At its 90th annual meeting held at the Level Fire Hall Saturday night, the Harford County Farm Bureau named Wilbur "Brownie" Pearce as its 2012 Farmer of the Year.
One of the most enduring and beloved figures in Harford County agriculture over the past half-century, Pearce was genuinely moved by the recognition.
"I'm very appreciative of [the award]," he said. "A lot of good people have gotten it ahead of me."
Pearce is a former president of the farm bureau and got his start working for F.O. Mitchell and Bros., Inc., a Perryman vegetable canning company started by his wife Betty's family. He worked as a farmer for the company until it ended operations in 1985, and then farmed field corn and soybeans as part of his own business until part of his land was sold in 2000.
Since then, Pearce has been running a topsoil business on his remaining property, Mitchell's Farm Inc., in Perryman.
"My days of farming have been over for some time, and they were great times," Pearce said as he accepted the award. "It's thanks to Betty's family and her ancestors for starting the canning factory."
Aside from his work with the farm bureau, Pearce has served on the boards of many organizations, including as chairman of the Maryland Outstanding Young Farmers, supervisor and chairman of Harford Soil Conservation District, director of Columbian Bank. He also formerly served on Harford County Planning Advisory Board.
Harford Farm Bureau President Jay Rickey said the Farmer of the Year award stresses community involvement, as well as excellence in farming.
"Usually it goes to people that not only are good farmers and stewards of the land, but who also give back to their community," Rickey said.
Pearce also accepted recognition and a citation from Harford County's state legislators.
"Growing up, we'd be eating from Mitchell's cannery, and my dad would always say, 'this is local stuff, this is local stuff.' I feel like I'm meeting someone famous," Del. Donna Stifler said, drawing laughs from the audience.
Sen. Barry Glassman also recognized Pearce.
"In my 25 years on the county council, Brownie was a great source of advice," Glassman said. "He and the canning business are a big part of history."
County Council President Billy Boniface presented a citation to Pearce of behalf of the council.
"The last time I ordered topsoil from him, it took three hours to unload," Boniface said as the audience laughed. "It might be a while before we get topsoil from him again."
"On behalf of my wife and family, I'd like to thank you for being here for us," Boniface added to audience, referring to the death of his son, Benjamin, and the loss of his family's well-known horse Deputed Testimony earlier this year. "We're getting stronger every day and we're getting through it."
Six new directors of the farm bureau were named at the banquet. Todd Steiner, Greg Stewart, Johnny Mulhausen and Richard Holloway will be replacing Paula Harman, John M. Perdue, Jr., Mike Zeller, Donald Hoopes, Karl N. Mandl, Jr., and Michael Doran in January 2013.
Also at the dinner, Maryland Farm Bureau President Pat Lagenfelder gave an update on state farm activities, and awards were presented to local Korean War veterans from the Marine Corps in advance of Veterans Day.
The Ladies' Auxiliary of the Level Fire Company catered the event. Lohr's Orchard donated cider, and Keyes Creamery provided ice cream.