John and Cindi Filasky, the owners of Filasky's Produce on Bunker Hill Road, were among six winners of the Governor's 2014 Agricultural and Urban Conservation Awards.

The sweet corn, delicious strawberries and juicy melons sold at Middletown’s Filasky’s Produce have been the stuff of local legend for more than three decades.

But it’s how those crops are grown – rather than how they taste – that resulted in owners John and Cindi Filasky earning a Governor’s Agricultural Conservation Award for New Castle County last week.

“The Filasky farm is considered a model farm, with many conservation best management practices installed to control soil erosion and protect water quality,” according to a press release the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued to announce the 2014 award winners. “Through their hard work and sound conservation practices, the Filaskys are well known for their fresh vegetables, especially sweet corn, as well as for farm-related public education efforts through school visits to the farm.”

The 65-acre farm and produce market at 1343 Bunker Hill Road was specifically recognized for maintaining up-to-date nutrient management plans, composting leftover vegetables and taking measures to protect water quality and runoff, as well as soil and wind erosion.

Filasky’s Produce, which kicked off its 2014 season on Wednesday, was one of six farms, schools and businesses to receive a conservation award this year in recognition of their continued commitment to environmental improvement. Other honorees included the University of Delaware, Teal Construction, Clark Farm in Kenton, the Seaford School District and Bridgeville farmer John Elliot Jr.

“It’s nice to be recognized like that, but we do these practices because they’re the right thing to do, not because of any award,” Cindi said this week. “If you’re going to farm, you have to take care of the land, because if you don’t, you won’t be in business very long.”

John Filasky, a 1969 graduate of Middletown High School, said the farm also has been fortunate to receive assistance in implementing conservation practices, such as the micro-irrigation system that was installed to water the farm’s 6-acre strawberry field thanks in part to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Bill Environmental Quality Program.

“The environment is something you’ve got to watch out for and I think our customers appreciate that,” he said. “That’s why they come here and we’re glad to have them.”

Customers have been coming to the Filaskys ever since the couple purchased the farm in 1981.

“When we started out, we mostly did wholesale, but people also would drive down our lane to buy produce,” Cindi said. “Back then, Middletown was a real, small town, but as it’s grown, we’ve grown.”

Twenty years ago, the couple converted one of their barns into a market, where they’ve been selling their fruits and vegetables ever since.

“When we started out, my husband and our three children each had their own specialty with our daughter Julia in charge of tomatoes, Johnny had melons, Tim was our zuccs and cucs guy and my husband did the sweet corn,” Cindi said.

As their children grew, the market also expanded, both in terms of inventory and employees.

“At first, we had a few customers a day and now we have a few hundred every day during the summer months,” she said. “Now we usally open in late April with produce we’ve purchased from the Philadelphia Produce Market, before switching over to our locally-grown fruits and vegetables as we get later into the season.”

The Filaskys said they typically hire 15 to 20 high school students to work in the fields and their market between the spring and fall.

“Last year was the first time that we had a couple of kids work for us whose parents used to work here,” she said. “It was a real milestone for us.”

But even as the Filaskys approach retirement age, the couple taking on new things.

“This will be the first year that we’ll be offering asparagus grown right here on the farm,” John said. “It’s great for us because we can grow it on what’s been a difficult piece of ground, and it’s also good for the environment because you only have to till it once every 20 years.”