Farming in their veins: 150 years of Magee Farms

Coastal Point • Laura Walter Mike and Meagan Sekscinski, with baby Addison, pick strawberries at Magee Farms on Saturday, June 4.Coastal Point • Laura Walter Mike and Meagan Sekscinski, with baby Addison, pick strawberries at Magee Farms on Saturday, June 4.In 1865, the Civil War was coming to an end. Motorized cars wouldn’t be common in Sussex County for nearly a century. And the Magee family legacy was just beginning, with the purchase of 38 acres in Williamsville.

Today, the family-owned Magee Farms covers 1,300 tillable acres across Selbyville, Lewes and Ocean Pines, Md.

Standing at the June 4 celebration with his wife, Ellen, two sisters, and his sons and their wives, Danny Magee thanked the community in which he’s farmed his whole life. He learned to drive a tractor the day his feet could reach the pedals, he said.

Some things haven’t changed. (“My grandfather grew strawberries. My father grew strawberries,” he said.) But technology has made a huge impact on this fifth-generation farm.

Decades ago, Danny Magee’s father was excited when the farm bought a riding cultivator, until he realized his own aging father would be the one who got to ride it. Danny’s dad still had to walk with the mules.

Today, driving equipment can cost a quarter of a million dollars, as Danny Magee had previously told Coastal Point, and his air-conditioned tractor doubles as his office. Onboard, computers can print statistics about hydration and soil quality.

“Arthur, Vernon and Fred — I don’t think they’d be able to believe how things have changed,” Ellen Magee said of the farm family’s forebears.

They still maintain their local U-pick farm stands and farmers’ market booths but have a large wholesale operation behind the scenes, even supplying local grocery stores. Besides sweet corn, zucchinis, tomatoes, peppers and watermelons, they’re the largest continuous strawberry producer in the state (at least 25 years).

The Magees even helped make the strawberry the state fruit of Delaware in 2010, invoking Selbyville’s rich history as the onetime “Strawberry Capital of the World,” starting in the 1880s.

“There’s not a much more noble business than to produce food,” said Secretary Ed Kee of the Delaware Department of Agriculture, on behalf of Gov. Jack Markell, at the June 4 anniversary event.

Since the 1800s, the Magees have preserved open space, which prevents untidy developmental sprawl, Kee noted.

“You need to think about agriculture” with every policy decision made, said Ellen Magee, who actively petitions local lawmakers to balance industry, farming and development.

State Sens. Gerald Hocker Sr. (Ocean View) and Bryan Townsend (Newark) also brought congratulations and a Senate proclamation of congratulations.

State Rep. Ron Gray joked that he remembers Chris Magee driving tractors as a boy, and doing so better than some adults drive cars.

County Councilman George Cole recalled the old watermelon stand he frequented. He called the family good farmers and county servants.

Lasting 150 years in any business is exceptional, County Councilman Rob Arlett said. “I commend your family for sticking together through it all.”

The celebration was open to the public. For the whole sunny afternoon, guests were able to shop the farm stand, pick berries, eat free strawberry shortcake and buy lunch. In the animal paddock, Charlotte Magee’s own friendly miniature horse and mini-steer charmed the visitors. Especially entranced were the young children, who will be the sixth generation of Sussex Countians nourished by Magee Farms.