Horn Farm Center for Agricultural Education

Horn Farm Happenings – September 10, 2021

How It All Began: Slow Food to Festival Fanatics

17 years ago, Richard and Judy Bono hosted their first pawpaw event at Blue Moon, a restaurant in downtown York. At the time, the couple were excited to share their appreciation for this forgotten native fruit with their friends and advocates of the Slow Food movement.

Little did they know at the time, that this humble gathering would later become a state-wide attraction, drawing nearly 1800 visitors from around the east coast each year. People have traveled from upstate New York, Pittsburgh, and even Atlanta, Georgia to attend the York County Pawpaw Festival.

The event is held annually at the Horn Farm Center, where Dick Bono manages a small pawpaw orchard. Dick, York City Architect Emeritus and cofounder of York County Farm and Natural Lands Trust, was heavily involved at the Horn Farm Center since its founding. At the time, he was determined to demonstrate that cultivating a variety of pawpaws was possible. After some experimentation at home, Dick broke ground on his orchard at the Horn Farm in 2012, starting with 24 trees.

Click here to read more.

York County Watershed Week: September 16-25th

The 2021 Pawpaw Festival is part of York County Watershed Week in partnership with the Watershed Alliance of York. The purpose of the Watershed Week is to increase public awareness about the importance of local watersheds to community health, sustainable economies, and environmental quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Participants can get to know their watershed and the organizations who are working hard to enhance, restore, and protect them. With events happening all around York County, Watershed Week is fun for the whole family!

The Watershed Alliance of York will be at the Pawpaw Festival on September 18th & 19th at the Horn Farm Center! In addition to sharing info about our local watershed, volunteers will be leading a tree planting activity at 1:00pm, each day of the festival. Visitors are invited to take the Clean Water Pledge and to get their hands dirty planting trees at the farm!


Planning for a Regenerative Future

Last week, the Horn Farm Center team (Board of Directors and staff) met for a day-long retreat and planning session at Shank’s Mare Outfitters. We are hard at work, developing our “evolutionary plan” (aka strategic plan) and visioning for the next stages in the organization’s growth.

During our visit to the banks of the Susquehanna, we took a few moments to explore and enjoy the river ecology -and we skipped rocks! We thank Shank’s Mare Outfitters for providing a space for creative collaboration and supporting our work at the Horn Farm Center!


7group Supports Regenerative Ag Education

7group began more than 20 years ago to help to change how American builders, designers, architects and owners saw how to understand the built environment as sustainable. When 7group worked on creating the U.S. Green Building Council LEED certification program, their dynamic team knew that it was the first step towards true sustainability, but not the last.

Together with clients and colleagues, 7group has been imagining a different way to understand how humans, their built environment and the natural world around us all live and breathe with each other. Through learning, community, design and story, 7group is stepping into a new era of deeply regenerative work.

7group’s deep commitment to regenerative practices is naturally aligned with the work of the Horn Farm Center and they are proud to support regenerative agriculture and education as the title sponsor of the 2021 York County Pawpaw Festival. 

Free Seminar: The Importance of Beavers

Did you know that beavers are primarily crepuscular? They are only occasionally seen during the day. They usually wake at dusk and are also active at dawn. Beavers are fascinating creatures but they are also essential to our local ecosystems. Discover the importance of this keystone species during an in-person seminar at the York County Conservation District, located at 2401 Pleasant Valley Rd., York.

This seminar will be taught by HFC Woodland Steward, Wilson Alvarez as part of York County Watershed WeekFree Admission. Registration Required. 


We are currently in search of a number of items and services that will help us achieve our mission to connect soil, food, and people in ways that improve the health and resilience of our community. 

  • Engine repair work on our small gas push mower
  • An electric push mower
  • Utility vehicle and trailer (such as used golf card or gator)
  • Electric weed-trimmer
  • Electric leaf blower

Can you help out? To donate your time, talents, equipment, or tools, please contact Farm Manger, Andrew Horn at farmmanager@hornfarmcenter.org.

Click here to volunteer

UPDATED: Horn Farm Center Health and Safety Policy

The Horn Farm Center is offering on-site educational programming with some modifications due to COVID-19. Multiple hand sanitizer stations are available. We will adjust as needed as time passes and things change.

In order to ensure the health and safety of our visitors, volunteers and staff, participant expectations are as follows:

  • Outdoors – Participants are required to bring a mask and wear it when physical distancing cannot be maintained. We have a limited supply on hand if you forget yours.
  • Indoors – Participants are required to wear masks indoors.
  • Do not attend if sick or recovering.

York County Pawpaw Festival: How It All Began

Dick & Judy Bono standing in front of the pawpaw orchard at the Horn Farm Center

17 years ago, Richard and Judy Bono hosted their first pawpaw event at Blue Moon, a restaurant in downtown York. At the time, the couple were excited to share their enthusiasm for this forgotten native fruit with their friends and advocates of the Slow Food movement. Their passion for pawpaws started a year prior, after visiting Deep Run Pawpaw Orchard, just outside of Westminster, Maryland. Seeing Jim and Donna Davis’ pawpaw orchard firsthand, the Bonos were inspired by the potential to cultivate pawpaws, an otherwise impossible orchard fruit.

