Conservation Group works to Save Historic 600 acre New Castle County Farm

The Passmore Farm represents some of Delaware’s best natural beauty and cultural history. Driving south on Route 9, past Odessa, it’s hard to miss the house that stands guard over 635 acres of critical saltmarsh, upland forest, freshwater springs, and productive farmland.  And from atop the rolling hills of this farm, one can witness the seasonal journeys of waterfowl, raptors, and shorebirds; meander through old growth forests; watch pollinators feast on wildflowers; gaze across open grasslands; and marvel at the simplicity of silence along Blackbird Creek.

For more than 50 years, Delaware Wild Lands has been strategically acquiring and protecting land in this area near Middletown-Odessa-Townsend. As a nonprofit conservation organization, we protect and manage land to improve wildlife habitat, soil health, and air and water quality, and to safeguard our natural heritage now and for generations to come.

The Passmore Farm boasts an unusual variety of coastal woodlands, old growth forest, tidal saltmarshes, and rolling fields. In the past two years, a number of species that are rare or in decline have been identified here, including Northern Bobwhite Quail, King Rail, American Kestrel, Mink, Short-eared Owl, Saltmarsh Sparrow, Coastal Plain Swamp Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Willet, Marsh Wren, Four-spotted Pennant (a dragonfly), and Rare Skipper  (a butterfly documented in only 20 other locations worldwide).

To the east and south of this 635-acre property lies 10,000 contiguous acres of permanently protected land: the 1,250-acre Roberts Farm and an additional 3,350 acres owned by DWL plus 5,500 acres of land owned by the State of Delaware. To the west, lies Middletown, which grew 206% between 2000 and 2010. To understand the magnitude of this growth, consider that the local school district plans to add three new schools to accommodate the influx of students to the area.

So, when the daughters of Wills and Joanne Passmore approached Delaware Wild Lands (DWL) about purchasing their family farm to preserve their parents’ legacy and what is special about their land, we immediately recognized the value of this unique opportunity. This property is identified as a high priority for acquisition in more than 20 different conservation plans and initiatives, and its former owner, Wills Passmore, was instrumental in the development of Delaware’s highly successful agricultural preservation program.

Now that the farm has been offered to DWL, we’ve mounted a community-wide effort to raise funds needed to protect this vital place.

Once purchased, we’ll strengthen our partnerships with volunteers, community members, and organizations such as the University of Delaware, Ducks Unlimited, Boy and Girl Scout Troops, Delmarva Ornithological Society, American Kestrel Partnership, Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife and others to conduct citizen science research projects and educational opportunities. In particular, we will be expanding our Wood Duck Conservation Initiative and working with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank to propagate the seeds of native plants that will be needed for future tidal marsh and wetlands restoration.

Purchase of the Passmore Farm is scheduled for the end of June. DWL is working diligently to raise the funds needed to bring this project across the finish line. Mt. Cuba Center has generously offered an $850,000 challenge grant, so every donation we receive before the end of June will bring us closer to meeting Mt. Cuba Center’s challenge and ensuring the Passmore Property is protected for the benefit of Delawareans now and for generations to come!

Photographs taken by Eric Crosson, Jane Mruk, Matt Sarver, and Andrew Martin.

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About the Contributor

Kate Hackett

Kate Hackett

Kate Hackett is the Executive Director of Delaware Wild Lands. She has more than 25 years of leadership experience in land and water conservation and management. She lives in Wilmington with her husband, Dr. Kent Messer, Professor of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Delaware, and their two daughters.


  • Kate, I too am passonate about protecting farmland so that Delaware farmers can help feed the world now and into the future. I’m guessing that Will’s Passmore was way ahead of both you and I when he enrolled his 600 plus acre parcel of land into Ag Land preservation back in 1996. Given that the farm is saved or protected from development, please clarrify what Delaware Wild Lands will be saving the Passmore farm from.
    Kind Regards,
    Stewart Ramsey
    NewCastle County Farmer

  • Thanks for your interest and question, Stewart.

    In short, we are protecting the property from additional residential development, removal of old growth forest, degradation of water quality, and construction of large scale poultry production…as all of these are allowable under the ag preservation easement on the Passmore Farm.

    As you know, much has changed in New Castle County since the 1990s when Wills Passmore entered the farmland preservation program, most notably the level of development and the intensification of all land uses, including agriculture. By this, I mean that Wills never intended to have additional residential development, cutting of old growth forest on the farm, and large scale chicken production on his farm, which would diminish the opportunities for his farm to provide clean air and pure water, healthy habitat, and abundant farm and forestland.

    To prohibit these threats at this ecologically important property, Delaware Wild Lands chose to work with Wills Passmore’s daughters to ensure the property would remain the same as it is today without actions that would threaten the integrity of the property and wildlife habitat there.

    I thank you and your family for making the difficult decisions to keep farming. Supporting farming, agriculture, and preservation of improtant natural resources is critical to the future of Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula…as is ensuring that our farmland and open spaces continue to provide important community benefits. Delaware Wild Lands believes we are doing just this by ensuring the Passmore Property is forever protected from threats emerging in today’s world.

    If you, or others, have questions or would like to talk further about our work and the importance of protecting this strategically important property, I would be happy to talk further and can be reached easily by email and cell phone ([email protected], 302-824-6235).

    Kate Hackett
    Executive Director
    Delaware Wild Lands