Chester County, like her neighboring counties used to be a farming seat. Acres and acres of fields as far as the eyes could see. Cows, horses, sheep. The landscape dotted with old barns and farmhouses. Sounds of fields, being plowed, or crops being brought in, and more.
Dairy farms were a big part of Chester County. Now all we have for the most part are memories of the farms that used to exist before development and before developers drove up land prices, making farmers unable to keep their land for future generations, like their fathers and grandfathers before them.
Now, for the most part, the memories we have are of those great dairy farms large and small are old glass milk bottles. I have little pint sized ones on my kitchen windowsill. I use them to root plants and hold flowers.
I really don’t think that government and politicians no matter what political persuasion really value farming anymore. Just like in Pennsylvania I don’t think they value the way we want our communities to look, as opposed to being stampeded and trampled by new development that feels like it arrives every minute of the day.
What once was hangs on in little memories like when you come across the little bottles. Here’s hoping people eventually wake up before all is lost. Yes, we do need some development, like it, or not for us to move forward. But there is simply too much of it. It has become a problem. It is destroying us.
Remember those fresh vegetables you love do not grow on the roof of Whole Foods in Exton, nor do cows and horses and sheep and goats and more graze there.
“I have been coming here for 30 years” said the nice man yesterday who was taking photos of the farmhouse and remaining sunflowers like me. I think Pete Flynn AKA the Pete of Pete’s has been doing his thing for about 35 years. People tell me before he was a farmer with his namesake store, he was a truck farmer.
Yup. We all have been. Now granted for me, when I first discovered Pete’s I was a Main Liner, so I didn’t get out there often, but when I did, it was magical.
Going to Pete’s has always been magical. Decent prices, friendly people, plants, tradition….community.
But the magic is ending, and the auction signs have gone up and I am just sad.
Pete Flynn has been a beacon of hope in an area being swallowed up by development and pipelines. He deserves to retire, he has worked hard. What is sad is there is no one to take up the mantle after him. Now there will be no farm attached to Westtown School, just like there is no farm attached to Church Farm School. I hope the land is not eventually developed, but I don’t hold out much hope. No one wants to farm much any longer, and those who do have had land prices and taxes driven up by wanton development. That and government doesn’t adequately support farmers on any level.
I do not know how long his website will remain, so I am sharing it now. I hope he keeps it up. I really wish this wonderful place wasn’t leaving us. Farms and farmers deserve a better deal.
Thanks for the memories and great produce, Pete. Thanks for doing something that matters.
Radnor Township hates when you ask questions about Ardrossan and so does a certain Delaware County Commissioner and former Radnor Commissioner, right?
We will start with Radnor Township is just an odd place. Betwixt and between. They want to be super Main Line and forget they are part of Delaware County. (Of course people in other parts of Delaware County have always said they wished they could forget about Radnor, so it is a push me pull you, I suppose?) They were super slim shady politically until it came to a head years ago and the former manager was removed and elections (and scandals) bit by bit got rid of shall we say…interesting commissioners? Then they got another manager who didn’t use a Radnor credit card to buy stuff (like $400K was misspent or something? See this old report also embedded below) and there was a brief renaissance where things in Radnor veered away from slim shady into the sunshine.
But as with all things political, it was cyclical, and now the pendulum seems to be swinging slightly back slim shady or teetering on it, right? The current township manager is the last manager’s finance guy, not really suited to be a township manager either by education or temperament. Nice guy, very intelligent, but doesn’t seem to like to interact with the public much, does he? His assistant is the proverbial gatekeeper, and oh don’t necessarily count on a reply if you email. Control is the name of the game, I think, only who is actually in control these days? A lot of the commissioners are new and they don’t seem to get the basics like of course they might not get a quorum to have a commissioners meeting April 11th (today) which is undoubtedly why they cancelled it…Easter week.
But back to Ardrossan….
Adrossan was the estate legends were literally made of. The inspiration for A Philadelphia Story and High Society. A literally gorgeous and amazing estate. But once Bobby Scott, Hope’s son died, you knew it was only a matter of time until the march of McMansions really arrived. And McMansions were born.
So one has to ask since the McMansions seem to enjoy farming and agricultural perks although none of those people probably even cut their own lawns. The Ardrossan Farm development was approved in 2014. But what I can’t find is if the roads within the development suddenly became private roads? Why do I ask? That photo above. Taken at an entrance point into the nouveau development so are those roads publicly dedicated streets or not? If they are public with Radnor doing plowing, etc, why the “Private Community” sign?
