So far, David Fleming hasn't had much trouble finding workers for his fourth-generation family business, Shady Brook Farm in Yardley.

But then again, Fleming and his family aren't taking any chances.

Six years ago, they opened a farmers' market at Delaware Valley College, a school near Doylestown that is traditionally strong in agriculture. "It was definitely access to the talent," Fleming said.

On Monday, Fleming talked about farm hiring as part of an employers' panel at the college's student center, the kickoff site of Bucks County AgConnect.

The morning-long conference, attended by about 40 people, was designed to acquaint farmers and others in agriculture-related businesses - from landscaping to seed production - with government programs available to help with loans and workers.

Farmers need to be versatile, equally adept at milking a cow, picking strawberries, and herding schoolchildren through a hay maze. But new skills include event planning and social media.

AgConnect is the latest name for a regional program that has existed in various forms since 2002 to provide the business help that farmers need, particularly in marketing and finance.

Run by the Chester County Economic Development Council for the region, Monday's event was to sharpen the program's focus in Bucks County, which has an extensive history of farm preservation.

But as Gary Smith, president of the Chester County council, told the group, it's not enough to preserve farms for their tranquil vistas and charming buildings.

Smith said he and his colleagues want farmers to generate jobs and commerce.

Elizabeth Walsh, executive director of the Bucks County Workforce Investment Board, said that about 2 percent of the county's workforce is employed in agriculture-related businesses, but "we're seeing growth."

Walsh's group is helping find employees for Jadeite Foods Inc., which plans to make tofu in a 65,000-square-foot facility in Bensalem. Everett Farr, the company's managing partner, said he hopes to employ 75 people, but will initially bring 30 to 35 on board for production and delivery jobs by July or August.

The farmers at Monday's event said they were not using workers from other countries on short-term visas. Most said they were able to recruit high school and college students, along with neighborhood regulars, to work during their busy seasons, staffing farmers' markets, ice cream parlors, and self-pick enterprises.

Some said they also brought in small crews from Philadelphia.

Shawn Touhill runs Sandy Ridge Farm, a 10-acre enterprise just outside Doylestown. A few goats, fenced near the farm's market, looked up, a little bored during a visit. Not much is happening on the fields yet, and in the winter, the market is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

That's why he had time for Monday's event. What he learned was that the workforce investment board has on-the-job training grants. "I'm going to fill out the application this week," he said. More information is available at

In the summer, Touhill can find the 10 to 12 workers he needs to farm three plots - the main 10-acre farm and two other parcels, 17 and 50 acres, growing produce, small grasses, and specialty salad greens.

In the winter is when he needs more experienced help, but that's harder to find.

Touhill would like to recruit an employee or two to handle the animals and a variety of repairs, plus maybe work on the books.

"People think when winter comes up, you pack up," Touhill said. "That's not the case."

215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen