A Delaware nonprofit group is hoping to harvest an idea that William Penn planted in New Castle more than 300 years ago.
Soon after Penn landed in New Castle in 1682, the wealthy colonist set aside a portion of his vast holdings to generate income for the common good.
Historic Penn Farm is the last parcel of farmland remaining from that bequest.
Students at nearby William Penn High School rent land there and established a community support agriculture program to sell produce to neighbors.
During the school year, the William Penn students work for grades but, right now, the farm is their summer job. The teens earn $8.75 an hour, and senior Allie Ash said the pay is better than working at the mall.
She and the other students are growing greens, Savoy and Napa cabbages, as well as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers.
Many locals have never gathered dinner straight from the field, and Ash said she likes introducing customers to new foods, such as the “spicy” southern curled mustard, that’s used for to garnish salads.
“It’s got a real kick to it,” Ash said.
New Castle resident Suzanne Swift joined the community support agriculture or CSA to back local farming.
“To kind of cushion the blow in case the weather doesn’t work out,” Swift said. “In case they can’t sell all the vegetables they’d like to. It’s a partnership between the people who want the vegetables and the people who grow it.”
Bringing families back to the farm
For years, tenant families worked the land, but now the nonprofit group Delaware Greenways manages the farm and wants to bring residents a little closer to the source of their food.
William Penn High School agroscience teacher Kathleen Pickard says 44 families have signed up for the CSA.
“The produce that they come and pick will be charged to them at half the going rate,” Pickard said. “So, if at the supermarket today, tomatoes are $2 a pound, the price for CSA members would be a dollar a pound.”
Lee Ward, the chef at New Castle’s Jessop’s Tavern, shops for root vegetables to fill the restaurant’s famous chicken potpie.
“I like the idea of being back out in the field and picking it myself,” Ward said. “No pesticides, no nothing. I watched every bit of this grow on my way to work.”
The Trustees of New Castle Common own the farm and lease the land to Delaware Greenways to manage and operate. Most of the Penn Farm acreage is planted with cash crops used for animal feed, but the managers hope to convert more acreage to vegetable production and demonstrate sustainable agricultural practices.
They are looking for a “rock star farmer” to lead that mission.