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State of the Delmarva Peninsula's Foodshed

Each state represented by counties on the Peninsula has a unique situation: Delaware’s two and a half counties on the Peninsula represent almost 80% of the state’s land and are home to less than half the state’s population. Kent and Sussex counties in Delaware are home to 86% of the state’s farms* (*currently available information does not provide separate data for the lower portion of New Castle County, the portion on the Peninsula.) Sussex county alone accounts for close to 80% of Delaware’s agricultural value and between 60 and 80% of the value of all of Delaware’s other agricultural sales for human consumption. Virginia has only 2 of its 44 counties on the Peninsula but those two counties have the largest average farm size and lost a higher percentage of their farms between 2002 and 2007 than any other Peninsula county. Together Virginia’s 2 Peninsula counties account for 13% of the state’s value of crops, and more than 45% of those two counties’ market value of agricultural products sold comes from crops rather than livestock. Over 14% of the value of Virginia’s Aquaculture, and more than 22% of its agricultural value from vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are sold by farms in the Peninsula’s Accomack and Northampton Counties.Maryland, with 8 of its 23 counties on the Peninsula, includes almost 3500 of the Peninsula’s 6,000+ farms and nearly 3/5ths of its farm land. Maryland’s 8 Peninsula counties account for 64% of the market value of state’s agricultural sales and almost 3/4ths of the value of the state’s livestock sales. Maryland’s top 5 agricultural counties by market value of agricultural products sold are on the Peninsula; at least 3 of the state’s top five counties in terms of value of vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes and 4 of the top 5 counties by value of aquaculture, are on the Peninsula. More than 60% of the state’s acreage in corn, soybeans, and wheat is on the Peninsula and almost 60% of the state’s market value of vegetables, melons, potatoes, and sweet potatoes is grown on the Peninsula. However, 99% of the state’s inventory in meat chickens is also on the Peninsula and the vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes grown on the Peninsula account for less than 3% of the value of Maryland’s agricultural products.

In contrast, meat poultry accounts for about 55% and feed grains for about another 16% of the value of Maryland’s agricultural products in 2007. Agricultural Trends on Delmarva Like many areas of the U.S., and the world, agricultural practices on the Peninsula have changed dramatically with the globalization and industrialization of food production and distribution systems.

Historically, for example, the Peninsula provided staple foods to much of the Eastern Seaboard; foods that were stable and traveled well were grown on the Peninsula and shipped to population centers all along the east coast. Delmarva was also known for some of its vegetable production, and its strawberries and watermelons remain well-known both locally and regionally. Today, however, the vast majority of farming on the Peninsula is industrial and articulated into the globalized food production and distribution system. More recent agricultural history on the Delmarva Peninsula is strongly associated with shifts in the U.S. diet, specifically the jump in annual chicken consumption from 28 lbs per capita in 1960 to over 90 lbs per capita in 2007 (ERS/USDA 2007). Over 98% of Peninsula livestock inventory is in meat-poultry and over 77% of Peninsula farm acreage is in corn, soybeans or wheat (U.S. Ag Census, 2007). Nearly 65% of the value of the Peninsula’s agricultural sales comes from the meat poultry industry – less than 10% from non-meat agricultural products for human consumption, including aquaculture, and meat other than chicken accounts for less than 1% of the value of Peninsula agricultural sales. As a result, vegetable processing plants on the Peninsula have been shut down and remain empty and unused; Chesapeake Bay pollution and Bay species population decimation – both from pollution and over harvesting – have caused the closure of seafood and related local processing plants and the loss of those jobs. And the significant reduction in the oyster population in the Bay means that the Bay’s natural cleaning systems are rendered moot. This loss of the Chesapeake Bay’s resources has resulted in the decline of local communities once anchored to the Bay and regional agriculture; the local disarticulation of Peninsula food production and distribution is evidenced by high and chronic unemployment, and loss of family farms as well as increases in average farm size all over the Peninsula but most especially on the Lower Shore (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Agricultural Census data).

The two Virginia counties have lost the most farms (30% for Accomack) and increased average farm size (up 50% for Accomack) since 2002. The only other Peninsula county to both loose farms and increase average farm size between 2002 and 2007 is Wicomico County, the most populated county on the lower shore. The changes between 2002 and 2007 indicate a longer running trend associated with both the decline of aquaculture and the rise of poultry and industrialized food production on the Peninsula.

Collectively, Delmarva Peninsula counties represent the more rural and less affluent portions of each of their respective states. The gap between state average household incomes and Peninsula county average household incomes ranges from just more than half state averages ($32,000) to about quarter ($11,500) lower for Peninsula counties in comparison to their respective states’ averages (between $64K and $68K (U.S. Census, 2007). The sole exception to this pattern is Queen Anne's County, MD, the only county with a direct link to a major metropolitan area. Queen Anne's County is home to the Peninsula end of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge making it the only county on the Peninsula within a half hour of the DC/Baltimore/Annapolis Metro Area. In addition, a larger proportion of all but 2 counties' populations are below the poverty line than in their states as a whole; for the Virginia counties, the proportion of population below the poverty line is close to double the state's proportion.