Now in 2013, Radnor inked a deal to buy 71 acres of Ardrossan for $11+ million. Wheeler Field, Quarry Field, Rye Field. “Everyone loves the cows” was a catchy phrase back then attributed to a commissioner then who is on Delaware County Council now, and some say has higher aspirations still. The farmer is also on two other fields nearby supposedly, correct? Not owned by Radnor Township but old Ardrossan Land?
“I believe a license agreement with the current farmer will be on the agenda for one of our next meetings, so we will have the opportunity to hear resident comment and discuss all the issues involved,” said Schaefer. “The current farmer has been farming the Ardrossan land for over 25 years, and his father farmed it for the generation before him. I believe that most residents would like to see this farmer continue to farm the land, as his very unique operation provides the beloved cows that beautify the landscape. As I understand it, the proposed license will require that the farmer utilize best management practices and adhere to the NCRS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) approved soil conservation plan.”
So, I think it’s wonderful part of Ardrossan is still farmed, don’t misunderstand me, but well, what chemicals are being used on the fields? Especially since the farmer who farms there (his farm is called Fern Valley Farm, correct?) also has the cows/steer he tends to, the last of the famous Ayrshire steer, right? So if he is raising feed corn etc. for said cattle, what are they ingesting? Way back when Radnor inked this deal with the farmer, people urged the farmer to be as organic as possible so what today, in 2022 is happening? Is there a correct list of chemicals? You know like Round Up and Round Up laced engineered seed?
Look, there are natural water sources everywhere, so isn’t it important? There is a sign outside the farmer’s farm that says “BEEF” so if he’s selling, wouldn’t you like to know what chemicals the butchered beasts were exposed to? This is why so many people like to buy organic meat today, correct? And people pay big bucks gladly for organic meat, poultry, fish, produce, yes?
So Radnor, where’s the beef? And is there an official farm store, USDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture listing for Fern Valley Farm? I looked and can’t find it. Truthfully, I think it’s great if the farmer can sell his products, as long as it is done right and isn’t meat it’s whole special category? How it’s butchered, stored, etc?
Back to field chemicals. Trout season is now open, right? So wouldn’t fishermen like to know what chemicals the Ardrossan farmer is using right now in 2022 and what they have been using in years past? Again, I looked to see if I could find it listed anywhere and came up empty.
So in addition to trout and the famous Ardrossan “cows” isn’t there a bald eagle now at the Willows nearby and there used to be big blue herons too, right? So what is the beautiful wildlife ingesting courtesy of whatever Radnor’s farmer uses? And kids are all over that area and isn’t that Quarry field slated for being part of the trails there or something at some point?
Sadly, public land requires public answers does it not? So what chemicals are being used on the land where the farmer farms that is owned by Radnor? I am of the opinion that Radnor Township can’t just be environmentally friendly for show, and it’s great they want to ban plastic bags too, but what about this? Why is it such a big deal for their tenant to produce a list of chemicals used?
So this isn’t the only curious part of Ardrossan tales of today is it? The other part is whatever benefits from farming the McMansion dwellers who have bought on Ardrossan land get? This has all swirled in the media for years. In November there was a movement which was defeated to cancel the farmer’s $1 a year lease:
An elected official in Radnor is pushing for the township to cancel its lease with a cattle rancher on publicly owned land that had once been part of the sprawling Ardrossan estate, saying the deal helps wealthy landowners on other sections of the former estate take unfair advantage of tax breaks for agriculture.
Richard Booker’s motion, which he plans to introduce at a Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 22, would end the agreement that lets rancher Richard Billheim’s Fern Valley Farm use 71 acres of township-owned property for its beef cow operation in exchange for $1 a year.
Booker said in a memo with his motion that he decided to take action on the lease after reading an article published earlier this year by The Inquirer about the tax breaks at the former estate enabled by statewide agricultural-conservation programs under Act 319 — better known as “Clean and Green” — and Act 515.
The programs tax land for what it is worth as a working farm and not what its value would be if sold on the open market for housing, strip malls, or offices. Under Act 319, by far the most commonly used of the programs at Ardrossan and elsewhere, the land must produce $2,000 a year in farm goods.
