This time of year is a great time to visit western Sussex County's farm operations, many of which are generations-old family farms.
We begin this particular tour at O.A. Newton and Son, 16356 Sussex Highway in Bridgeville. This farm began as a feed and chick business, and now this location includes a supply store with a wonderful gift shop.
The story of this company starts well before its founding. Oliver A. Newton, born 1862, settled in Bridgeville in 1884 and made a living as a fruit farmer. He also served as a member of the state House of Representatives and as a state senator during World War I.
In 1916, his son Warren graduated from what is now the University of Delaware and returned home to his father's farm. At the time, his father had a flock of white leghorn chickens and several small incubators, but they were poor producers. Warren, armed with his education and having taken a three-month course in Poultry Husbandry from Cornell, started blending a more balanced feed for the flock. Flock production and quality of the chickens improved dramatically. This didn't go unnoticed by his neighbors, who began buying a bag or two of his feed when it was available, and a new business was born. The business expanded to include chemicals, farm machinery, appliances and manufactured homes, and has continued to evolve over the last century with each ensuing generation. For more information, find Newton Farm and Ranch on Facebook.
A bit farther down Route 13 South is T.S. Smith's Orchard Point Market on the left. Turn right onto Redden Road and you'll find at the end of the road the original farm market and packing house. T.S. Smith & Sons is an 800-acre family-owned farm in Bridgeville. Thomas Sterling Smith started the business in 1907 and eventually passed it to his sons Walton and Robert, who passed it to their sons Charles Walton Jr. "Walt" and Robert Smith Jr. Today the business is operated by Walt's three sons Thomas, Charles and Matthew. T.S. Smith & Sons is the oldest apple, peach and nectarine operation in Delaware. They also produce asparagus, sweet corn, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, squash and tomatoes, and manage their market in a historic apple-packing house built in 1928, making it the oldest packing house in Delaware. The farm store is open daily from April through December, and various events are held at the farm.
Fun fact: During World War II, the chicken houses on the T.S. Smith & Sons farm were used as a prisoner of war camp for German soldiers. When the war was over, many of the German soldiers chose to stay in the area. For more information, go to tssmithandsons.com.
For a change of pace, a little farther south along Route 13, you'll find Antique Alley of Bridgeville, offering a huge and varied collection of antique, vintage and collectible items. To find out more, go to antiquealleyde.com.
Just a little farther south, enjoy lunch at Jimmy's Grille. The location in Bridgeville began as a Tastee-Freez in 1984. It was converted into Jimmy's Grille Restaurant in 1993, and quickly became famous for its fried chicken, huge portions and homemade desserts. For more information, go to jimmysgrille.org/jimmys-bridgeville.
South of Jimmy's Grille, turn left off Route 13 onto Seashore Highway (Route 404) and you'll come to the Evans’ third-generation family farm, produce market, and Frozen Farmer, at 9843 Seashore Highway, Bridgeville. Joseph and Rebecca Evans established Evans Farms in 1943. In the beginning the farm produced many different fruit and vegetable crops including pumpkins, peaches and asparagus. There were a packing facility and a gift shop on the farm.
In 2000, Kevin, the third generation, became a partner in the family business with his father Joe, and helped diversify the business with processing products that included spinach, peas, lima beans, sweet corn, string beans and pickling cucumbers. He also transitioned the roadside wagon to an on-farm produce market, Evans Farms Produce, selling local asparagus, canary melons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, peaches, strawberries, string beans, sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, and watermelons among many other local produce items. In 2005, Kevin became the sole owner and operator of his family farm at age 27 after his father, Joe, died in the line of duty with the Bridgeville Fire Co.
In 2015, Kevin, his wife Katey and her mother "Momma Jo" began their sister business, Frozen Farmer, an on-farm creamery and sorbet shop. It aimed to bring fresher alternatives to families by centering the menu on the farm-fresh ingredients grown and harvested at Evans Farms (sweet corn cream, anyone?) In 2016, they opened Delaware's first drive-through produce market along with a larger on-farm market. The facility, located one mile east of Route 13, is equipped with a carport where customers can drive their vehicles through the building and place their grocery order. The new Evans Farms building also boasts a spacious general store area where customers can shop amongst a 12-foot indoor grain silo and 10-foot indoor windmill. Together, Evans Farms and The Frozen Farmer host festivals and events at the farm for the community on a monthly basis throughout the farming season. Today, Evans Farms tills more than 2,000 acres in Delaware. For more information, go to evansfarmsproduce.com and thefrozenfarmer.com.
For information on additional farm tours and agritourism sites in Sussex County, go to Southern Delaware Tourism's Farm Adventures page at visitsoutherndelaware.com/side-trips/farm-adventures.
As always, safe travels and please watch your speed as you travel through our small towns. Speed limits are enforced. To do more armchair exploring of Southern Delaware, go to VisitSouthernDelaware.com, then go take a ride!
Hildegard W. Rieger is owner of Relaxing Tours LLC. Read more of her columns at beachpaper.com/tags/tourist-home.