pot in now – and we’ll plant it for great indoor color!” Patrons who buy the plant get free soil and a plant potted by experts. Or, they can buy pots in all shapes, colors and sizes at the garden center.

One other enterprise is the winery. David Jr. said his father “retired from the business to give Paul and me some space” – and also to start Rose Bank Winery. The winery provides new products for the market – grape and other fruit wines – and a good base for seasonal wine concerts. People come to relax, listen to live music by local musicians and buy wine by the bottle or glass.

To organize all these activities, David Jr. divided the business into nine departments, each headed by a manager who reports to him. The addition of DelVal’s operations led him to add three new departments and department managers. Two of the managers graduated from DelVal: Rob Arcidiacono will run the farm market and Karen Campellone will manage the garden center.

According to its Web site, Shady Brook Farm was founded by T. Herman Fleming in 1913 in Andalusia, Pa., as a wholesale farm growing crops for markets in the Philadelphia area. The main crops were radishes, celery, spinach and beets.

After Herman’s death in 1946, the farm was taken over by his eldest son Edward (Bud) Fleming and his wife. Their two sons, Ed and Dave, worked part-time on the farm until they graduated from college and began working full-time.

In the 1960s, the Flemings purchased more land. Their main crops were radishes, parsley, spinach and other greens, turnips and parsnips packaged under the BudMar label and sold to wholesalers in Philadelphia, Vineland, N.J., and Washington, D.C.

In 1984, Shady Brook Farm opened its first retail market with pick-your-own strawberries. The following year, the market was open through September selling corn, tomatoes and other summer vegetables. In 1992, Shady Brook presented its first “agritainment” attraction – the Hayride of Horror. Over the next decade, the haunted attractions grew and other seasonal events were added – the Easter egg hunt, the corn maze and the holiday light show. In 2004, the deli and garden center opened.

Today, Shady Brook Farm is being run by the fourth generation of Flemings – and the next is looking good. David Jr. has two boys and two girls; Paul has four girls and Amy has two sons.

The “marriage”

The new arrangement between Shady Brook and DelVal does look like a marriage made in heaven. Not only are there the alumni relationships and the fuzzy feelings those bring, the two operations complement each other in many ways.

Beverley Fleming, the manager of gourmet food operations at Shady Brook, is taken by the “wonderful kitchen” at DelVal. She sees a real future there, with a head chef and assistant chef newly hired and in place to make meals to eat in or take home.

David Jr. sees all the potential for products. He would like to sell DelVal compost at the Shady Brook Farm market. Shady Brook developed its own line of ice cream, Uncle Dave’s, and David Jr. wants to augment that with sales of milk, perhaps in glass bottles, from DelVal’s dairy. There is a potential for the sale of DelVal meat and poultry products as well.

Farm-grown and locally produced fruits and vegetables will flow both ways.

David sees lots of benefits for the students at DelVal. Not only will they work at the farms and markets as labor, they can learn to be budding entrepreneurs.

DelVal has a landscape design department, David said.

“Students can create designs as a service for people who buy our landscape and nursery products.”

Students in horticulture can create hanging baskets. The college has an apiary and students can produce, process and market honey. They want to start a 20-member CSA this year, David said. And the kitchen is tremendous. He envisions it becoming a full-fledged commissary, creating new products and turning out jams and jellies, pies and cakes.




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