According to US Census data, with 13% of the nation’s population under the poverty line in 2007, 11.1 percent of households were food insecure at least some time during that year; 2007 Census data show that more than 13% of the populations in 5 of Delmarva’s counties were below the poverty line and at least 10% of the populations in another 4 counties were below the poverty line. The 2007 numbers are not significantly different than 2002 numbers indicating the chronic nature of under- and unemployment on the Peninsula. In addition, Delmarva farms do not fare as well as their mainland counterparts. While 23.6% of Peninsula farms had sales over $500,000 in 2007, almost 50% of them had less than $20,000 in sales.

Despite the abundance of agriculture on the Peninsula, in comparison to the mainland, Delmarva has fewer farm stands and farm markets, as well as CSAs, and, according to available online resources tracking such information, no organized direct marketing of local foods – no farmstands, no farmer’s markets, no CSAs – in at least two Delmarva counties (Maryland’s Best, MD Dept of Ag, 2009). The chronic un- and underemployment on the Peninsula is related the shift in Delmarva agriculture to a globalized and industrialized food production and distribution system. The 80% of agricultural inventory on the Peninsula in meat chickens, coupled with the fact that the top three crops are corn, soybeans, and wheat, indicate the extent of Delmarva’s articulation into a global industrialized food production and distribution system. In fact, at least 5 Delmarva counties rank among the top 50 counties in the country in broiler production (DPI, 2009).

The ‘slower, lower Eastern shore’, and the Peninsula as a whole, is dealing with the results of the globalization and industrialization of agriculture that has disarticulated local economies through consolidation practices and the search for cheap inputs. Industrialized agriculture, in addition to hiding the costs of environmental destruction, devastates communities through lower return rates for actual producers and the removal of processing from local economies. Delmarva has retained a significant proportion of its small farming communities, however and more than 50% of the Peninsula’s more than 6,000 farms are less than 50 acres. The demand for local food is growing and small farmers are more likely to direct market their foods as well as practice sustainable agriculture. Given the numbers of small farms, the relatively lower cost of land, and the room for expansion of direct marketed foods on the Peninsula, supporting small farms and sustainable agriculture has the potential to yield dramatic results. We already have a long growing season on the Peninsula; we are in zone 7. Growing in ‘hoop houses’ or high tunnels (frames covered with plastic), even without added heat, can simulate a zone 9 climate. That means the Peninsula can support crops that require near tropical growing conditions. In addition, estimates are that to meet the dietary requirements of the approximately 400,000 Peninsula residents (Ag Census 2007) with sustainable agricultural practices we'd need between 11,200 and 16,300 acres to grow vegetables; from 3200 to 4600 acres to grow nuts; between 12,800 and 18,600 acres to grow fruits and from 8,000 to 11,650 acres to grow grains. We'd need another 25,600 to 37,250 acres to produce eggs and enough milk to drink and to make cheese and other dairy products and another 8,000 to 11,650 acres to produce meat. Making sure we have a few additional acres in production for wacky things like coffee (technically the seed of a fruit) and maybe some honey (which obviously relies upon flowering plants), this totals between 80,000 and 100,000 acres in sustainable production -- which is just over 4.5% but no more than 6 and 2/3% of the 1.5 million acres farmland on the Peninsula in 2007. These estimates are based on what average Americans consumed per day in 2007 which included a 1/2 lb of meat (which exceeds the USDA's highest daily requirement of 6.5 oz of protein for a 18 - 25 year old, highly active 200 lb male), and over 35%, by weight, in dairy products.

The estimates leave out .2 lbs of fats and oils and .4 lbs of sugar that were tallied separately from all other 'food' varieties which suggests that such items must come from prepared foods; this indicates a lack of balance in American diets since a ½ lb of meat and 35% of food lbs from dairy MUST contain at least .2 lbs of fat and sugar has no nutritional value on its own. In addition, the production numbers for produce, fruits, nuts, and grains are based on mono-cropping using organic methods and therefore are likely to under estimate (by as much as half or more) the land required to produce those foods (as well as eggs, milk, and even meat) on small, highly diverse farms because of the ability to multi-crop and the use of animals for soil development.

In terms of sustainability and food security, reducing our dependence upon petroleum, as well as economic viability for farmers themselves, it makes sense that food should travel as short a distance as possible from farmer to eater. Therefore, this 5 - 7% of Delmarva's farm land should be spread all over the Peninsula in small and highly diversified farming operations. With more than 50% of Delmarva’s farms less than 50 acres in size, almost 50% of them earning less than $20,000 a year, growing demand for local and sustainably produced foods, the Peninsula’s rural character, need for good and interesting jobs, and geographic isolation all point to an opportunity to develop a sustainable food shed – one that will protect our ecology, enhance our environment, revitalize our economy, put our people to work, and improve our individual and community health. It’s all right here on the Peninsula and you can help make it happen.

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