Across the commonwealth, agriculture has a depth and breadth of impact on Pennsylvanians’ lives like virtually no other industry. From the food on our tables to the wood that those tables are made from; from the Christmas trees that countless children hope to find a pony under to some of the finest thoroughbred breeders in the country; and from the hundreds of thousands of jobs in agriculture to the billions and billions in revenue generated by the industry, there can be no denying how crucial it is to the state.
To recognize the people who help keep this enormous economic engine running, City & State Pennsylvania presents its first agriculture-focused power list, highlighting the public officials, farmers, business executives, association heads, labor leaders, policymakers and others who shape the state’s agricultural landscape.
The following profiles were researched and written by City & State staff and freelance writer Hilary Danailova.
A 16-year veteran of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Russell Redding was appointed Pennsylvania secretary of agriculture in 2015, having previously served in the role from 2009-11 under Gov. Ed Rendell. Redding, a dairy farmer, also chairs the USDA advisory committee on biotechnology and 21st-century agriculture. A former dean of the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at Delaware Valley College, Redding also worked as a policy adviser to the late U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford.
The descendant of a long line of Pennsylvania dairy farmers, U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson is the Republican leader of the House agriculture committee. Thompson, who represents the 15th Congressional District in Centre County, has played a key role in shaping and implementing the 2018 Farm Bill and other policies around rural development. Among the issues Thompson is known for: technology for Pennsylvania agribusinesses, forest oversight for the state’s hardwood industry, and milk in school lunches.
From family farms to Fortune 500 companies, Pennsylvania's agricultural businesses look to MeeCee Baker for representation in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. Baker owns Versant Strategies, a lobbying firm that specializes in rural and environmental concerns. The first woman elected president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators, Baker has a distinguished teaching record at Penn State, formerly led educational outreach for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and is a Medal of Honor recipient from the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture.
As the longtime executive vice president of PennAg Industries Association, Christian Herr is the voice of the commonwealth’s agribusiness industry. Herr advocates in Harrisburg for a diverse, 500-strong coalition of businesses, from aquaculture and horses to manure haulers and feed and grain suppliers. In addition to championing these industries before the legislature’s agriculture and rural affairs committees, Herr manages programs for his members that range from workshops and training opportunities to insurance and scholarships.
Since 2014, Richard Roush has served as dean of the commonwealth's powerhouse agricultural institution, Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, which has an annual research budget of nearly $100 million. Roush oversees 3,500 students enrolled in nine programs that include nearly 20 undergraduate majors as well as two-year, certificate and online offerings. Roush, an internationally recognized scholar of strategic insect pest and weed management, recently led a five-year strategic plan for the school, including a diversity initiative.
Dr. Andrew Hoffman has headed the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine since 2018. He guides one of the nation’s preeminent veterinary programs, founded in 1884 and known for its research not only in animal medicine, but also in the public health and food safety aspects of livestock and poultry diseases. Hoffman previously headed the regenerative medicine laboratory at Tufts University's veterinary school, where his groundbreaking pulmonary testing laboratory led to breakthrough treatments for human emphysema.
Kerry Golden grew up on a Franklin County farm and now heads the Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Her policy work has encompassed 1,500 bills, including Clean and Green, a program that saves farmers money by basing tax assessments on property use rather than value, and the 2014 rewrite of the Food Safety Law, which brought Pennsylvania into compliance with FDA guidelines. Golden received the 2020 Gold Medal from the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture.
From school lunches to cattle farmers, Robert Barley has had a hand in any number of dairy-related matters since becoming chair of the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board in 2018. Barley is himself a dairy farmer: He co-owns Star Rock Farms, his family’s 1,600-head Lancaster County outfit, where he oversees 60 employees as well as crop farming, hog finishing, broiler and cattle feedlot operations. Barley serves on the Lancaster County Ag Council’s executive committee and the Lancaster County Extension Board.
Greg Hostetter brings hands-on farming experience to his role as executive deputy secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, where he oversees a $227 million budget. Hostetter has a quarter-century of farming under his belt, from his family’s dairy farm to his own grain and beef operation. A deputy secretary since 2015, Hostetter, who has overseen food safety, animal health and the Farm Show Complex, is now working intensively on PA Farm Bill initiatives and forging partnerships to protect and grow Pennsylvania agriculture.
State Veterinarian Kevin Brightbill directs the Bureau of Animal Health and Diagnostic Services at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, where he plays a key role in safeguarding livestock health, public health, the food supply and the domestic animal industry. A former longtime dairy/mixed animal practitioner in Millerstown, Brightbill currently serves as the president of the North East United States Animal Health Association. Brightbill leads regional efforts to safeguard animal health – including, this spring, the state’s response to an avian flu outbreak.
A chicken farmer from childhood, Scott Sechler grew up to own Bell & Evans, the 128-year-old Pennsylvania poultry outfit known nationally for high-quality chicken. Over 35 years, Sechler has built on that legacy, overseeing the brand's first line of USDA organic chickens in 2009, as well as what it describes as the world's first organic-certified, animal welfare-focused chicken hatchery in 2017. Sechler now runs the family business alongside his two children, Margo and Scott Jr., both executive vice presidents.
