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Bucks County Farm Bureau names 2019 winners


Jessica Moyer and Jacob Heacock, both 22, are the 2019 recipients of Bucks County Farm Bureau’s Jerry Harris Memorial grants, awarded annually to young farmers who are dedicated to remaining involved in local agriculture.

Jessica’s accomplishments belie her youth. She’s already building a career, gaining skills and seeking new challenges. Jessica farms on her family’s 200 acres in Hilltown, working closely with her father Ray Moyer. She previously earned a Young Farmer award in 2016: the first – and still the only – female recipient.

Over the last three years, she says, “I’ve continued to learn about growing hay and other crops and have been more involved with the preparing and planting of fields.”

In 2019 she planted her first crop of soybeans. As soon as the beans are harvested, she’ll plant the field with hay for the first cutting next spring. Wrapped round hay bales from an earlier cutting line are at one end of the field.

On a crisp sunny fall day Jessica was preparing to “ted” (spin) hay on a recently cut field to ensure that it dries thoroughly. This was the third cutting of hay for the year. She’ll bale and store it for sale.

The hay storage area is a wide roof that keeps bales dry. Jessica will use her grant funds to expand the roof, to shelter more of the hay she harvests. Those wrapped bales in the beanfield will be less likely to spoil when they’re under a roof.

A crop farmer spends many hours alone, operating potentially dangerous machinery. “I love being out on the tractor, in the fields,” Jessica says. “From working with my dad I have learned how important it is to stay safe and always pay attention to what is happening around you, especially around equipment.”

Jessica has her “own” tractor, now, purchased in 2018. But she lets Ray drive it too. “Sometimes we’ll switch tractors,” she says. Jessica learned how to be a farmer by following in her father’s footsteps, yet switching tractors is emblematic of how she has come into her own, as a full-fledged farmer. Just recently she was invited to join the Farm Bureau’s board, as one of the next generation of leaders.

Ray Moyer could not be more proud of his daughter. Jessica thrives on the labor that is at the core of farming life. “She’s always got to be busy,” he says. “It’s hard work and if you don’t want to do it, you shouldn’t be in it.”

Jessica is all in. “Learning new things can be challenging but I enjoy taking on new responsibilities. I’m not sure what I’ll learn next!”

Whereas Jessica is passionate about growing field crops, Jacob Heacock is driven by a love for dairy farming. He’s getting ready to milk a new herd of cows on his family’s 56-acre Happy Hollow Farm in Bedminster.

Jacob is as fervent about family history as he is about dairying. This new opportunity allows him to meld his two obsessions. He eagerly recounts the history of the farm, which dates back to 1864. By 1948, when his great-grandfather Henry Bodder moved to the farm, it had a registered dairy herd. Bodder acquired the farm when the owner, Welcome Detweiler, was called to ministry. The farm remained with Jacob’s relatives, but after 1985 the only cows were heifers.

When his parents acquired the farm recently, Jacob and his father, Jamie, decided to take the leap and return the farm to their family’s dairying heritage. Jacob says, “I’ve always heard stories from my dad, about working with my grandfather. It means a lot more to us to take up dairy farming on the family farm than if it was just anywhere.”

Jacob is fulfilling a lifelong goal: “Not too many kids know in elementary school what they want to do with their lives, but I listed my future career as dairy farmer.” While attending Pennridge High School he milked cows for his neighbor, Ray Detweiler, for whom he worked fulltime after graduation. Now, the Detweiler barn is temporarily housing cows that will be the core of the Heacocks’ new herd. They’ll start with 60 milk cows in their own barn; eventually they hope to have 85.

Already, dairy calves have settled on the farm. They just moved in to a brand-new calf barn, which Jacob constructed with his Young Farmer grant funds. Each calf gets its own private stall, furnished with straw bedding, and a roller shade for shelter from cold weather.

Jacob explains that the calf barn is important to maintaining a high-quality herd. “Not everybody does it this way. But if the calves aren’t kept separated from each other they’ll develop bad habits, trying to get milk from each others’ udders, and they’ll keep doing that when they’ve grown up.”

In these hard times for dairy farmers, starting a new dairy farm seems as much a calling as Welcome Detweiler’s ministry.

“Some farmers like being in the fields,” says Jacob. “I love being in the barn, with the cows. I like the genetics, the pedigrees.”

Milk prices have hit a low, and are rising again. “We have the opportunity to bring the farm back to life again, bring the animals back. This is the thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life and my dad’s willing to put all he’s got into it.”

As the Heacocks revivify the family history, Jacob is forging the future from his dreams.

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