Nearly every acre in Southern Chester County was once a Quaker acre. A faded memory. Anna and Mark Myers, who continue the tradition, accept that. “Not many of us think of ourselves as Quaker farmers anymore, but that’s okay,” Mark says. “The farms are still here. Families just did other things.”
Of their four children, one son lives across Newark Road in the other main farmhouse on the Walton Myers Farm in the Village of London Grove, but he’s an electrical engineer, not a farmer. Their daughter, a veterinarian, practices in Maryland. Two other sons live in San Francisco.
Because of their age—Anna and Mark are 78—and because they’ve also lost hay-wagon-unloading grandsons to other worldly ventures, they’re no longer in the small hay bale business. Today, they use the round hay bales they harvest for their own heritage cows, a herd of Belted Galloway, with some bales sold to mushroom growers.
For all the change, the land around here has largely remained the same. Mark, and the Walton family he married into, has seen the region’s agricultural evolution. “It’s an amazing area to live in,” he says. “It’s hunt country and the land has been kept open primarily for equestrian pursuits, but we still do agriculture here.”
The 166-acre Walton Myers Farm borders Route 926 to the north and south. The herd of Belted Galloway totals 30, though it’s reached 40. It’s a financial, and agricultural, balance to sustainably feed the herd all winter with what the farm provides. The cows consume 180 round bales a year.
Anna’s great-grandfather Edward Bennett (E.B.) Walton merged two farms, his own to the east of Newark Road and an old Pennock farm to the west, in 1911. The Walton farm took root with her great-great grandfather, David Walton, in 1819. He began farming in 1827, and the land’s remained in varied agricultural use since. It was a dairy for a long time. Once, there were also greenhouses for carnations, orchids and roses. Cut flowers became a steadfast business—as the hay and cattle are today.
There are two dominant cows in the world—Holsteins for dairy and Black Angus for beef. Anna’s brother David ran a Holstein dairy business into the mid-1980s. He raised nine children with that herd. Now both Anna’s brothers have died; she is the current farm’s property manager and the last of her generation.
The couple’s Belted Galloway, unique grass-fed beef cows, are slower to grow, and until recently were a threatened (and now on “watch” status) breed. Just 18,000 are registered in the country, according to the Belted Galloway Society Inc. Formed from a centuries-old registered Scottish breed called the Galloway, the Belted Galloway separated in the mid-19th century and looks like the black Galloway except for the solid white belt around its mid-section. It’s thought that a milk cow in Holland with a belt, a so-called Dutch belting, was crossed with a Galloway to create the “Belties.”
The Walton Myers Farm likes to unite four buyers per 1,000-pound beef steer, which has grazed for about three years. It will net 600 pounds of beef, or 125 pounds per buyer. Cattle are also available for purchase or breeding.
Mark began with Belties in 2000 after retiring as a Xerox executive. He began acquiring them to please a granddaughter interested in 4-H. “We bought four animals,” Mark says. “If you buy four, chances are you’ll get one that’s trainable and showable—and we did.”
For 20 years the hay business’ first cuttings fit the needs of mushroom growers, then second and third cuttings were for horses and the farm’s herd, which now include three bulls. Herd sire Choptank Rex is a 13-year-old from the old Sharp Farm in Middletown, Del. There’s also his 2-year-old son Walton Myers Stormy, who was born on a stormy night. The future, though, is pinned on 3-year-old Aldermere Arlington, an arrival last summer from a prominent foundation herd in Maine. Mark, who breeds when an animal is 18 months to 2 years of age, sometimes buys non-related heifers. There are typically four or five calves a season in the spring and fall.
Eighty acres of haymaking begins in mid-May, if possible. Harvesting continues through mid-September. The farm’s quietest stretch is between December and February unless there are early calves. By January 1, the herd gets barn-stored round bales, “their treat,” Mark says.
Anna has been associated with London Grove and the Walton farm her entire life, except for the couple’s college years.
As a child, she played in a then-family tenant house—their Georgian brick and stone home built by Joseph Pennock in 1790—but until Anna and Mark restored it between 1989 and 1992 (and the stunning barn, too) it stood empty for decades. When finished, the house won the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Great American Home Award Grand Prize for 1996.
The “family farm” side farmhouse dates to 1822. Originally her great-great grandfather’s, it became her grandmother’s and is where some afternoons Anna would sit on a back porch with cousins and count passing cars on Route 926 “when it was rare to see one,” she says, “waiting for Ricky, the ice cream man to spend our pennies. There were three or four cars (an afternoon) sometimes.”
Mark grew up in Indiana. He met Anna at Earlham College, a small Quaker school in Richmond, Ind. “My experience away from here back then was nil,” Anna admits. A week after she graduated in 1959, they were married at the London Grove Meetinghouse adjacent to the farm, and just above where Mark now walks into a barn for grain.
A search for Aldermere Arlington ensues, but despite his 2,000-pound presence, it takes a full-perimeter round trip to find him. “Once in a while one gets out through the fencing, and we go into a state of emergency,” Mark says.
Later, Anna admits there’s a cow called Houdini, but she feels joy in having animals—and in her memories of 4-H, gardening and sewing. “It was all very domestic— things that are not valued today,” she says. “An aunt had guineas. We had pigs, and sheep. One was such a pet, it came into the house. We had two teams of working horses, Rock and Rollie and Prince and Pete.”
When Anna was growing up, Thanksgiving dinners at her grandmother’s approached 20. Attendance hit 60 at the meetinghouse before her mother died. Then numbers dwindled—like all those Quaker acres. But old pictures prove the land hasn’t changed. “We like things to stay the same,” says Anna, who sits on the township’s planning commission. “Sometimes there isn’t a meeting for six months,” she says with a laugh. “It’s not progressive, but we value open space.”