Douglas Clemens is CEO and chair of the board of his family business, which includes a half-dozen brands that collectively earn $570 million in sales and employ more than 2,000 people across divisions that include Hatfield, PV Transport, CFC Logistics and Country View Family Farm. This year, the Clemens Food Group debuted a new 300,000-square-foot smoked pork operation at its Hatfield headquarters, on the heels of a $255 million, 650,000-square-foot pork processing plant in Coldwater, Michigan, both in collaboration with Gray, Inc.
Juniata Valley organic farmer Hannah Smith-Brubaker heads the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, a 30-year-old organization whose activities include farmer training and workshops and farm-based research on nitty-gritty agricultural topics (literally, as in soil).
Smith-Brubaker was previously Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of agriculture and, before that, president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union. In addition to operating Village Acres Farm & Foodshed, Smith-Brubaker currently serves on the Organic Farmers Association and chairs the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program’s Administrative Council.
From county fairs to grain-handling legislation to the ribbon-cutting for Penn State’s latest Agricultural Sciences building, state Sen. Elder A. Vogel Jr. is generally present wherever commonwealth agriculture is on the agenda. Vogel, a Republican, chairs the chamber’s Agriculture Rural Affairs Committee and represents the 47th District, which includes Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties. He is a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce and is a past president of the Beaver-Lawrence Farm Bureau.
State Sen. Judy Schwank is the Democratic chair of the chamber’s Agriculture Rural Affairs Committee as well as the Senate Democratic Caucus administrator. Schwank, who represents the 11th district in Berks County, also serves on the Game Fisheries, Appropriations, Aging Youth, and Health Human Services committees. She holds multiple degrees in agricultural education from Penn State and previously served as Berks County’s first female commissioner, where she championed the Berks Municipal Land Preservation program.
Republican state Rep. Dan Moul is majority chair of the Pennsylvania House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, where he recently oversaw legislation around milk hauling, agritourism liability, food donation and pandemic safety measures at food processing plants. Moul grew up on a farm in Adams County and owned a real estate management business before entering politics. He has represented the 91st district in Adams County since 2006.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski has been the Democratic chair of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee since 2017. Pashinski, who represents the 121st district from Luzerne County, helped pass the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Bill, for which he championed PA Preferred’s Homegrown by Heroes program that supports Pennsylvania veterans’ agricultural careers. Pashinski also chairs the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren and Legislative Sportsmen’s caucuses. He is a board member of the Center for Rural PA and the PA Hardwoods Development Council.
Douglas Wolfgang directs the Bureau of Farmland Preservation
at Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture, leading efforts to conserve the tradition he grew up with on a Schuylkill County grain farm. Wolfgang, who holds a degree in geo-environmental studies, oversees programs promoting environmental and economic sustainability and security for commonwealth farms. Since 2007, Wolfgang has also served as director of the Pennsylvania Farmland Preservation Program, which coordinates purchases of land for permanent agricultural conservation easements.
Third-generation Lancaster County farmer Ron Kreider heads his family business, Kreider Farms, founded by a Hershey family ancestor in 1739. Kreider runs a 3,000-acre operation with nearly 500 employees, retail sales and a farm homestead that has become a tourist destination. Under his leadership, the farm business sells dairy products, iced tea, Noah’s Pride brand eggs, and Chiques Creek hemp tea and hemp eggs.
Jennifer Reed-Harry is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Soybean Board, an industry group composed of soybean farmers from around the commonwealth. Under Reed-Harry’s leadership, the PSB is responsible for the collection and administration of the state’s soybean checkoff program, which invests in research to help farmers better manage their crops. Reed-Harry has also held roles with PennAg Industries, Country View Family Farms and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Richard Sharrer is the president of Agricultural Commodities, the fifth-generation, diversified agricultural company founded by the Sharrer family in 1904. Sharrer oversees locations in New Chester and Gettysburg and an operation that includes feed mill specializing in the custom manufacture of all-natural feeds, soybean meal processing, a fertilizer blend plant, a commodity trans load operation and a still-operational Conewago Creek flour mill that dates to the company’s founding, as well as a full-service garage for farm equipment.
In 2008, Central Pennsylvania dairy farmer Brett Reinford decided to tackle food waste through recycling in a bid to make his operation more sustainable. Reinford, who comes from a line of farmers, invested in equipment that recycles everything from packaging materials to food waste and manure and converts it into heat and electricity. In addition to powering his farm and local houses with sustainable energy, Reinford now handles food waste transportation and recycling for diverse area businesses, winning a 2017 biogas industry award from the American Biogas Council for his innovation.
State Sen. Gene Yaw, who chairs the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, authored this year’s revision of Pennsylvania’s Fertilizer Law and is a co-prime sponsor of legislation creating the Agricultural Conservation Assistance and Nutrient Procurement Programs. Yaw, a U.S. Army veteran who has represented the 23rd District since 2008, serves on the Pennsylvania Senate’s agriculture and rural affairs committee, among others, and chairs the Environmental Resources & Energy Committee. He is also a member of the Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Animal scientist Broc Sandelin is dean of agriculture and environmental sciences at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown. Sandelin has been widely lauded for his achievements, including receiving the Graduate of Distinction Award from the University of Arkansas, where he completed graduate studies, and earning early tenure along with numerous teaching awards at Cal Poly Pomona, where he also chaired the animal and veterinary sciences curriculum. At DVU, Sandelin oversees programs in agribusiness as well as equine, animal, plant and food sciences.
