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York College Alumni Cultivate Sustainable Farming and Agriculture Education

August 15, 2023
Family Farmers
Mary Stewart ’06 and her family pictured on their Maryland-based property, Fawn View Farm.

Mary Stewart ’06, James Cornwell ’20, and Becky Cornwell ’05 have embraced sustainable farming and are making a positive impact through their area farms.

Season by season, the shifting landscapes of regional farms bring sustenance to the table and sustainability to the land. Three York College of Pennsylvania alumni across two farms, driven by their passion for agriculture and armed with their higher education experience, are leading the way in connecting people to their food, promoting environmental stewardship, and fostering community relationships.

Mary Stewart: Connecting people to agriculture

Mary Stewart ’06, who majored in Public Relations and minored in Speech Communication and Marketing, found her calling in connecting people to agriculture. Growing up on a family farm, she was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). Throughout her time at York College, she spent weekends working at the Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation, teaching and coupling people of all ages to agriculture.

Her career took her away from those deep agricultural roots, though. After college, Stewart spent nearly a decade working in marketing, advertising, and sales. When she learned she was pregnant with twins, her second and third children, Stewart decided to put her career on hold and stay home with the children at her family farm.

“It’s not what I ever expected,” Stewart says of quitting her job and raising her children on the farm. “I’ve never felt more alive than when I came home. The sense of freedom was the most liberating thing.”

Stewart brought many of the marketing and public relations lessons she had learned at York College and in her jobs back to her Maryland-based Fawn View Farm, which soon became a hub for educational events, parties, and community gatherings.

“I love connecting people to their food and where it comes from,” she says.

Through diversified rotation of corn, soybeans, barley, sorghum, orchard grass, and hay on over 700 acres of leased land, Stewart demonstrates the importance of sustainable farming. She hopes that Fawn View Farm inspires others to appreciate the hard work behind the food on their plates and advocates for the preservation of open spaces for future generations.

“Being on the farm is the hardest, most beautiful thing,” she says.

James and Becky Cornwell: Nurturing sustainable livestock

James Cornwell, a Navy veteran, earned his Master of Business Administration degree from York College in 2020. He and his wife, Becky Cornwell ’05, who earned a Nursing degree, launched Nine Pines Farm in York County in 2016. Driven by James’ love of farming, they raise pastured chickens and pigs and grow flowers that they sell freshly cut.

“I grew up farming, and my heart has always been in farming,” James says. “When we moved back to the area, my one requirement was to have a little bit of land to get my farming fix.”

After launching the farm, James decided to use his GI Bill benefits to earn his MBA from York College. He wanted an in-person college experience that could help him expand Nine Pines Farm. In every class, he tied his projects and papers to the farm, learning practical and applicable lessons.

As a result, the farm began to grow exponentially. The Cornwells went from raising 50 chickens their first year to 12,000 last year.

“The people we’ve met, the customers, they’ve all been very supportive,” James says. “Our long-term customers are like our friends. You see that what we do here actually matters to them, and that’s very rewarding.”

Their commitment to sustainable farming is reflected in their emphasis on animal welfare. They prioritize transparency, inviting customers to visit the farm and educating them about food labels, animal husbandry, and the benefits of locally sourced produce. Through their dedication to providing high-quality products through ethical means, the Cornwells have cultivated long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Stewart and the Cornwells have exciting plans for their farms. Stewart believes that agriculture education and conservation are vital for future generations and intends to continue advocating for these causes. The Cornwells aim to diversify their farm, possibly introducing sheep and a small raw milk dairy. All three York College alumni plan to continue to educate and inspire others, ensuring a future for sustainable farming beyond their own endeavors.