In a New Year’s Day letter to the editor published in the Daily Times of Salisbury (Md), Eastern Shore Sanctuary co-founder pattrice jones calls for economic diversification of the Delmarva peninsula, which is currently dominated (and despoiled) by the poultry industry:
We need a diversified economy with an agriculture sector divided between production of healthy food for local consumption and sustainable cultivation of high-value cash crops well-suited to local conditions. Since this kind of farming is labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive, this would create jobs while reducing local farmers’ vulnerability to corporate agribusiness.
Let’s start by demanding Delmarva’s share of state or federal financial stimulus goes not to bail out the poultry giants that have crushed local farmers and wrecked our environment, but rather to the kinds of programs that have helped communities in other states get out of tobacco farming and into more profitable, ecological endeavors.
(Read the whole letter here. Join the answering dialogue if you like.)
What we didn’t have a chance to say due to space constraints is that farmers elsewhere have successfully transitioned from unhealthy dependence on conventional crops sold for a pittance to big agribusiness to more profitable and environmentally sustainable cultivation of healthy food for people. For example, farmers in Kentucky have transitioned from tobacco to organic vegetables. As Brian Halweil explains,
The shift underway in this rail end of a state renowned for its flavorful tobacco is representative of a trend throughout the United States and the world, as farmers beset by failing prices, and tired of dealing with chemicals, switch to organic crops to protect their livelihoods.
Governmental and non-governmental programs such as the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project help farmers and their communities to make such transitions. Even without such aid, a few farmers in our region have begun Community Supported Agriculture projects. The state of Maryland does provide some support for farmers who want to grow food for local people through its Maryland Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and its participation in the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The University of Maryland at College Park has set up an “online farmer’s market” that connects consumers with growers. We’d like to see many more such projects concentrated on the Eastern Shore with the explicit aim of improving the public, economic, and environmental health by getting local farmers out of industrial poultry production and into ethical and sustainable agriculture.