Christopher Pierce knows there is increasing demand for responsibly sourced eggs. As president of Heritage Poultry Management Services, he heads an Annville-based company that provides management services for both traditional and cage-free egg producers, including those who cultivate organic eggs. His company has a rigorous process for vetting farmers, supervising hens’ care and ensuring animal welfare standards. Pierce also serves on the advisory board of the Ohio-based Egg Industry Center, a research and resource organization for egg producers.
Community development scholar Brent Hales directs Penn State Extension, the university’s outreach branch offering flexible, community-based agricultural and science education. Hales also serves as associate dean at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. He is the founder of the Southern Entrepreneurship Program, a global leadership skills initiative for high school and community college students and displaced workers. Hales, a past president of the Community Development Society, previously served as the senior associate dean and chief financial officer of the University of Minnesota Extension.
Destiny Zeiders directs the Democratic agriculture and rural affairs committee at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Over her 17 years as a caucus employee, Zeiders has worked on myriad legislation, from farm property assessments to milk pricing to regulations around industrial hemp. Zeiders, who lives on a Juniata County farm, is an accomplished equestrian with more than 100 championships under her belt, and serves as national president of the Appaloosa Game Horse Association.
Third-generation mushroom impresario Steve Phillips heads Phillips Mushroom Farms, an enterprise first cultivated by his grandfather in Kennett Square in the late 1920s. Under the younger Phillips’ leadership, the company reentered the white button mushroom market, from which it had divested in favor of the exotic varieties it continues to produce. Steve Phillips has also overseen the transition to organic production, and over the past two decades, has built and expanded state-of-the-art growing facilities at Warwick Mushroom Farms in Maryland.
In 2005, David Jaindl bought Jaindl Farms, which his grandfather started with five turkeys from a county fair. Jaindl now heads a third-generation Lehigh Valley empire that includes not only a quarter-million turkeys raised annually, but also Jaindl Beverage, Schantz Orchards and Jaindl Land Company, a regional developer of residential and commercial projects. Jaindl also serves as a trustee for the Jaindl Foundation, which supports local nonprofits, and as director of Miracle League of the Lehigh Valley, a baseball program for disabled youth that he co-founded.
Attorney Alan Novak, the former chair of the Pennsylvania GOP as well as the Chester County GOP, is a familiar face in Harrisburg. He is a partner at the Rooney Novak Isenhour Group, the bipartisan strategic consulting firm he co-founded, as well as the founder of Novak Strategic Advisors, a full-service lobbying and public policy firm. Novak is also the longtime executive director of the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, where he advocates for one of the state’s powerhouse industries.
Longtime Wenger Group Executive Chair F. Barry Shaw has twice previously also served as CEO of the Rheems-based company. Shaw has long provided leadership for Wenger, which includes the poultry and swine feed maker Wenger Feeds, egg producer Dutchland Farms and Nutrify, which processes feed ingredients. In 2016, the High Center recognized Shaw with its Hall of Fame executive award for his accomplishments on behalf of a family business.
After nearly two decades at Country View Family Farms, Aaron Ott became president of this Middletown-based pork farming business in 2020. Ott previously served as the vice president of production at Country View, which is the hog production division of Clemens Food Group. He has helped lead major projects, including a transition to antibiotic-free pork and a group hog housing initiative.
As food insecurity and myriad shortages buffeted rural communities, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members stepped up, organizing community food drives and pressing for aid from Harrisburg. Steering these efforts is PFB President Richard Ebert, who has headed the organization since 2014 as well as serving on the executive committee and board of the American Farm Bureau. Ebert, a longtime leader with the PFB and a champion of the commonwealth’s agricultural industries, raises sheep, vegetables and dairy cows at his family farm in Westmoreland County.
Don Hoover owns Binkley & Hurst, a storied Lancaster County farm equipment company. Hoover oversees a business that began in the 1930s as a feed and fertilizer store and fledgling tractor dealership, then expanded into farm toys and a variety of agricultural equipment. Over the past several decades, Binkley & Hurst has expanded its scope and geographical reach, acquiring several related businesses along the way. Hoover is currently negotiating a merger between Binkley & Hurst and MM Weaver, another Pennsylvania farm equipment company.
Stroudsburg vegetable farmer Heidi Secord was appointed state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency in Pennsylvania this past January. Secord owns and operates a regenerative agricultural operation at the Josie Porter Farm in the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, where she cultivates crops for CSA members as well as a farmer-led local food hub. She is also a member and past president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and a member of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Who needs a plow? Certainly not Jim Hershey, president of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance. Hershey is a Lancaster County farmer who grows corn, soybeans and wheat and cultivates livestock using a regenerative method to maximize soil health. At the alliance, Hershey champions his crop cover farming technique, promulgating the plow-free approach through myriad resources and events, such as PA Farm Show demonstrations. He also leads his organization’s efforts to promote sustainable agriculture through policy and legislation.
Caleb Wright grew up on his family’s Huntingdon County sheep and goat farm, serving as a state officer for FFA. He draws on those early experiences as a lobbyist for rural interests at Versant Strategies, an agriculture-focused Harrisburg advocacy group where he is chief operating officer. Wright is also currently president of the Pennsylvania FFA Foundation and was elected to the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences alumni society board.
