Both Gov. John Carney and Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long were on hand Oct. 14 at the New Castle County Farm Bureau banquet in Townsend to see State Representative Quinton Johnson accept the NCCFB’s 2019 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and to salute NCCFB’s Farm Family of the Year, the William Walther family, for continuing the farming tradition despite pressure from developers.
The William Walther family is testimony to the idea that farming is a family affair and a passion, said NCCFB President Stewart Ramsey in his presentation. Five generations in the Walther family have farmed in Bear, Del. William “Bill” Walther has been on the family farm all his life.
The farm was purchased in 1876 by Bill’s grandfather. His son, William, took over from him, and then Bill took over on the passing of his father. He and his older sister, Sylvia, farmed it together until she passed away in 2014. Along with their farm, they farmed three family members’ properties on Walther Road until they were sold. With the loss of the three farms, the Walthers decided to discontinue the dairy business and turned to produce and beef cattle. About this time, Bill’s nephew, Wally Gott, and his sons, Fran and Matt, came onboard to help with the operation.
Today the third, fourth and fifth generations are working on the farm. About 10 years ago Bill turned over the cattle and field crops operation to Wally and his oldest son. Bill continues to run the produce business.
The Walther family has been involved with 4-H since 1929 when the Bear 4-H Club was started by Nedra Fox, May B. Leisure and Dora Walther. Sylvia Walther, “a pillar in the 4-H community for 65 years,” was a former leader of the club, which still meets on the farm. She was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame and honored for the many lives she touched while volunteering her time and talents to the children she served.
The Walthers have allowed 4-H kids from any club to house livestock projects on the farm, along with leasing cattle to Bear club members to work with and show. That generosity continues.
“The Walthers have done more in teaching urban people about agriculture than just about anyone in the state,” said Bill Powers. “Most people don’t open their farms like that, and the family is still doing it.”
Houses now line both sides of the farm. The Walthers have a lot of people urging them to please not sell out. They say when they turn off Route 40 onto Walther Road, it’s like a breath of fresh air. You see the cars slow down to look at the cattle or watch work being done on the farm.
When Sylvia was alive, she often said she would gladly use her last breath to say “no” to a developer.
In the last three years, one neighborhood to the west of the farm has taken a big interest in the farm. They come out and clean the trash out of the fields and keep an eye on everything going on. Wally says he has to tell them when he rotates the cattle around or he gets calls that the cattle are out.
The Walther family and their outreach to the non-farming public makes them a valuable asset for New Castle County and Delaware agriculture and truly a farm that is and has been ahead of the times.
William Powers Jr., Delaware Farm Bureau second vice president, introduced Rep. Johnson, recipient of the Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. Johnson was elected in 2008 as a member of the Delaware House of Representatives for the 8th District, which includes the greater Middletown area. In the past 11 years he has served as a member of many important committees and chaired some of them.
During his time as Bond Bill chairman and since then, Johnson has sponsored or cosponsored more than 20 legislative actions that demonstrate his broad commitment to the county and state’s agricultural industries. His actions helped keep agriculture economically viable and protected our most valuable resource, farmland. The list of bills and bond actions covers farmland preservation, aquaculture, horseracing, seed viability regulations, research and others. These have all been important farm issues.
A former farmer, Johnson and his wife, Julie, have owned Tender Loving Kare Child Care and Learning Center, since 1994. They started in the garage of their first home before purchasing a small facility and now have three locations.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the Salisbury State University Perdue School of Business.
Johnson is a member of the Peoples Plaza Merchant Association, the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce and the Appoquinimink School District Board of Education Advisory Committee. He was formerly a soccer coach and Little League team sponsor and was active with the Coopers Run Civic Association.
The Johnsons have three children: Caitie, Kelsey and Quinton.
In his county president’s report, Ramsey invited the audience to the state Farm Bureau’s 75th Anniversary gala on Dec. 7. He also addressed the need to preserve farmland and the fact that a farmer often depends on the value of his or her land for retirement. Property value heavily depends on the ability to develop it, he said. A moratorium on septic tanks being discussed in the county would rob some farmers of “their 401K,” he said. “We will do everything we can to make that not happen,” he added.
His final point was the present challenge in New Castle County wherein farm structures are being taxed 700 percent higher than in Sussex County. “This is something we have to get fixed,” he said. “If Farm Bureau cannot fight to the death on an issue this important, it shouldn’t be an entity.”
State President Richard Wilkins commented, “It is wonderful that we in Delaware have one of the leading ag land preservation programs, one of the best. It is so popular and so many farmers want in that a bidding process was begun (in which farmers donate a percentage of their farm’s development rights value in order to preserve their farm.) I commend Gov. Carney on what he has done to help keep Delaware agriculture profitable. There’s a decent living to be had, but we have to maintain a viable ag sector.”
In a brief business meeting, Ryan Greer was elected to a three-year term on the State Board; a slate of seven were elected to a similar term as County Directors and 55 delegates were chosen to attend the Delaware Farm Bureau annual convention on Dec. 3.
Powers presented certificates and a cash prize to Rate of Gain winners: Liam Phipps, son of William and Robina Phipps, for his 4-H sheep; Grace Vallely, daughter of Marjorie and James Vallely, for her FFA sheep; Anna Holloway, daughter of Josh Holloway, for her FFA swine; and James Seward, son of Ashley Seward, for his FFA goat.