At least two dozen parcels on more than 260 acres are successfully enrolled in the programs, accounting for more than 40% of the former Ardrossan estate’s acreage sold over the last quarter-century, according to an Inquirer analysis of Delaware County records….Properties covered by the tax breaks include homes of a leader at a major real estate firm, members of the family that cofounded the Apple Vacations tour business, and the top-ranking member of the County Council for surrounding Delaware County.
The only known agricultural products coming from the enrolled land are the corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay grown there to feed Fern Valley’s cows...While cows do graze on a portion of that land, most of their grass-munching is done on the township-owned property. To Booker, that means Radnor is helping private property owners get their tax breaks because those cows wouldn’t be there absent the generous lease.
Officials in Radnor have defeated a measure to cancel a lease on township land for a cattle operation that also helps residents on parts of the former Ardrossan estate save hundreds of thousands each year on their taxes.
In a 4-2 vote with one abstention, the township’s Board of Commissioners on Monday rejected member Richard Booker’s motion to terminate Fern Valley Farm’s $1-a-year lease to use 71 acres of publicly owned property for its 60-head Black Angus beef business.
The decision leaves in place an agreement that Fern Valley has said was vital to its 10-person operation, which also relies on feed crops grown on sections of the former estate that are now private homesteads.
Because of this reliance, Booker has argued that the lease is helping some of those private property owners claim property breaks available to land that is farmed.
Thanks in part to 60 cows that they don’t have to wrangle, many of the wealthy homeowners who dot the sprawling acreage of the former Ardrossan estate have found a way to qualify for local tax breaks along with federal reductions.
That’s because the owners are taking advantage of state laws that permit them to pare down the property taxes owed to Delaware County, Radnor Township, and Radnor schools by registering their land as farms.
The tax breaks under state law are open only to parcels at the former estate larger than 10 acres. For lots under that size, the nonprofit that owns the land is arguing in Delaware County Court that it shouldn’t be taxed at all because restrictions on development have stripped it of all value….at least two dozen parcels — accounting for more than 40% of the former estate’s acreage sold by Eddie Scott’s businesses — are successfully enrolled in state agricultural-protection programs that qualify owners for tax cuts, according to an Inquirer analysis of Delaware County records obtained under the state’s Right to Know Law.
Those owners have seen their realty taxes reduced by an estimated total of $490,000 this year, a 30% reduction from the $1.6 million they would have owed without the discount, the analysis shows…
Yes, there were a LOT of Ardrossan related or touching articles in 2021. It kind of made me sad, in a way. Almost like the whole allure of that amazing estate were being tarnished in some way.
That is the problem with a lot of these large parcels of land. We see it here in Chester County. Not all are under any sort of conservation easements which is causing eruptions in many places in Chester County right now. You can’t make people conserve land, and then there is how do you make it attractive to conserve/preserve land? And developers just salivate at the prospect of these properties everywhere, and what developers can afford to buy versus what farmers can afford to buy versus what land and nature conservancies can afford to buy are all very different and difficult conversations, correct?
But the most bombshell of the Ardrossan related bombshell articles to me was the in depth Inquirer report:
In an effort to bring this post full circle, many people always wondered how things with Ardrossan and what is left of this estate got here to this point today. And I think that is in part because it has always felt dually shielded in secrecy and controversy, right or wrong.
BUT why else would it behoove Radnor Township to lift the veil? It makes it easier for other people, other municipalities, other farmers trying to farm in the tri-county area. Farming is so under siege, and ironically, most often the farmers under siege are the one who play by the rules, correct? No one is saying farmer don’t farm, they just want to know about the chemicals in the fields and the beef of it all, right? However, people are asking questions about McMansion owners doing a modern spin on the whole feudal thing of it all including ag benefits, correct?
Come one Radnor, set the record straight, and is it really that hard to do these days?
Here are some more articles of a more recent past vintage on Ardrossan:
Sometimes you read things that just boggle your mind on social media. And today I saw something that I think needs to be discussed.￼
Chester County has a rich agricultural and equine history. Given the rampant development from one end of the county to the other, sometimes we forget that. And we can’t.￼
I have friends who have farms. I have friends who have horses. I have neighbors who have horses and other critters. It’s one of my favorite things about living out here because I love horses and when I was a kid I used to ride. And I will take photos. But I never trespass.￼￼
If an owner of a farm or a property invites me to be physically on the property, then I will visit. But I don’t go driving up their driveways or visiting with their animals without permission . When it comes to horses and farm animals they are valuable and these are people’s property as well as their pets. ￼
This afternoon I saw something which should surprise me but doesn’t.