As a Perry County farm boy, Wayne Campbell was president of his local FFA chapter and a junior granger with the Pennsylvania State Grange – the fifth generation of his family to be involved with the organization. He is currently Grange president and master, having previously served as vice president and overseer. Campbell guides a statewide organization whose myriad local chapters are devoted to agricultural activities, community service, and advocacy for rural-friendly policy.
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences has a champion in Michael Stefan. Stefan directs state-level lobbying on behalf of Penn State’s 24 locations as well as Penn State Extension, representing the university’s powerhouse agricultural programs and serving as a liaison to government, business, and industry. Previously, Stefan was director of legislative affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, director of government affairs for the Office of the Attorney General, and legislative director for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.
Michael Smith’s appreciation for Pennsylvania agriculture stems from his childhood on an Indiana County family farm, while his political skills were honed in various roles with the Commonwealth. Smith, now the director of commonwealth relations for the University of Pennsylvania, leads advocacy on behalf of Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, educating policymakers on Penn Vet’s role in supporting agriculture. Smith previously served as executive deputy secretary of agriculture under Gov. Tom Wolf; prior to that, he worked in the Rendell administration and the Pennsylvania Treasury.
As members of the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association dole out their famous milkshakes at the state’s annual Farm Show, David Smith is there to make sure visitors get a taste of his industry’s bounty. Smith has helmed the PDA, a 151-year-old organization, since 1995, overseeing pop-up milkshake events and the association’s recent collaboration with Feeding Pennsylvania on Fill a Glass with Hope, a statewide program aimed at providing milk to hungry children. Smith also serves as vice chair of the board of Horizon Farm Credit.
Ending hunger in the Delaware Valley is the mission of Loree Jones, CEO since 2020 of Philabundance, a 38-year-old Philadelphia nonprofit. Jones guides the organization’s local food distribution as well as virtual food drives, a charity-driven catering operation and a community kitchen. A veteran of public-sector administration, Jones led Philabundance’s pandemic expansion in response to skyrocketing hunger; the agency distributed 52 million pounds of food in 2021, up from 30 million in previous years, reaching 135,000 people each week via 350 partner agencies.
Agricultural scholar Carol Hardbarger leads an agency whose purview includes everything from dairy pricing and USDA school meal program purchases to addressing producer challenges in the nation’s seventh-largest milk-producing state. The first agricultural educator to receive a National Science Foundation Young Career Award, Hardbarger previously taught at Cornell University, spearheaded a national project on agricultural education standards, and served as chief educator for the GLOBE environmental education program.
Michael Kovach, board president of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union, isn’t your typical Pennsylvania farmer. He runs a first-generation, direct-to-consumer regenerative operation, Walnut Hill Farm, in Mercer County. At the PFU, for which he previously served as vice president and director of policy, Kovach leads a grassroots organization that advocates for family farms, champions farmer’s markets and provides education and resources – including insurance, equipment and technology – to its diverse membership.
Organic farming guru Jeff Moyer leads Rodale Institute, a Kutztown-based nonprofit organization that has promoted organic, regenerative agriculture for more than 70 years. Moyer is best known for championing a Rodale-designed tractor implement called the roller crimper that allows large-scale farmers to avoid tilling and help preserve soil integrity. Moyer is the founder of Regenerative Organic Certification, a founding board member of the Soil Health Institute and Pennsylvania Certified Organic and a past chair of the National Organic Standards Board.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary of his family business, Messick’s Farm Equipment President and CEO Bryan Messick unveiled a new, 200,000-square-foot facility last winter. The Mount Joy site is the largest of five Pennsylvania locations for the company, which was started by Messick's family in 1952. Bryan Messick now oversees the multigenerational business, which offers new and used equipment sales, service and parts.
For Pennsylvanians struggling to feed their families, the state’s nine Feeding America food banks are a lifeline, and their chief advocate is Jane Clements. Clements heads Feeding Pennsylvania, which serves 2 million clients with 164 million pounds of food annually through 2,700 local partner agencies. Under her leadership, Feeding Pennsylvania administers the state Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Surplus System, directing excess food to hungry residents. Clements worked with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to create the 2018 Farm Bill’s Farm to Food Bank Act.
Along with brothers Aaron and Andrew, Abe Harpster is a partner in Evergreen Farms, a Spruce Creek family business founded in 1965 by their father, Wayne Harpster. Abe Harpster oversees the milk markets and the Holstein dairy herd for Spruce Creek’s commercial milk production, the farm’s feed milling and a milk logistics operation that hauls approximately 230,000 pounds of milk daily. He is also responsible for the farm’s daily financial operations.
Pittsburgh is better known for self-driving cars than community agriculture, but John Bixler is trying to change that. He leads Hilltop Urban Farm, a nonprofit community enterprise on 107 acres of land in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop neighborhood, including the city’s largest fruit orchard and a youth farm orchard with more than a half-dozen species. In addition to coordinating 23 acres of crops, Bixler leads Hilltop’s youth center education and workforce training program, both aimed at cultivating urban farmers along with sustainable agriculture.
