West family, Collins brothers win service awards at banquet

Staff Writer

HARRINGTON, Del. (Jan. 20, 2015) — The Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware presented two distinguished service awards and a farm family award at its annual banquet meeting at Harrington Fire Hall on Jan. 13.
Delaware Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee made the presentation of the Farm Family of the Year Award to the West family of Milford.
The current farm was started in the 1950s, Kee said, when Charles H. West declared, “I’m not going to sell furniture any more.”
Kee repeated what he often emphasizes to non-farmers: “Agriculture is about families. American agriculture really is an outgrowth and function of families.”
“We’ve observed this family for three or four generations. It’s a family completely dedicated to agriculture,” he added.
Stanley and Steve West are the current generation.
Stanley does most of the farming; Steve works for J.G. Townsend Jr. & Co. frozen food processors in Georgetown.
The farm also has dedicated, loyal employees, Kee said, some of whom have been there for decades.
Travis Hastings made the first presentation for Distinguished Service to Agriculture.
The two recipients were Rob and Skip Collins, who fly out of Laurel Airport.
Hastings said the airport started in 1945 as a grass runway, carved out of the fields of Howard Dickerson’s Blue Hen Farm by his son, Randall, who wanted to start a crop dusting business. Unfortunately, Randall died six months later.
John Courtney operated Air-Ag crop dusting out of Laurel Airport in the 1980s.
He hired Rob Collins in 1989 and between them they sprayed almost every processing vegetable grown in the area, including almost all the watermelon acres.
In 1995, Courtney retired and Collins became owner of Air-Ag.
To keep his high performance aircraft going, he hired his older brother, Skip, already considered an excellent mechanic and master welder, who had his own business building and reviving old aircraft.
Skip eventually joined his brother full-time and in 1999 became a pilot.
The brothers have worked together for many years.
Rob was unable to attend the banquet, so his daughter Emily stood in for him with Skip and his wife and the brothers’ parents, John and Roberta Collins.
Dr. Gordon Johnson, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension fruit and vegetable specialist, was surprised with a Career Distinguished Service Award “for his accomplishments and for all he has done for the vegetable industry.”
Making the presentation, Dave Marvel read an “Extension Professional’s Creed,” which he said is “truly emulated” by Johnson.
It ends with this: “I believe in my own work and in the opportunity I have to make my life useful to humanity.”
A retired University of Delaware professor, author of 24 books and story teller, Ed Okonowicz shared with the audience of about 100 people his thoughts on “Food Lore: Muskrat, Scrapple and More.”