The first event was a huge success; about 80 people were in attendance. The restaurant’s chef, David Le Heron, orchestrated a culinary symphony, incorporating delectable pawpaw fruit into each course.  Following the first pawpaw dinner, the Bonos began to sell the fruits every September, starting at the Central Market and then at the Gardener of the Owl Valley, a native garden and gift shop run by Judy at her home. For many years, the York County Pawpaw Festival was a humble event, just a few folding tables at the bottom of the Bono Family driveway. But over the years, the event grew as more and more people began to appreciate Slow Food, foraging, and organic foods.

Today, the York County Pawpaw Festival is in its 17th year and serves approximately 1800 visitors. The event is held annually at the Horn Farm Center, where Dick Bono manages a small pawpaw orchard. Dick, York City Architect Emeritus and cofounder of York County Farm and Natural Lands Trust, was heavily involved at the Horn Farm Center since its founding. At the time, he was determined to demonstrate that cultivating a variety of pawpaws was possible. After some experimentation at home, Dick broke ground on his orchard at the Horn Farm in 2012, starting with 24 trees.

“I made a whole lot of mistakes in those early years,” says Dick. “Nine years later, the orchard has expanded to 48 trees and 20 varieties. I couldn’t do it without Tim Hamulack, who is a talented helper and fruit tree enthusiast.”

Dick Bono (left) and Tim Hamulack (right) in the pawpaw orchard at the Horn Farm Center

Dick continues to grow a wide variety of pawpaw cultivars in the pawpaw orchard. His goal is to produce consistently abundant yields, year after year. He follows the work of Neal Peterson, who experiments with developing new pawpaw varieties. Dick notes that while the Peterson varieties are often named after rivers, their names do not necessarily indicate where those cultivars were found.  

The pawpaw is a naturally organic fruit – it resists almost all pests, and it experiences less browsing by wild animals than most other orchard fruits. What is most unique about the pawpaw is that it is truly seasonal. The pawpaw has little to no shelf life, which means it will never be commercially produced. The fruits mature in late August through mid-September. During this short window of time, the Susquehanna River region, as well as much of the eastern United States, is a pandora’s box of this highly nutritious, anti-oxidant-rich fruit. Late summer in York County is a chance to enjoy our bio-region’s natural abundance, just as the Susquehannock’s did years ago, by filling their bellies with pawpaw before facing the harsh winter.

2019 Pawpaw Festival at the Horn Farm Center

In recent years, pawpaws have developed somewhat of a cult following, with pawpaw fanatics traveling across several state lines to get a taste of this unique fruit. In the past few years, people have traveled from upstate New York, Pittsburgh, and even Atlanta, Georgia to attend the York County Pawpaw Festival. In 2019, Bono Family estimated that they sold over 2000 pounds of pawpaw at the festival.

This year, the York County Pawpaw Festival will be held on September 18 & 19th at the Horn Farm Center. The event will feature local food vendors, artisans, and community organizations. Of course, the true stars of the show are the pawpaw fruit, both wild and cultivated varieties, and pawpaw trees, which will be available for purchase. Visitors can also enjoy tours of the farm and pawpaw orchard. We hope that you will join us to celebrate all the things that we love about pawpaws.

The Amazing Pawpaw

The Amazing Pawpaw by David Dietz

"Asimina triloba3" by Scott Bauer, USDA - USDA ARS Image Number K7575-8. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Asimina_triloba3.jpg#/media/File:Asimina_triloba3.jpg

The amazing pawpaw is staging a comeback in American consciousness. This long overlooked fruit has always been with us, growing in the understory of our natural lands, especially in the river valleys and surrounding hills. Scientists believe that it evolved as a food source for now extinct megafauna, such as the giant sloth and wooly mammoth. At one time, Americans were more familiar with this truly American fruit, which is native to the United States east of the Mississippi River, and currently ranges from northern Florida to southern Ontario in the east, as far west as Nebraska and Texas, and as far north as Michigan.

Native Americans cultivated pawpaws as a food source, as it was the largest edible fruit indigenous to the land that is now the United States. In fact, the Shawnee even had a pawpaw month in their calendar. Europeans’ first documented encounter with the pawpaw was from Hernando DeSoto’s Mississippi Expedition in 1541, where one of the chroniclers noted its cultivation by the native people. In addition to the already belligerent nature of the expedition, a far more significant negative effect of DeSoto’s journey was the introduction of European diseases to much of the continent’s native population, resulting in widespread death from diseases against which they had no immunity. Scholars estimate that anywhere from 50 to 100 million native people lived in the Americas prior to European contact, with an estimated 90% of them perishing in the ensuing years. It is not hard to imagine that in pre-contact America, many established civilizations with thriving agricultural plantings covered much of the landscape–a landscape which would eventually revert to wilderness after the devastating epidemics had run their course. While pawpaws and other edible plants now grow wild throughout our lands, it is probable that many are descended from intentionally planted and managed Native orchards and forests.