Hungry residents have Joe Arthur to thank for a decade of leadership at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Arthur, who had a long career in finance and accounting with community banks, was a volunteer board member at the food bank before assuming his current role in 2012. On behalf of the many Pennsylvanians suffering food insecurity, Arthur advocates for the Food Bank before legislators, government agencies, community groups and prospective donors. He is also a national council representative at Feeding America.
Philadelphia is a beer mecca today, but when Tom Kehoe founded Yards Brewing in 1994, craft beer was still a relative novelty. Kehoe didn’t just help galvanize an industry – he also built one of the region’s iconic brands, growing Yards from 15 barrels weekly to 100,000 barrels annually and five locations, with an emphasis on environmental and social responsibility. Kehoe is a board of governors’ member of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas and secretary of the Brewers of Pennsylvania.
Produce maven Mark Smith oversees the largest refrigerated building in the world – the 676,000-square-foot Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. As general manager since 2018, Smith has streamlined the market’s operations, reduced operating costs, diverted landfill waste by nearly 65% and partnered with area hunger relief organizations to donate more than 5 million pounds of produce this year. In March, the National Association of Produce Market Managers named him Market Manager of the Year. Smith previously worked in the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf.
Stephon Fitzpatrick, the new executive director of Pennsylvania’s Commission for Agricultural Education Excellence, is a 33-year-old native Kansan who was his high school FFA chapter’s first Black president. Fitzpatrick later became the national graduate student president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, traveling the country to speak to other nontraditional would-be ag students about the field’s myriad opportunities. At the commission, he advocates for education and hopes to help diversify the field.
Programs to protect water, soil and other natural resources are Karl Brown’s area of expertise. As State Conservation Commission Executive Secretary since 1995, Brown has helped craft and administer the Pennsylvania Farm Bill’s Conservation Excellence grants and AgriLink low-interest loans, which direct funding to water and soil conservation. Brown also manages policy around dirt and gravel roads and oversees tax credits for resource protection. He previously worked in government relations for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Lebanon Conservation District.
Commonwealth flora have an advocate in Gregg Robertson, the government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association. Robertson advocates in Harrisburg and beyond for the PLNA, a 118-year-old trade group whose members comprise Pennsylvania’s $6.8 billion green industry. Robertson, the PLNA’s former president, represents the legislative, regulatory and policy interests of diverse businesses, including landscape contractors, retail garden centers, wholesale nurseries and greenhouses.
In 2004, whiskey authority Robert Cassell co-founded Philadelphia Distilling, Pennsylvania’s first distillery since Prohibition. He currently heads Millstone Spirits Group, a Philadelphia-based craft spirits company where he also oversees its New Liberty Distillery. Cassell, who studied brewing and distilling in Scotland, is also the master distiller of The Connacht Distillery in Ireland. He is president of the Pennsylvania Distiller Guild, an original craft member of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, and a board member with the American Distilling Institute.
The intersection of farming and technology is where you’ll find Ian Kanski. As executive director of the Center for Advanced Agriculture and Sustainability at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Kanski oversees a partnership with the GIANT Company and a coalition of technology providers aimed at connecting farmers with technology to make their operations more economically and environmentally sustainable. Kanski also serves on the board of the FarmTech Society and is a co-founder of INTAG, a developer of biological systems for climate-smart farming.
Last fall, Sally Johnson became vice president for New Holland Agriculture North America, a 125-year-old farm equipment brand that has sold tractors for over a century. Johnson previously spent 16 years in a variety of roles at CNH Industrial, the multinational agricultural and construction equipment company, where, as director of sales, she oversaw strategy and retail execution for the U.S. and Canada field sales team. In her new role, Johnson aims to further expand the farm equipment brand’s North American presence.
From farmers’ mental health to fluctuating tomato prices, Stephen Seeber moderates the conversation around central Pennsylvania agriculture. Seeber is the longtime managing editor of Lancaster Farming and has been a fixture at LNP Media Group for nearly 30 years, highlighting issues that go beyond coverage of meat, dairy and commodity news to include evolving industry topics like the cannabis boom and the growth of farmer's markets.
After nearly a quarter-century at Ocean Spray and a career in food retailing, Larry Martin became CEO of Knouse Foods in 2020. He oversees this Peach Glen-based, farmer-owned cooperative comprising 100 Appalachian Valley farmers, five manufacturing plants and a variety of brands, including Lucky Leaf and Musselman's. Under Martin's leadership, Knouse focuses on sustainability and expansion beyond apple products – the core of its business – to other fruits, fruit-based pie fillings and related foods.
Rob Boulware has a lifelong relationship with Pennsylvania’s natural resources. A board member of his local 4-H and the PA FFA Foundation, Boulware currently directs communications and government relations and develops public-private partnerships for the Seneca Resources Corporation, a Houston-based company involved in developing the Marcellus Shale natural gas and oil reserves. In the last 10 years, with Seneca’s support, Boulware has purchased 500 animals at Pennsylvania county fairs and helped generate more than $400,000 for ag youth projects.
Every August, Jesse Darlington ensures that Pennsylvanians can celebrate local farming at the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences’ Ag Progress Days, the state’s largest outdoor agricultural exposition. Overseeing the event’s 400-plus exhibitors, food and fun is Darlington, the event’s show manager since 2017. Darlington has been involved with Ag Progress Days for nearly three decades, managing the show grounds – tractor demonstrations, pigs and rabbits, a sunflower maze and more – along with administrative duties.