The other end of Morstein is very developed, so no horses. Kids like animals and I think that’s awesome.
But these farms, the ones that remain, they aren’t petting zoos. And all the comments that followed this post being left is what blew my mind versus the actual request. There were people actually encouraging this person to just drive up this farm’s driveway.￼￼ As in just trespass.
You can’t do that. You need permission. There are all sorts of things involved here including liability. And trespassing.￼ These animals are valuable. What if you spooked one? Or opened fences meant to remain closed and they got out? What if all of the animals aren’t kid friendly or stranger friendly?
I have run into these situations before as I have another friend who actually has had “photographers” doing photo shoots on her property without permission. Photo shoots of entire families who were complete strangers to my friends.￼ These people would drive up park on their property and stage these photo shoots in front of their fields and barn.
Now if you’re doing a scenic drive through Chester County and you stop and take a photo from the road of a barn or animals or trees or fields￼￼, you are not trespassing you’re driving through￼. No one minds that kind of appreciation.
I have another friend who has a small farm who told me today that they have discovered people parking and hanging out in their back fields before who are total strangers. These people didn’t ask permission and that’s not OK￼￼.
I also know other people with working farms that run into this problem all the time. ￼
I realize there are a lot of people out there that probably just don’t get that this isn’t OK. A lot of these people have limited experience with farms, and the animals found on them.
That is not to say I am Farmer in the Dell, because I am obviously not. But we have to respect these people, their properties and animals, and utilize common sense.￼
Would you like to find some strange person in your driveway just wandering around? I’m thinking the answer to that is no. So please don’t encourage people to do that with regard to these farms.￼￼
It’s because of situations like this where people just stop and think they can wander around a farm that you see a lot of farms today with a lot of no trespassing signs. Far more than you ever saw in the past.￼
The other point to ponder is if people love farms and farm critters do much, why so many plastic mushroom developments?
But please… don’t wander onto farms without prior permission. It’s really not OK.
Long ago is what feels to be now another lifetime, I was part of the original Save Ardmore Coalition. We were ordinary people who banded together to save friends’ and neighbors’ businesses from eminent domain for private gain in Ardmore PA.
Pennsylvania Ardmore Through the grassroots and political processes, a citizens group called the Save Ardmore Coalition (SAC) successfully defeated Lower Merion Township’s attempt to seize and bulldoze 10 thriving businesses in Ardmore’s charming historic district. When it comes to grassroots activism, the SAC did it all — rallies, protests, publicity campaigns and coordinated efforts to unseat local officials who supported eminent domain abuse. Its members testified before state and local bodies urging the reform of eminent domain laws, attended the Castle Coalition’s national and regional conferences, and worked with the media to bring attention to their battle. In March 2006, the Township took its condemnation threats off the table — no doubt in response to the public outcry generated by the SAC.
Valley Township It cost Nancy and Dick Saha $300,000 of their retirement savings and six hard years, but they prevailed in their bout with the City of Coatesville. The couple bought their Pennsylvania farmhouse in 1971, making lifelong dreams of owning a small horse farm a reality. With their five children, the Sahas moved to Chester County and restored their charming 250-year-old residence. Truly a family farm, two of their daughters married and built their family homes on the land, giving Nancy and Dick the chance to see their five grandchildren grow up next door.
When Coatesville threatened to take their property by eminent domain to build a golf course—plans for which didn’t even include their farm in the first place—the Sahas remained fully committed to a grassroots battle. They submitted three petitions, protested at local meetings and took their fight to court. Ultimately, the city council backed off when the Sahas pushed to elect new representatives, agreeing to purchase five acres that the Sahas had offered to give the government for free at the beginning of the dispute.
It was a crazy time. What we all went through was hard. It was a brutal battle. We went to Washington alongside the Sahas, Susett Kelo (think Little Pink House), people from Long Branch NJ, and many many more. It was the time of the US Supreme Court case Kelo vs. New London.
Dick and Nancy Saha were inspirational. They created a hand off my farm movement. (You can read about it here on the Institute for Justice website in more detail.) They had a great deal of local, regional, and national news attention. We all did. It was kind of crazy.
It cost the Sahas hundreds of thousands of dollars and pure grit and hard work and they saved their farm.
