Fun on the Farm? No, thank you!

Yesterday’s News Journal article “Fun on the farm is serious business for Delaware Farmers” highlights 3 Delaware agritourism sites and their successes. However, the article states “some farmers have been slow to adapt. First state farmers are even further behind the agritourism trend. The USDA found only 43 of Delaware’s 2,450 farms offer agritourism, producing $453,000 in annual income.”

The missing link to the story is an interview with a farmer who decided not to expand into this market and the reasons why. A simple Google search of “agritourism barriers” will do the trick. But since we’ve looked into it ourselves, I can tell you first hand why the end search result for us has always been a resounding “No, thank you! It’s not worth the risk”!

In Little Wagon’s case, we do our best to get to know our customers and have found over the years that most seem in a hurry to get to their beach destination. We just haven’t had the requests. Beyond the demand issue, what else has kept us from diversifying into this “fun on the farm” business?

  1. Capital-for a small business, how much do we need to invest to make it successful? How soon will it pay off? How do we structure pricing?
  2. Labor-this could be #1. Let’s face it, we struggle terribly by the end of August because our seasonal help goes back to school. September and October are very long months for the family with no help on the schedule. How can we add more fall activities without good help?
  3. Insurance Liability/Safety– on farm activities such as hay mazes, games, petting zoos with live animals only increase concerns around safety. How much will our already high insurance plans increase? Check out the research link on agritourism safety below.
  4. Promotion & Advertising-small businesses just do not have the budget for this. Yes, we can take advantage of free social media all day but additional advertising such as radio spots, local paper ads, and even Facebook advertising can be expensive.
  5. Regulation Compliance-what if we add a gift shop or bathrooms on site? What about the need for hand sanitizing with petting zoos? This will add public health inspections to our regulations list. What about signage along Rt. 404? What about entrances on Rt. 404? How easy do you think obtaining these permits from DOT will be? We’ve kept it simple for all these years and avoided these headaches.

Maybe we need to have more of the “build it and they will come” mentality. The end of the article mentions personality of a farmer and how it can allow a farm business to diversify. I believe this is true but it also depends on risk and how much a farmer (and his family) wants to take on. My research also tells me that more established businesses are less likely to expand. We are closing on our 27th year and Farmer Dan is very conservative. I respect him for not wanting our family to take on more risk. Besides, with low grain prices and drought this summer, where will farmers get the income to diversify? They’re too busy investing, fixing, and babysitting irrigation systems….oh wait, that’s a different kind of “fun on the farm”.

Agritourism Research found and read:



Delaware’s Grassroots Ag Champion

Every cause longs for a well-spoken, trusted advocate and they aren’t easy to find. There’s no doubt about it, Delaware agriculture has a champion in Rep. Dave Wilson. Only second to his constituents, Delaware agriculture is Rep. Wilson’s #1 priority. His commitment to securing farm land preservation state funds is critical to securing the future of Delaware farmers; not to mention its relation to preserving open space for all Delaware citizens. He pushed through House Bill 124 this past legislative session to fight for realty transfer tax dollars that were originally earmarked for ag land preservation. Needless to say, Delaware’s ag land preservation fund has only received a small fracture of these funds. Keep in mind, this bill would change our state Constitution, which requires 2/3 passing vote by each house in two consecutive general assemblies. This is a tough feat, for any cause. Rep. Wilson even told me that a prominent agricultural leader discouraged him from pursuing it because of budget constraints. But Rep. Wilson pursued it anyway. Why? Because that’s exactly what champions do! They aren’t afraid to be the underdog and in the process, they bring positive media attention and education about land preservation to those who have no clue that agriculture is Delaware’s #1 economic industry. The bill did not pass the first leg but it was close! He garnered 20 yes votes from his colleagues and he promises to try again.

More recently, his primary opponent brought attention to Rep. Wilson’s own participation in the ag preservation program (all public information on the DDA website). While I understand and appreciate the transparency, I believe most of the agricultural community know the history. You see, if Rep. Wilson wanted to get in when the “getting was good”, he would’ve taken advantage of the program in its earlier inception years when the average collective discount was well below 50%. If you really care to dig more on this issue, then let’s just mention the two former sitting legislators who DID take advantage early on: Rep. Wallace Caulk (Round 1, 1996, 27% collective discount, total over $770,000) and Rep. George Carey (1997, 33% collective discount, total over a million dollars). And guess what? Neither are public champions for the program nor currently advocate for funding such as Rep. Wilson.