Shale gas expert Ross Pifer directs the Center for Agricultural and Shale Law at Penn State Law, where he has significantly expanded the center’s online programs over the past two years. He oversees a research team of attorneys and law students dedicated to addressing the complex legal issues arising from the intersection of shale gas development, Pennsylvania agricultural businesses, and rural landowners. Pifer is a former attorney with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of General Counsel.
Over a career in Pennsylvania agriculture lobbying, Darrin Youker has worked on key legislation – including agritourism liability reform, a novice farmer tax credit, farm equipment updates and the state’s recently proposed Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program. In May, Youker joined Horizon Farm Credit as a government affairs officer after a decade at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, where he was the longtime member communications director and most recently led state government affairs.
Andy Jacobs just can't stay away from the sweets. After holding executive positions at Hostess, the Wolfgang Candy Company and Hershey, Jacobs was appointed CEO of ice cream manufacturer Turkey Hill last year. He is tasked with growing the 91-year-old, Conestoga-based brand, which was sold by Kroger in 2019 to a private equity firm. Jacobs, who has a three-decade background in business development, is also vice chair of the International Dairy Food Association's ice cream board.
Matt Gabler has served as executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association since retiring from the Pennsylvania State legislature in 2020 after six terms. At PFPA, Gabler has expanded membership to 280 and advocated for transportation policy on behalf of commonwealth timber operators, sawmills and paper and wood product manufacturers. Gabler, a major in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, also serves on the state’s hardwoods development council and the conservation and natural resources advisory committee.
Kyle Kopko heads the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Under Kopko’s leadership, the center works closely with the legislature, state and federal agencies to consider effective policy for the state’s 3.4 million rural residents. Kopko, a political scientist, was recently appointed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Council on Rural Affairs. He previously served as associate dean of institutional effectiveness, research and planning at Elizabethtown College.
Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Plateau region produces 80% of the world’s cherry hardwood, a prized material for high-quality furniture. As executive director of the Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group, Amy Shields is the voice of that industry and a guardian of its highly forested region, a 14-county slice of northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania. Shields, a lumber veteran, advocates for sustainability, safety and associated manufacturing industries, as well as coordinating resources for the group’s membership.
A longtime fixture in Pennsylvania agriculture, Kurt Fuchs has led lobbying efforts for a decade at Horizon Farm Credit, the century-old Mechanicsburg lender specializing in agriculture, home and land loans throughout the mid-Atlantic. Fuchs oversees Horizon’s government advocacy and industry relations, as well as corporate giving and member education programs. Fuchs previously worked in government relations for the Maryland Farm Bureau and serves on the Penn State Ag Council, the Pennsylvania State Council of Farm Organizations and the Pennsylvania Rural-Urban Leadership program.
As a young claims adjuster, Bernard Morrissey realized that conventional insurance companies often didn’t understand the coverage needs of farm businesses. So he founded Morrissey Insurance in 1971, concentrating on farms and agribusinesses and later expanding into land development. Morrissey now oversees a full-service, Ephrata-based firm with 14 agents that offers farm, business, crop, dairy revenue, life, auto and homeowner insurance. Morrissey is an active member or sponsor of Pennsylvania Young Farmers, the Pennsylvania Poultry Federation, the Pennsylvania Holstein Association and local 4-H clubs.
James Simpson chairs Hanover Shoe Farms, a storied Hanover operation that has been among the top-earning North American horse breeders for as long as anyone can remember. Simpson, whose father was among the founders of the Hanover tradition, now steers a Pennsylvania nursery that raises stallions, yearlings and broodmares and has produced myriad winners for harness racing’s most prestigious events, including the Hambletonian, Kentucky Futurity, Little Brown Jug and Breeders Crown.
A generation of Pennsylvania farmers owes its success in part to Mike Brammer, who is the longtime executive director of the Pennsylvania FFA Association. In this role, Brammer works closely with the Pennsylvania FFA Foundation, which raises more than $400,000 annually to support the state’s FFA chapters and agricultural education initiatives. Last year, Brammer won the Pennsylvania Association of Ag Educators’ Outstanding Service Award for his 20 years of service to the FFA Association and his leadership roles with the PAAE.
Regenerative agriculture has been Lancaster County farmer Steve Groff's passion for a quarter-century. At his Cedar Meadow Farm in Holtwood, Groff uses soil health techniques to harvest and produce hemp and CBD products, from oils and lotions to pet supplies. Groff has won many awards for his no-till, sustainable farming techniques, and coaches farmers on cover crop use.
The three grandchildren of Gottlieb Dietz – Louis Eni Jr., Cindy Eni Yingling and Chris Eni – are carrying on the business established in 1939 by Dietz and Walter Watson, who developed the company's original bratwurst recipe. Today, the third generation oversees national meat, cheese and snack empire based in Philadelphia. Under their leadership, the company maintains standards that include using humanely raised animals, eschewing hormones and artificial flavorings, and expanding into organic and antibiotic-free selections among more than 700 products.
From the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show to the Keystone International Livestock Expo to weekly farm and flea markets, Sharon Myers oversees it all as executive director of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center, the region’s largest facility and a division of the state’s Department of Agriculture. Myers, who previously was vice president of operations for Visit Hershey & Harrisburg, recently spearheaded $20 million in capital improvements for the complex. She lives on her family’s 100-acre East Berlin farm.