I used to love seeing Dick and Nancy Saha. They are the nicest people and they would make the drive from the Wagontown area to even visit us in Ardmore when we were hosting events.
But time and life move on and we all got on with our lives after eminent domain. I moved to Chester County. And since I moved to Chester County I have thought about the Sahas once in a while. I thought about reaching out, but then I thought well the battle was over so maybe it would seem weird. But I always wondered what happened to the Saha family after.
So this morning an article from Main Line Today popped up in a social media feed. About two sisters named Joanne Voelcker and wait for it….Amy Saha! Dick and Nancy Saha’s daughters and their lavender farm! (Lavender farm? Wait what?? How awesome!!)
In the heart of Chester County, there’s a little piece of Provençe, France, thanks to sisters Amy Saha and Joanne Voelcker. On their 42-acre Wagontown farm, some 1,200 lavender plants flourish. In the warm months, those fields are abuzz with bees and butterflies. They flit from plant to plant, drunk on the heady scent the flowers release as they sway in the breeze.
Creating and maintaining such an idyll has been no small feat. Saha and Voelcker’s Mt Airy Lavender has required years of dedication and hard work. Their parents bought the farm in 1971, moving their family from Media to the homestead just outside Coatesville. With love and care, its rundown 48 acres began to thrive.
Years later, in 1991, the city of Coatesville tried to build on the property, claiming eminent domain. After a six-year legal battle, the family won, losing just six acres in the process. As their parents aged, preserving the land they fought so hard to protect became more and more important to the sisters. They couldn’t bear to see it sold.
Over the years, Saha and Voelcker built their own homes on the farm to be near their parents. The houses sit on either side of a long, shaded driveway that wends by pastures where horses can be seen cropping the grass. One lavender field is right behind Voelcker’s home. She began planting it in 2012, a year after she and her husband returned from a five-year stay in Brussels. “I worked and lived over there,” says Voelcker, the former head of client insight and marketing technology at Vanguard. “I got a chance to visit the South of France, and I just fell in love with the lavender.”
Please take the time to read the entire article. It’s so wonderful. I am so happy for the Sahas and this new success I am am all choked up with emotion. It is so awesome to hear about nice things happening to nice people in a world that some days is truly nuts.
I can’t wait to visit the farm on open farm days. Via their Facebook page for Mt. Airy Lavender I found their website.
They have great products they make that you can order online and they hose all sorts of events .
Events that interest me are the upcoming open farm days and I hope my husband will want to check it out:
Visit us when the lavender is expected to be in bloom – Mt Airy Lavender Open Houses – Sat. June 22, Sun. June 23, Sat. June 29, Sun. June 30 Come visit Mt Airy Lavender these weekends when we expect the lavender to be in bloom. Shop our products, bring your cameras and a picnic lunch. Fresh cut lavender and a variety of lavender products will be available for purchase. We aren’t normally open to the public, so this is a great opportunity to enjoy the farm. Please note – we lost quite a bit of lavender due to all the rain and lack of sun. We are in the process of replanting. The farm is still quite beautiful so we hope to see you at our Open Houses.
We will be open 11 am to 4pm on:
Saturday, June 22 & Sunday, June 23
Saturday, June 29 & Sunday, June 30
Note: Bees love lavender, please be aware that bees will be attending the Open House as well. If you are allergic to them, please take special precautions!
What else makes me happy? Not just that this is still a farm and was saved, but how farmers in Chester County get creative to exist in today’s world. See? We don’t need fields of plastic mushroom houses, we can have things like fields of lavender instead!
Another view of the Saha Farm today courtesy of Mt. Airy Lavender
Today I went to a very cool estate sale. It was on Lenape Road in West Chester. Not too far away from West Chester University.
It is one of those places that just takes your breath away. Both from the setting and just an amazing old farmhouse.
Built in 1840, it was a very prosperous farm, as this was a very good sized farmhouse. It once, according to someone I asked, was acreage- wise quite large. It still sits on a lovely large plot of Chester County farmland, which is so awesome to see.
The older couple who lived there and their family are selling it to a young family who will love and restore the farmhouse and the property. It is so gratifying to learn of people who care enough to take on a gem like this! Historic preservation and open space preservation are so important and we aren’t seeing nearly enough of that in Chester County.
This house was a privilege to see. I wish the new family many, many decades of happiness. It’s a wonderful farm house.
This house, barn, and property are so Chester County.