The pawpaw has been valued by many throughout our history. George Washington claimed it as his favorite fruit, and pawpaws were grown at Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s Monticello. Jefferson is said to have believed the pawpaw had potential for cultivation, and sent seeds to Europe as an example of a uniquely American plant. The widespread fruit even proved useful  in feeding  the famous expedition of Lewis and Clark. They subsisted on pawpaws for three days at one point in their epic journey.

Pawpaws, which ripen for a short few weeks in September in our Southcentral Pennsylvania region, are a delicate fruit, not suitable for shipping. Easily bruised, they are not ideal for large scale commercial production. But they have always been a valued source of food for foragers and people living off the land. Throughout our history, pawpaws were a welcome treat for all kinds of people. From enslaved people to Presidents, the pawpaw has provided a delicious, nutritious treat for many. About the size and shape of a mango, the pawpaw contains a custardy flesh that tastes somewhat like a cross between a banana and a mango, interspersed by brown, lima bean-sized seeds.

Nutritionally, pawpaws are loaded with nutrients–they are an excellent source of vitamin C, and are also high in magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. They are also a good source of potassium, amino acids, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus, calcium, and zinc. These nutrients are found in pawpaws to a similar or greater degree than they are in bananas, apples, and oranges, all while containing a similar fiber content.


With a tendency to not be afflicted by pests or disease, pawpaws were a dependable source of food for people throughout history. Early American settlers relied on pawpaw groves for their fruit needs while they established their non-native orchards. The ubiquitous pawpaw provided names for places such as Paw Paw, Ohio, West Virginia, and at least a half a dozen other states. It even inspired folk melodies, such as Way down yonder in the Pawpaw Patch. During the Great Depression, the pawpaw was nicknamed “the poor man’s banana,” as it was an asset for foragers in tough times.

With the advent of supermarkets and the widespread availability of shipped produce after World War 2, the pawpaw receded from popular knowledge, as most Americans grew ever more distant from their once vibrant relationship with wild foods.

Meanwhile, several researchers made efforts to domesticate the pawpaw, and cultivars were developed, beginning around the turn of the century. Pawpaw breeding resurged in 1985, when R. Neal Peterson began a large-scale breeding program with the cooperation of the University of Maryland. Numerous named varieties have resulted from these efforts, and domestic production is slowly taking form. Pawpaw research is still a niche area of study, however, with little research funding available. Aside from private individuals, Kentucky State University is currently the only institution carrying on this work.

In the early 21st Century, with an explosion of farmers markets, and development of the slow food movement, pawpaws are now becoming more well-known again. Slow Food USA added the pawpaw to its Ark of Taste, further publicizing the nearly forgotten fruit. 

With the Horn Farm Center’s emphasis on native plants, it seemed only appropriate that the pawpaw would find a welcome place in our landscape. About a decade ago, local Slow Food USA member and founding member of the Horn Farm, Richard Bono approached the Center with a proposal to establish a pawpaw orchard at the Horn Farm. HFC agreed to it, and the orchard was planted. It takes about seven years from planting a pawpaw until it bears its first fruit. With this understanding, Bono has faithfully and patiently tended his orchard over the years, and his orchard is finally beginning to bear fruit. Dick and his wife Judy have shared their enthusiasm for pawpaws over the years by organizing hugely popular pawpaw dinners and festivals. Click here for more information on this year’s Pawpaw Festival event at the Horn Farm Center.

The humble pawpaw is once more claiming the respect that it is due. As knowledge of this delightful fruit spreads, our national palette is notably enriched. More and more, pawpaws are being rediscovered and planted by home gardeners, and if you ever get a chance to taste one, you’ll know why. 

“The Amazing Pawpaw” was written by Horn Farm Center Board Member, David Dietz

David Dietz has farmed in Hellam Township for most of his life. Growing up, he helped every summer on his parents’ truck patch farm, and he helped tend the roadside stand on the Lincoln Highway about a mile west of Wrightsville. Always interested in history, David earned a BSE in Social Studies from Millersville University in 1995, and spent several years teaching. Eventually, however, his love of the land drew him back to farming. In 2002, David started vending produce at York Central Market, where he continued until 2017. A founding member of the Horn Farm board, David helped start the Community Gardens and the Incubator Farm Project. Currently employed as the produce and dairy manager at Lemon Street Market in Lancaster, David is now interested more than ever in the challenges faced by local small-scale agriculture in a globalized commodity-driven economy. He is thrilled to see the Horn Farm Center leading with a vision for regenerative practices, learning from and working with nature. David is happily married to Waldorf teacher extraordinaire, Rochelle Dietz, and they have a delightful teenaged son, Gabriel.