Let me try explaining another way. Farmers who participate in this program, sell their development rights back to the state at a fracture of what they’re worth. It can never be sold for development or non-agricultural use.  You may only see large dollar sign totals but again, this is a fracture of what the land is appraised. For the state, it provides open space preservation for the future and ensures funding to our #1 economic industry. For farmers, it is a funding source that gives them some value for their property without selling out and can ensure their future relatives remain in farming practice. Let’s face it, they’re basically doing the state a favor by promising to never develop their land for minimal cost.

In other words, Rep. Wilson has nothing more to gain. All of his land is being preserved, which tells me he believes and trusts in the program enough to participate and wants to garner more funds for his fellow farming colleagues. Most probably know he was a farmer, horse breeder, and auctioneer first and our only active farmer in Delaware’s legislative body. Even better than an advocate is an advocate who has been on the ground, actively involved in the work, known as “grassroots”. There is NO other current Delaware legislator that can say his or her priority is Delaware agriculture. Based on this, I believe Delaware agriculture has a “grassroots” champion in Rep. Dave Wilson. We need to keep him in our legislature to preserve ag lands and our future in farming!

For more information, click here. To get involved in Rep. Wilson’s campaign, click here.

Farmers, Minimum Wage Hike, and Voting Straight “R”

In case you haven’t heard, an upstate legislator, Sen., Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington West) recently sponsored SB 39 to raise Delaware’s minimum wage over several years. When discussing this topic, many seem uneducated because they don’t own a business or they do not work a minimum wage paying job. Therefore, I think it’s important to start by laying out the current facts:

  • The current federal minimum wage rate is: $7.25, effective July 24, 2009, for non-exempt employees
  • However, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) states if an employee is subject to both the state and federal minimum wage laws, the employee is entitled to the higher minimum wage rate.
  • Delaware’s minimum wage rate is: $8.25, effective July 1, 2015.
  • Surrounding states (according to NCSL):
    • Virginia remains $7.25
    • Maryland is $8.25 but raises to $8.75 in July 2016, $9.25 in July 2017 and $10.10 in July 2018
    • Pennsylvania remains $7.25
  • As of Jan. 1, 2016 the highest rate is D.C. at $10.50. This is the first rate to cross the $10.00 threshold. If you don’t count D.C. as a state then next up is California and Massachusetts at $10.00.

In Delaware, the bill passed the Senate on Jan. 27, 2016. The bill originally proposed incrementally increasing the wage to $15.05 by over eight years (eff. June 1, 2023)! However, after a fierce debate, the bill was amended to increase to $10.25 over four years:

  • $8.75 eff. June 1, 2016
  • $9.25 eff. June 1, 2017
  • $9.75 eff. June 1, 2018
  • $10.25 eff. June 1, 2019
  • There is no change to minimum wage with tips (i.e. restaurant server)
  • There is no cost of living adjustment (COLA)
  • There is a fiscal note attached which outlines increases to casual/seasonal state workers

Business owners came out in full force to testify against the bill, which included many farmers, such as Fifer Farms in Kent and Vincent Farms in Sussex. Both testified and opposed the increase as seen on WBOC: Some Local Farmers Oppose Higher Minimum Wage

Apparently the response from legislators to the farmers was: “But Ag is exempt!”. Not once did they say “Ag is our #1 Industry”! Employees in agriculture are exempt but anyone who owns a business knows that it’s hard to find to good help these days. Agricultural employers MUST stay competitive in order to attract skilled workers. Therefore, ag is truly not exempt. The same goes for young workers (under the age of 20), who are also exempt. For example, Little Wagon Produce hires many seasonal employees who are usually high school students. How will we attract these students to work in the heat, pick produce, and get dirty for $7.25/hour when they can work in the air conditioner at McDonald’s for $10.25/hr? The same goes for foreign laborers who can work for larger landscaping companies instead of local farming operations. I believe the response to our local farmers shows just how uneducated our legislators really are today. Many have NO ties to local farming or own any type of small business.

Our local Chamber’s of Commerce have spoken out against the bill as well. Judy Diogo, President of the Central Chamber of Commerce, recently wrote an excellent opinion in the Delaware State News, noting many other increases to small businesses such as health care insurance, unemployment insurance, taxes, regulations, licensing fees, and operating costs. She noted 70% of the 1,000 businesses she represents were against a hike increase. This fact should have perked every Kent legislator’s ears; however, many voted YES including Sen. Bruce Ennis (D-Smyrna) who chairs the Senate Ag Committee! So disappointing! Especially after hearing so many farmers testify. Again, this is a negative outcome from the lack of agricultural ties in our legislature.

