Vanderwende wearing many hats
BRIDGEVILLE, Del. — There is a common saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person.
Rep. Jesse Vanderwende is a busy young farmer, one of 10 grandchildren of William Vanderwende, who established a dairy farm in Bridgeville more than 65 years ago.
Yet he took on additional responsibilities in 2018 when he was elected to the Delaware House of Representatives, representing the 35th District.
He serves on several committees, including agriculture, corrections, judiciary, public safety and Homeland Security, telecommunication internet and technology and veteran affairs.
“It is important for more folks in agriculture to be involved in the decisions made that affect our businesses and the folks who work for us,” Jesse Vanderwende said.
Until his election, Vanderwende served as president of the Sussex County Farm Bureau. He represented the state Farm Bureau in American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2018 Young Farmers and Ranchers Competition Awards.
He has also been active in several other farm and community organizations. He served for two years as president of Delaware Soybean Board. He is a member and past president of Bridgeville Kiwanis. He serves on the Delaware State Fair Board of Directors, is manager on the Iron Mine Ditch System and is president of the Short & Hall Branch Tax Ditch Committee. He also has served on the nominating committee of Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit and has been a member of the Woodbridge Ag Advisory Council for nearly 10 years.
There are a lot of folks in the General Assembly who support agriculture, but Vanderwende, Rep. Charles Postles, who took office in 2016, Rep. Richard Collins and Sen. David Wilson, who also served in the Delaware House of Representatives from 2008 to 2018, are the only farmers among them.
“The groups that promote agriculture are very important,” Jesse said. “They have big numbers and a loud voice, but ultimately, when the legislature takes a vote on an issue, it is important to have a voice behind the scene, in committee meetings or on the floor of the House and Senate to promote ag policies.”
Asked how he manages to get away from the farm to serve as legislator, Vanderwende said he has a big family and good, dedicated employees. “Most sessions of the House do not start until 2 p.m., except for committee meetings,” Vanderwende said, “so I try to organize and get things done. Some things we’ve done earlier, such as moving the servicing of irrigation equipment up a month or so, to help alleviate the time crunch.
“Even though I’m a legislator, I’m still a full-time farmer,” he added. “That’s where my family and I make our living, and I wouldn’t change that for anything. It’s more than making a living; it’s a way of life.”
He said he is keeping his eye out for legislative matters that may affect agriculture. One of those is the Clean Water for Delaware Act, which would create a trust fund of $50 million and would be supported by millions of dollars of federal money.
“I hope some of this money ultimately will go to drainage issues. I’ll try to work to make sure the money allocated for drainage hits the ground as efficiently as possible. Drainage is a very important issue for agriculture, especially in Kent and Sussex counties.”
Vanderwende began working on his grandfather’s dairy and grain farm at age 10, raking hay, mowing grass and doing barnyard chores as directed by his father and grandfather. He fed calves, rounded up cattle for milking, and bedded the calves.
Vanderwende said he saved every cent he was paid and at age 14 purchased four cows of his own. He gradually expanded his herd to 40 head, which he houses with his family’s 250 Holstein cows on the family farm.
During his senior year at Woodbridge High School, where he served as president of the FFA, Vanderwende leased two chicken houses with a 40,000 bird capacity.
In his first year of college, he built two more chicken houses with a 60,000 bird capacity on 10 acres of land owned by his grandfather. As promised, when he received his associate’s degree in Agribusiness Management from Delaware Technical and Community College in 2009, he was awarded the land from his grandfather.
That year, he rented two farms for crop production and the next year further diversified by planting watermelons. He later partnered with D.C. Farms Inc. to manage 240 acres of melons. He hired employees to take care of his chickens as he added two more poultry houses.
His parents, James and Donna, started Vanderwende’s Farm Creamery in 2012. Sold from a shop on the original farm on Route 404, the ice cream they made was a hit from the beginning.
In 2015, Jesse married wife Taylor, who had been an instrumental part of the creamery from the start, and together they opened Vanderwende’s at Dewey LLC in Dewey Beach. Two more locations in Fenwick and Greenwood have been added since.
Jesse has expanded his owned and leased land to more than 700 acres where he grows corn, soybeans, wheat, peas, sweet corn and watermelons.
Despite the challenges facing the dairy industry, Jesse said his family has no plans of doing anything different. “There are some global producers, but our play is to stay with it. There are good and bad times with everything.”
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