Pennsylvania dairy farmer Jayne Sebright is the longtime head of the Center for Dairy Excellence of Pennsylvania and its affiliated foundation. Sebright, who co-owns the fourth-generation East Berlin farm she grew up on, champions an industry that contributes more than 52,000 jobs and $12.6 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy annually. Under her leadership, CDE provides grants, resources and programming to commonwealth dairy farmers, while the nonprofit Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation offers programming for K-12 students, as well as internships for would-be farmers.
Harrisburg native and pretzel aficionado Alex Baloga leads the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, where he represents 800 member companies, 4,000 stores and a 250,000-strong workforce. Baloga oversaw the successful expansion of alcohol sales and pharmacy services into retail stores, while helping members navigate a transition to online ordering and myriad shortages. Baloga previously honed his political skills as an associate with the lobbying firm of Greenlee Partners and as a campaign fundraiser and regional field manager for Sen. Bob Casey.
From whole milk in public schools to the Farm Show lineup, Dieter Krieg brings Pennsylvania dairy farmers the latest news every week. Krieg edits Farmshine, a weekly publication covering dairy industry news in Pennsylvania and throughout the Mid-Atlantic – where more than three-quarters of all dairy farmers are subscribers. Krieg was recognized as a National Dairy Shrine Pioneer for more than four decades of dairy coverage and thought-provoking editorials that are the talk of the industry.
For four decades, Pennsylvania farmers and agribusinesses have turned to Greg Kirkham for his specialized industry knowledge around their insurance needs. Kirkham is a specialty lines field manager at Westfield Insurance’s Lancaster County offices, where he is a longtime fixture in the Ohio-based company’s agribusiness department. His expertise is in insurance products tailored to farms, food and animal producers, and other rural and agricultural outfits. Kirkham is a member of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council.
Andy Ernst has heard that old saw about the apple not falling far from the tree more times than he can count – but in his case, it’s particularly apt. Ernst is vice president of Ernst Conservation Seeds, the Eastern U.S.’s largest native seed producer and supplier, founded by his father, Calvin, on 9,000 acres in northwestern Pennsylvania. In 2015, the Atlantic Seed Association named Andy Ernst Seedsman of the Year for his innovation and advocacy with the native seed industry.
In the three years since he assumed leadership of Kraft Heinz, Miguel Patricio has guided a strategic overhaul of the world’s fifth-largest food and beverage company. Among other moves, Patricio raised prices to remain competitive, divested the company of non-core brands like Planters nuts, spearheaded sustainability efforts – like a ketchup bottle made from 100% recycled wood pulp – and introduced new products like the Heinz 57 line of gourmet spreads. Under Patricio’s leadership, both revenue and the company’s stock price remain stable amid a volatile market.
When David McElhaney isn’t overseeing beef production at McElhaney Family Farm, a century-old cattle business, he’s probably helping others locate their own livestock. McElhaney serves as northeast regional manager at Allflex USA, the American division of Allflex Livestock Intelligence, a global outfit that produces identification and monitoring systems to help farmers track their animals’ whereabouts, health and wellbeing. On his family’s Hookstown farm, McElhaney oversees an operation that supplies premium dry-aged beef to local farmer’s markets and beyond.
Sandy Hopple leads the Pennsylvania Livestock Association, a nonprofit organization that represents more than 650 livestock breeders and agribusinesses throughout the commonwealth. She is also assistant director at the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, where she supervises the Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Under Hopple’s leadership, the PLA advocates for the cattle, sheep, swine and horse industries and supports numerous programs and scholarships. Hopple also supervises the Association’s sponsorship of the annual Keystone International Livestock Exposition, one of the world’s premier livestock events.
Since 1959, Karns Foods has been a destination for Central Pennsylvania grocery shoppers. Scott Karns now runs the Mechanicsburg-based company founded by his father, David, overseeing nine locations that feature full-service meat departments, produce, on-site bakeries and an emphasis on locally sourced products. Last year, in a bid to promote local meat and support the region’s small farms, Karns launched a program in which the stores partner directly with local beef farmers to raise animals for meat.
Growing up on a fourth-generation Lancaster beef and crop farm, Loren Hershey participated in 4-H and FFA programs and heard markets, weather and farm management discussed around the dinner table. Today, Hershey is a vice president and the agribusiness relationship manager at Fulton Financial Corporation, where he oversees lending, treasury and risk management for the firm’s agricultural financial services group. Hershey previously worked in accounting roles for HOPE international and the Walz Group.
Overseeing the Masser Family of Companies potato empire is Keith Masser, an eighth-generation farmer whose Pennsylvania tuber roots go back to the mid-1700s. Today, Masser leads a business that distributes 250 million pounds of potatoes annually alongside grain and hay and employs 300 people. Since taking over from his father in 1984, Masser has expanded operations, implemented new technologies and introduced new products. Masser, an agricultural engineering alumnus of Penn State, supports several scholarships at its College of Agricultural Sciences.
