McGowan recognized for decades of service

Staff Writer

HARRINGTON, Del. (Jan. 17, 2017) — How do you make sure the recipient of an award that’s supposed to be a secret shows up to your dinner meeting to receive it? Ask him to be a guest speaker, of course.
Dr. William McGowan, USDA Rural Development’s state director for Maryland and Delaware, was asked to speak at the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware’s annual dinner on Jan. 10, just 10 days before he was to leave the office with the change in administration.
He had been appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in November 2013.
McGowan went way back, to the agency’s roots in the Resettlement Administration created during the Great Depression. Housing has always been a huge part of the agency’s work, McGowan said.
McGowan has a staff of 43 in Maryland and Delaware. He has overseen dispersal of $2.16 billion in his three years in office, about one-quarter of that going to Delaware. Rural Development backs mortgages for single family homes, helps with home repairs, helps towns with water and wastewater projects. “There’s not a town in Delaware that’s not touched by Rural Development,” McGowan said.
Directing his focus to his audience of fruit and vegetable growers, McGowan expressed frustration that more of them had not applied for value-added producer grants. “You people drive me crazy!” he said. “You don’t use it. Just write the grant and apply. The money is there! Please call our office.”
McGowan’s passion for the rural areas of Delaware and Maryland was quite evident. “You are in proximity to so many people. I’d like to see all these towns on Delmarva ‘pop,’” he said.
Wrapping up with notes on his personal career, McGowan said he had left high school to join a religious order and ended up on a farm in Finchville, Md., tending a 1,200 sow farrow-to-finish hog operation. He worked for Southern States for eight years and then for a ball-and-burlap nursery operation for four years.
As he finished, Dave Marvel joined him at the podium to present him with FVGAD’s Distinguished Service Award.
Recipient of the second Distinguished Service Award was Larry Wolfe of Lewes. Dr. Gordon Johnson described Wolfe as a field man who kept the industry going. After a stint in the U.S. Army, Wolfe graduated from the University of Delaware in 1984. He worked for J. G. Townsend Jr. & Company Inc., a Sussex County-based frozen-food processing company, for 30 years. He worked with growers and contractors on planting, pest management and harvest, putting in long hours, Johnson said. Wolfe also farmed his own land, in the last 15 years growing vegetables almost entirely.
Accepting the award, Wolfe said, “I feel like I’ve joined a unique, prestigious crowd.”
John Filasky introduced the first winners of the Family Service Award, Chris and Ken Wicks, sons of the late Christopher Wicks Sr. and his wife, Margaret, who moved to Delaware in 1956 to escape the urban sprawl of Long Island, N.Y.
Chris Wicks Sr., a fourth generation farmer, chose Delaware for its favorable climate, proximity to markets and affordable farm land. He chose the name his business, Lazy Boy Farm, Inc., while sitting with a potato bag salesman in Lazy Boy chairs, contemplating logos for his bags.
Chris and Ken joined the family farm as the fifth generation of farmers after graduating from the University of Delaware. The farm has produced a variety of vegetable crops along with corn, soybeans and wheat. Potatoes, cabbage and grain are the main crops today. Chris’s son Michael joined the farm operation nine years ago, and Ken’s daughter, Anna, who is graduating from the University of Delaware with an ag business degree, is also active on the farm.
Today, Lazy Boy Farm is the only active farm growing potatoes in New Castle County.
Jerry Rider and his son, Jay, of Laurel were also winners of a Family Service Award.
They were introduced by their neighbor, Pat Hastings. The Rider family started farming at their present location in 1930 with 40 acres that had been purchased at a bank sale.
Within a year or two, the first generation farmers planted a watermelon crop that was so successful they were able to pay off the original mortgage.
They added more acreage and in the 1940s were growing strawberries in addition to other vegetables.
About 1950, Hastings said, they started a packing house and hauled vegetables to markets in Philadelphia and New York, in addition to growing for local processing plants. Over the years, the Riders have produced watermelons, cantaloupes, cabbage, sweet corn, peas, limas, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, pumpkins and grain crops.
Today this farm is operated by the second and third generations.
“This is a family which has always been active and supportive of the vegetable industry,” Hastings said.
Illusionist and mentalist Daniel Cain entertained attendees with impressive magical feats.