Q&A With Lisa Graybeal, Delp Award Winner

During these unprecedented times, our agriculture industry have been heroes of the pandemic – continuing to work to harvest food and other commodities for our local community and the broader industry. As we have for 40+ years, the Agriculture Industry Outlook will take a moment to celebrate our local agriculture community, and in turn, provide vital information as we continue to navigate the future of the industry.

Register for this Virtual Agriculture Outlook event on November 19 from 10:30am-Noon. Register here.

Each year, we have the honor of awarding a local agricultural leader with our Delp Award! This year, we are excited to give the award to Lisa Graybeal co-owner of Graywood Farms.

Read our Q&A with Lisa and then register for the event to watch a special tribute to her and see her receive the award live!

Chamber: Tell us a little about your experience and background in the ag industry?

Lisa: Growing up on a family-owned and operated dairy farm certainly gave me the boots-on-the-ground experience from the production side of the agriculture industry beginning at a very early age. I watched as my dad, Steve, and uncle, Joe participated on many agriculture-related boards, activities and events over the years in our local community and beyond which influenced me. I think it’s important to contribute somehow to the betterment of society and I’ve tried to do my part by supporting the industry that is the lifeblood of my family and something I know and love.

Over the years I have served on many boards and committees that often have some agricultural connection, such as member and past chairman of the Lancaster County Agriculture Council, an associate director on the board of the Lancaster County Conservation District, and a council member for Penn State Extension. I also serve on the board for Lancaster County Career and Technology Center’s Animal Production Science and Technology Program which prepares graduates with skills and training to enter the future workforce. I also use my journalism background to contribute articles and a column in our local newspaper and in Lancaster Farming. Communication is key and I use the power of the pen to help get the word out about various issues surrounding this industry.

I don’t agree to serve on boards to boost my resume. I do it because I believe in the cause and try to contribute my knowledge and abilities to help these organizations move forward. I would be remiss to say that I also enjoy working with other people who have similar interests and goals in ag and I’ve learned a lot over the years by listening to others and being a part of some great groups.

What made you passionate about the ag industry?

I don’t think I became passionate about the ag industry until later in life when I realized how much farmers and the industry are taken for granted. In more recent years, the agriculture industry in Lancaster County has been unfairly targeted for polluting the Chesapeake Bay. Farmers have been criticized for years for employing immigrant labor. We are under increasing public scrutiny for animal care and burdensome environmental regulations are negatively impacting our businesses. It’s these causes and others that make me passionate about working to promote the ag industry and to turn all of this negative rhetoric into positive changes and outlooks. I believe this industry as a whole has been very reactive. We need to redirect our thinking to become more proactive and to educate the public about what we are doing and why.

What do you find important about the ag industry as a whole?

If our current situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we can appreciate that this country has a system in place to provide good, safe and affordable food constantly. Farmers put food on the tables. It’s that simple. I love that the word ‘essential’ became the pandemic buzzword for agriculture workers. It’s one word with a lot of impact and it captures what farmers are and that what they do is vital to human survival. It’s all of these things that motivate me to work hard every day and feel a passion for what I do.

What do you appreciate about the Lancaster County ag industry?

It is not a stretch to state that Lancaster County is the agriculture epicenter of the East Coast. We are leaders not only in the state but nationally – in poultry and egg production, dairy, hogs and pigs, vegetables and grains, among other products. Lancaster County became the first county in the nation to preserve 100,000 acres of farmland. Just recently, the USDA announced that our county has the most young farmers of any county in the United States. These are all things to be very proud of. I appreciate this county’s agricultural heritage, its diversity and its work ethic and strong infrastructure. I appreciate that ag leaders and farmers in other parts of this state and country look to us as an agricultural frontrunner. We have been trailblazers in this industry and I don’t see that changing.

What do you hope to see in the future of the ag industry?

As long as humans need food, they’re going to need farmers, so I’m not worried about the future of agriculture in that sense. But the industry continues to need an infusion of youth who are interested in pursuing agriculture as a career, whether it’s in production or in ag support – financial, technology, equipment, nutrition, veterinary. But it has to be worthwhile. Dairy farmers in particular have suffered financially in the last decade. We have experienced a decline in milk consumption and a very depressed milk price. That has to change or our younger generation will not look to agriculture as a viable career option.

I’m hoping there will be a better understanding and appreciation of farming and agriculture among the public in the future. Consumers need to understand where their food comes from.  We need science-backed information available to our schools and communities so that good, sound decisions can be made to feed our children and our population locally, nationally and worldwide.

What does receiving this award mean to you?

Country music legend Garth Brooks said it perfectly when he accepted the Gershwin Prize last year. He stated, “An award is only as good as the names on it.”

I am overwhelmed and honored to receive this award and to be added to the list of so many distinguished Delp award winners over the years. Looking over the names and personally knowing many of the previous winners, I marvel at the leadership and enthusiasm among these individuals and think about how lucky the Lancaster County agriculture industry is to have these advocates. Receiving this award inspires me to keep pushing forward and advancing the needs of this challenging but fulfilling industry.

What would you say to others to watch/attend the event this year?

I would tell everyone that if you eat, then you have a stake in the agriculture industry. I would ask them to please join us – young and mature, farmers or consumers, male or female – to learn something new or just get an update of what’s happening in the industry. I’m excited to hear guest speaker, Todd Southerland, and his outlook of the ag and food industries. He’ll be discussing labor impacts, anticipated changes in trade and expectations for commodity prices, among other topics.

I’m also always interested to hear what Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding, has to say. He also will be providing viewers with some remarks about the industry here at home. Though we’ll all miss the fellowship and face-to-face contact that the Chamber’s annual Agriculture Industry Banquet provides, this virtual event will serve as a terrific alternative and I’m sure it will be informative and well worth your time!

What else would you like to share with us?

I’m very mindful that while I’m advocating for agriculture and my activities outside the farm have been beneficial in so many ways, my family has been my primary support and had it not been for them, I would not have been able to accomplish what I have so far. While I attended meetings and events, my dad, Steve, and brother, Byron, stayed on the farm and covered for me. My husband, Andy, has been an incredible partner and his understanding of a wife who works almost every day and then turns around and leaves for meetings and other engagements is unparalleled.  It’s a sacrifice I’m not sure he realized he was getting into when he married me.

We are fortunate to have quite a few long-term employees on our dairy farm who love our farm and our cows as much as we do. I think of them and their families as my extended family and I can’t thank them enough for all of their hard work and dedication to their jobs.

Register for this Virtual Agriculture Outlook event on November 19 from 10:30am-Noon. Register here.