Matt Asplundh became CEO of his family’s 94-year-old business, Asplundh Tree Expert, in 2021. Asplundh, who has three decades of company experience, oversees the nation's largest utility vegetation management company, which has 33,000 employees throughout North America, Australia and New Zealand. His ascension represents a new era for a company that, in 2017, received the largest-ever fine – $95 million – in the history of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, imposed for repeatedly and knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
Farmers negotiating land or seeking advice about anything from invasive species to farm finances turn to Pennsylvania Farm Link, a comprehensive online clearinghouse for agriculture. Overseeing the nonprofit organization is Darlene Livingston, a fourth-generation partner at Mahoning Creek Farm, her family’s Indiana County livestock and grain operation. At Pennsylvania Farm Link, Livingston works with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and farms statewide to maintain educational programs, events and financial and legal resources.
In a quarter-century as CEO of ECM Insurance Group, Randy Shaw has transformed his small hometown mutual insurer into the third-largest farm insurer in Pennsylvania. Upon assuming leadership of Everett-based ECM, Shaw narrowed its focus from general insurance to agriculture and expanded from two to 17 states. Shaw is a third-generation family cattle farmer who supplies grass-fed beef to the hotel and restaurant he owns. An accountant by training, he is a director at the American Association of Insurance Services.
Pennsylvania agriculture has a white, rural image. Raqueeb Ajamu-Osagboro is changing that as the founder of the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op, where she is executive director, and of Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, a sustainable gardening program for African American youth. She also coordinates several grassroots food-access nonprofits. Ajamu-Osagboro is a 2022 Nuffield international farming scholar, a board member for the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and a member of the City of Pittsburgh Shade Tree Commission.
Jason Green, CEO and co-founder of Upward Farms, develops technology that facilitates sustainable agriculture – and he's bringing what he calls the world's largest vertical farm to Luzerne County this year, building on an existing business centered around microgreens and fish. Green, a former neuroscience researcher, is currently overseeing construction of a 250,000-square-foot aquaponics facility in Hanover Township, with production and sales of sustainable foods planned for the Northeastern U.S. in 2023.
Food Industry Hall of Famer Nicholas Bertram heads The GIANT Company, a century-old omnichannel grocer with locations throughout the mid-Atlantic. Bertram, who received the 2021 Food Industry Trailblazer Award from the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, previously held executive roles at The GIANT Company’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize. He currently chairs the board of directors of the Pennsylvania Chamber and co-chairs the Corporate Council, and is a member of the Foundation Board of Overseers for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Gary Heim, a shareholder in the Harrisburg firm of Mette, Evans & Woodside, is one of the state’s preeminent agricultural law experts. Heim grew up on a farm in Schuylkill County and now specializes in providing legal counsel to Pennsylvania’s agricultural communities. His expertise in tax, estate, business and real estate law has helped thousands of family farms transition their operations from one generation to the next. Heim, a member of the American Agricultural Law Association, was named one of America’s Best Lawyers in 2021.
Laura Karet has spent a decade as CEO of Giant Eagle, one of the nation's largest food, fuel and pharmacy retailers – and one of its largest private corporations. Karet oversees a company with approximately $9 billion in annual sales, more than 30,000 employees and 400-plus locations throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states. Karet has worked at Giant Eagle for 22 years, including a previous post as the company’s chief strategy officer and senior executive vice president, guiding expansion into new retail formats.
Supermarket scion Jonathan Weis heads Weis Markets, the Sunbury-based grocery company his grandfather, Harry Weis, founded in 1912. The younger Weis has spent the past 35 years working for the business, the last eight as president and CEO, overseeing the chain's expansion of online retail. He oversees 23,000 employees and 200 stores throughout the mid-Atlantic region, as well as a proprietary milk processing operation and Weis Quality ice cream.
When Pennsylvania’s agricultural outfits contemplate real estate transactions, or farmers look to estate planning, attorney Jody Anderson Leighty is often involved. Leighty chairs the real estate group and the agricultural industry group at the York law firm of Stock and Leader, where she handles a variety of property and estate matters. She serves on the board of directors for Pennsylvania Farm Link, the W. Dale Brougher Foundation YMCA, the York County Community Foundation and Northern Central Railway of York.
There are nearly 18,000 beef, dairy and veal producers in the commonwealth, and Nichole Hockenberry represents them all as executive director of the Pennsylvania Beef Council. Hockenberry, who holds a degree in animal sciences, has worked for the Beef Council since 2009 and now heads the nonprofit that advocates for Pennsylvania's 53,000 farm families. Under Hockenberry’s direction, the council administers Pennsylvania’s cattle and beef sales assessments via the Beef Checkoff Program, part of the 1985 Farm Bill.
Rita Resick, a farmer and food insecurity expert, made history this year when she was the first woman to be elected president of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association. Resnick heads a statewide organization that advocates for farmer-friendly policy around issues such as fertilizer and land use, administers scholarships and maintains a strong presence at agricultural events like the PA Farm Show. Resnick maintains a longtime involvement with her family’s Somerset business, Laurel Vista Farms, which grows vegetables, grains and grass.
A passion for horses drives Gail Eichelberger’s work at the Pennsylvania Equine Council, which bills itself as “the voice for the horse, for Pennsylvanians who love horses." As council president, Eichelberger heads the commonwealth’s leading horse advocacy group, promoting community and industry among diverse equine interests. Under Eichelberger’s leadership, the PEC advocates for equine-friendly legislation; offers training for horse owners, land managers, fire departments and other entities; and supports horse owners’ legal, employment and other challenges.
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