Past, present and future celebrated on Richardson Farm
by Katie Luckett, Contributing Writer
Agriculture has played a vital role in the world for as far back as society can recall.
Farmers have consistently provided the food, fuel and fiber that society needs to survive and thrive in a sustainable manner. Therefore, National Agriculture Week is celebrated in the third week of March to honor the industry and recognize agriculture’s advances as well as its heritage.
Richardson Farm in Worcester County, Md., dates to 1767 and is now run by the eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh generations. Roger Richardson and his wife, Fay, are the current owners and operators, along with their daughter, Donna Richardson West; their grandson, Tom West, and their great-grandsons, Thomas and Lane West — today all playing important roles on the farm.
“Dad’s always been one to help people. All of his leadership roles began as a way to help other farmers and grew to having state and national impacts.” –Donna Richardson West
The family business produces corn and soybeans and the farm totals 3,500 acres, including approximately 1,200 acres leased from others across Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Richardson Farm has solar panels on their land that power their entire farm and home, and Roger notes that “Choptank Electric Cooperative is very supportive of this effort.” In 1980, Roger started an agricultural trucking business to haul grain, poultry, lumber and meal — and it is still in operation today.
Roger has served in many leadership positions throughout his agriculture career, inspiring his daughter along the way. “Dad’s always been one to help people,” shares Donna. “All of his leadership roles began as a way to help other farmers and grew to having state and national impacts.” Most notably, Roger was appointed as the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture from 2007 to 2009 under the [Maryland Gov. Martin] O’Malley administration.
Roger has also served on the Agricultural Stewardship Commission, National Association of Farmer Elected Committees, American Corn Growers Association,Maryland Farm Service Committee,Maryland Agriculture Stabilization Committee and Worcester County Farm Bureau, to name a few. In addition to the significant roles Roger played in agriculture, he also has been a staple in his local community, serving on the Worcester County Board of Education for 10 years and being active in his church. “It’s important to meet all types of people and diversify yourself outside of just farming,” adds Roger.
Roger’s first agricultural leadership role was helping to found the farmer-owned cooperative Snow Hill Grain Inc. in 1966.He realized the importance of cooperatives early on in life when Choptank Electric Cooperative (formerly Choptank Cooperative, Inc.) came to Worcester County in 1941 and provided electricity to the rural areas that didn’t previously have access.
“I remember the day it was connected and the big celebration in Princess Anne,” shares Roger. “My dad had been petitioning other farmers in our area to help bring the electric cooperative to our county, and he was so excited to see it through.”
He recounted being able to fix equipment and build things faster as a kid in the farm’s shop with electricity, like “hooking up a Maytag motor to the water pump to fill the water trough in the stalls, rather than filling it by hand,” adds Roger.
Today, the family’s home farm in the Pocomoke Forest is in the current Choptank Fiber build-out phase and has been staked for broadband. The farm is set to receive high-speed internet this spring. “This will elevate our current apps and programs used on the farm, as well as the GPS technology in our equipment,” says Donna. “Having faster and more reliable internet will allow us to do more digitally and connect with others when we can’t be in-person.”
Donna has been a strong advocate for rural broadband on the Eastern Shore during her time as a director on the Choptank Electric Cooperative board. She also serves on the Virginia, Maryland & Delaware Association of Broadband Cooperatives board, representing Choptank Fiber. Donna testified to the Maryland General Assembly in 2020 on behalf of Choptank Electric Cooperative for a bill to allow the co-op to become member-regulated and pursue part of the $20 billion in federal money in 2021 to help cooperatives deliver broadband to rural areas.
“I compare the need for rural broadband today to the need for rural electricity in the 1930s and the Rural Electrification Act,” adds Donna. “It was a milestone for farmers on the Eastern Shore to have access to electricity then, just like high-speed internet will be for them now.”
Both Donna and Roger both note that their biggest accomplishments are their families and the legacy they are creating on the farm. “It makes you feel good to have something to leave behind for the next generations, and to have your family want to be involved in the business,” says Donna.
Click here to learn more about National Agriculture Week