AMITY, Pa. — Far off the beaten path in southwestern Pennsylvania, stands a farm with a sign on an outbuilding displaying one of its proudest achievements: 2012 Farmer of the Year for the Washington County Conservation District.
However, to Don Gardner, the farm and the award would mean nothing if he didn’t have his family.
“When I see a picture of my entire family, I know this farm is thanks to them. I appreciate them and realize I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” said Gardner.
Don has been married to his wife, Nadene, for 49 years. Together, they built a family — sons Bill and Jeffrey — and a farm. Jeffrey is married to Lisa and they are also involved in farming. They co-own a 145-acre farm in North Bethlehem Township with Gardner.
Now the family has a third generation interested in the farm. Don and Nadene have three grandsons: Scott and Nick (Bill’s children) and Parker (Jeffrey’s son.) Scott and Nick are very involved in the Fayette County 4-H and are involved in the showing circuit.
Don Gardner purchased his original farm in 1964. It is located in West Bethlehem Township and consists of 150 acres.
Surprisingly, Gardner did not grow up on a farm. He said he was always interested, but it wasn’t until serving in the Korean War that he realized what he wanted to do.
He would hear his buddies talking about Angus cattle and how they gained weight and provided good prices and that’s what made him realize what he wanted to do.
Today, the Gardners raise club calves that are mostly Angus-Maine Anjou cross. The farm has a total of 60 head of brood cows, 10 replacement heifers, 30 head of feeders and 10 donkeys on the farms.
Gardner said he has prided himself on searching for quality animals with good confirmation and nice temperaments.
He uses artificial insemination in his herd and every cow is artificially inseminated once a year. The cows are then turned out with bulls in the pasture.
Altogether, Gardner owns 350 acres and rents another 400 acres from the Pennsylvania Game Commission for hay production.
Conservation. Gardner has been a cooperator with the Washington County Conservation District since Sept. 14, 1964. At that time, Don was looking for assistance with soil erosion control, grassland improvement and tree planting.
More recently, he received EQIP cost-share funding for spring developments and water troughs to be constructed in the pastures on the farm.
Today, conservation remains an integral part of the farm with the construction of 13 paddocks on the property for a grazing system and a 50-by-90 roofed heavy use area with an integrated manure storage facility. The building is complete with head gates, which are used for the artificial breeding.
The manure storage facility allows cattle to be kept in one place and manure storage through the winter. The manure is then spread on the farm in the spring. Gardner said the manure system saves the farm a great deal on fertilizer since the farm doesn’t have to purchase any for the feed corn they raise.
The building was paid for with funding from the EQIP program, the Nutrient Management Plan Implementation Grant program, and his own funds.
In addition, Gardner planted no-till corn before it was a popular practice, and has used no-till practices or tilled as little as possible for years.
He has also planted warm season grasses and installed tile drainage systems on the farm.
Gardner is also proud of his crop rotation and conservation planning, including the construction of stabilized stream crossings, stream bank fencing, upland wildlife habitat management, subsurface drainage, and contour strip cropping. And for 16 years, he provided leadership to the county’s natural resources conservation work as a director on the conservation district board.
This family has devoted itself to the community as well as its farm.
Gardner helped to create the Washington County Cattlemen’s Association and was active in the Washington County Wool Growers Association. He also served on the state lamb and sheep committee for a number of years.
Both Gardner and Nadene are members of the Washington County Farm Bureau with Gardner having served 12 years on the board.
Don and Nadene also helped to create the apple pie auction, which is supported by various agriculture organizations and is held during National Ag Day at the Washington County mall. The money raised in 2013 was $8,000 for 11 pies and the proceeds are used for college scholarships. Gardner has since retired from the event after 25 years, but Nadene continues to be active in it.
Nadene served as a 4-H leader for 30 years and Gardner served for 25 before retiring.
Together, they believe the future of farming is in the hands of the county’s youth and without good leadership, agriculture will suffer.