John Esslinger honored by Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association

Mar 21, 2022
Pennsylvania salutes vegetable industry contributors

A number of awards and recognitions took place Feb. 1 at the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Banquet at the 2022 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention at the Hershey Lodge in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

According to William Troxell, executive secretary of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association (PVGA), the group periodically likes to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a long-standing record of service and dedication to either the vegetable, potato and/or berry growers of Pennsylvania or the association with a Life Membership.

The Board of Directors voted to grant this honor to John Esslinger (pictured center at top) in recognition of his 40 years of commitment to growers and the agricultural community. Brian Campbell, PVGA president, presented the Life Membership to Esslinger.

Troxell said Esslinger has been a trusted resource for fruit and vegetable growers in the Northeast and Central Pennsylvania regions. Through the years, Esslinger has worked with many growers in the agriculture communities of Pennsylvania. He was enthusiastic about his work, promoting the newest research and always looking for ways to be more effective. Along the way, he has gained friends, earned respect, and encountered a variety of unique pests such as jumping worms.

Esslinger is known for turning any conversation into a lecture on composting or fertilizing. His interest started as a teenager working as a field laborer for a vegetable farm in southern New Jersey. His passion grew through his engagement with farmers and in higher education.

He completed his first degree at Lubbock Christian University in Texas. He moved to Pennsylvania to work at the Columbia County Crop Improvement Association in 1982.

Dedicated to agriculture in all aspects of life, he married a farmer’s daughter and settled in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, where they still live. He strived to make his three children as enthusiastic about pulling weeds as he is, but he was unsuccessful.

Esslinger worked at Columbia County Crop Improvement Association until 1987, when he started at Furmano Foods as a field representative. He worked at Furmano Foods until March of 1995, when he began his role as an educator for Penn State Extension. He later completed his masters in agriculture through Penn State University. Esslinger promoted optimal growth and success for his farmers, providing support when new diseases or pests arose.

Esslinger is known for his knowledge and accessibility, and his passion for agriculture showed through his time and dedication to his farmers, including working closely with the plain sect growers in his area of the state.

In addition, he served for several years on the board of directors of the association and has been a regular volunteer at the Farm Show booth and formerly at the Ag Progress Days booth. Esslinger has been involved in helping to plan to the program here at the Mid-Atlantic Convention for many years and serves on the PVGA Administrative Committee. He was also active in the County Agricultural Agents Association.

Troxell said Esslinger is nearly a year into retirement and has yet to slow down. He spends his time reading seed magazines, tending his garden, and playing “Manny” for his two granddaughters, who can anticipate learning a lot about tomato varieties, pests, and blight in the future.

Miller gets top honor

Each year, the PVGA recognizes an individual who had demonstrated a noteworthy record of service and dedication to either the state’s vegetable, potato or berry growers and/or the association over their career. The Annual Award and Life Membership is the association’s highest honor. The year’s award winner is David Miller of Miller Plant Farm in York.

The award was presented by Campbell at the banquet.

Miller was born and raised on his family’s farm and began working full time in 1972, right after he graduated from Dallastown High School. As a fourth-generation farmer, he oversees the planning, scheduling and growing of many of the farm’s produce crops. He’s been told he grows the sweetest corn you’ll ever taste, Troxell said.

David Miller and family
David Miller, center, with his children and grandchildren and PVGA President Brian Campbell, left, and Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, right. Photo: Gary Pullano

In 1974, Miller married his high school sweetheart, and they started their own family right across the road from his childhood home. Together, they raised three children, two of whom are working on the farm, and the other is an RN/nurse manager for Wellspan York Hospital.

While the children were young, they spent time at the beach in the summer and in Florida over the winter. Sadly, he lost his wife Diane to cancer in the summer of 2018. Since then, he and his children, and some of Diane’s closest friends, have started a nonprofit organization in her name. The organization raises and donates money for those struggling financially during their cancer treatments. To date, the organization has donated over $100,000.

Miller Plant Farm is a Pennsylvania Century Farm, founded in 1912. It grows 50 acres of vegetables and farms approximately 200 total acres. The farm raises about a dozen beef cattle annually. It recently built a modern retail farm market with 2,500 square feet of climate- controlled sales floor space and 11,500 square feet of retail greenhouse space. The market and garden center are open March through December. The garden center offers annuals, perennials, houseplants, succulents, trees, shrubs and vegetable plants. During the holiday season, they grow a popular poinsettia crop.

The farm’s homegrown produce is also available in the farm market. The operation has been offering a community supported agriculture program since 2012, and membership has grown to over 700 annually. It runs for 21 weeks from mid-June through October.

Besides the retail farm market and CSA, the farm operates a stand at York’s New Eastern Market where it sells its plants and produce from March to December. The farm also sells fresh produce wholesale to several local supermarkets.

Beside the farm’s production for retail sales, it is perhaps best known in the grower community for growing approximately 1 million seedlings/ transplants for vegetable growers annually in its 70,000 square feet of production greenhouse space. Not only is the farm known for quality transplants, but also for Dave Miller’s free advice about the best varieties and production methods.

Dave Miller recently completed 18 years of service on the PVGA Board of Directors that included two years as president. He has joined the elite group of past PVGA presidents who help manage the association’s Farm Show booth besides enlisting his farm’s staff to help out each year as well. He has also served for over 20 years on the board of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program Board, including a long tenure as chairman. He continues to be a valuable leader on that board. He is also an active member of his childhood church and many other organizations in his community.

Miller’s free time is spent hunting on the family farm and out West. In 2019, Miller and his brother bought a vacation home in Florida, and you’ll find him there fishing several times a year, However, his favorite past time is spending time with his five grandchildren. He makes it a point to get to as many of their sporting events as he can.

Troxell said Miller he would have received the award several years ago, but he also serves on the PVGA Leadership and Recognition Committee that nominates the recipients of this award and has insisted that it would not be proper for him to receive it. He missed the committee meeting this year.

Resick new PVGA president

Rita Resick was elected PVGA president by the board of directors on Feb. 2 following the annual meeting. Resick is the first woman to be elected to that position. Second Vice President Peter Flynn replaces Resick as first vice president and Tina Forry was elected the new second vice president.

Retiring President Brian Campbell assumed the office of past president and as such will remain on the Executive Committee with the other officers and also chair the Leadership and Recognition Committee.

– Gary Pullano, editor; Photo at top of page: John Esslinger, center, with PVGA President Brian Campbell (to his right) with his wife, Eve, right, and son Daniel and daughter Mary, left. Photo: Gary Pullano

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