Last but not least, I must mention another local opinion from a young observant, Stephen Baione,  who just happened to be visiting the Senate chamber on the day of the minimum wage debate. His article was well-written and his observations speak volumes. He, too, realizes many do not own a business. But the common disrespect towards those testifying and minority party legislators makes me want to change my party status ASAP. It also makes me want to vote straight “R” in the upcoming election. If you don’t read anything else in this blog, please click on this link.

The bill is now Assigned to Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce Committee in the House. The DE General Assembly goes back into session in March 8th. I encourage you to speak out and contact your local legislator or local Chamber of Commerce today. 

For Rent

For Rent

I have several rustic wedding items for rent plus a few items at the end for sale. Please call or email Christy for more details: / 302-245-1793 (leave a message)

Whiskey Barrel and Chalkboard

Whiskey Barrel & Chalkboard

FridayDecorating 014

Rustic Crate (serving as a card box)

Rustic Wagon

Rustic Wagon

30 burlap runners

30 burlap runners (gently used, some may have stains)


Wooden rustic arch

30+ fall leaf place mats (brown, burgandy, green) and 6 lanterns

30+ fall leaf place mats (brown, burgundy, and green) and 6 lanterns (for rent)

2 wooden cake base boxes

2 wooden cake base boxes

2 old nail kegs with fall arrangements and several more chalkboards

2 old nail kegs with fall arrangements and several more chalkboards

Dec 2015 125Rustic Bench


For Sale: 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 4wd farm truck. 134,000 miles. $3,000 or best offer.


Greenhouse Frame for sale-call for more info

Only One “C” Remains

In speaking engagements statewide, Senator Tom Carper has often mentioned the three C’s of Delaware. He’s referring to Delaware’s rich history in the economic industries of cars, chemicals, and chickens. It looks as though he will have to edit his speech as only one lone “C” seems to remain strong in Delaware.

Chemicals-Founded in 1802, the three DuPont cousins transformed gunpowder making to chemicals. The manufacturing company went through many transformations over the years but settled on the sciences-centering it’s focus on food, seed, and biofuels. The company seemed to embrace agriculture with its “Pioneer” seed division, crop protection chemicals, and in-feed animal nutrition and biosecurity products. However, 2015 will forever be known as the year DuPont merged with the Michigan based company known as Dow Chemical Co. The new name? “DowDuPont”. Delaware has lost its lone chemical empire and the single name giant. What does this mean for local agriculture? Will farmers buy seed from a Michigan based seed sales rep? How long before this sales rep is based in China? What is the economic impact on our state? No one seems to know or at least no one is talking. State elected leaders were quick to post sad comments on social media as the news broke. Too little, too late. It can’t be the way our Governor wanted to end his last year in office and 2016 is an election year.

Cars-The industry fell apart in 2009 with the exit of the Chrysler plant in Newark, DE. Soon thereafter, the old GM plant turned Fisker fell bankrupt right under the state’s nose; an epic fail at the start of the Markell administration.

Chickens-Only one shining star remains. The lone “C” is chickens and it’s Sussex County’s claim to fame. The poultry industry began in 1923 in Ocean View, DE when Cecile Steele mistakenly was delivered 500 chicks. She only ordered 50 to replace her laying flock. She kept them, raised them, and sold 387 survivors for 62 cents a pound. Here we are 93 years later and Sussex County ranks #1 in U.S. broiler production, producing over 200 million birds each year. There are more than 1,500 poultry farms on Delmarva with more than 4,600 individual houses. The economic impact is huge with a total of over 13,000 jobs and an aggregate output of $3.2. billion. But the industry is not invincible. Farmers and state officials are preparing for the outbreak of avian influenza to hit. A proposed “water tax” keeps popping up in the Delaware General Assembly, which could hurt all farmers not just poultry growers. Nutrient management laws are being shoved down farmers’ throats. Animal welfare activists claim poultry growers are “factory farms” and have tried to gain access to local chicken house facilities to claim abuse. Will elected officials take note and protect a thriving downstate industry? Or will they post on social media the day after the industry is gone? Thank goodness for those working behind the scenes to advocate for poultry farmers such as Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) and the DE Farm Bureau. But is it enough? Senator Carper, you may not have any C’s left.

The Holiday Spirit

Tired of seeing of the news on Syrian refugees and Paris terrorist attacks? Me, too. Tired of Presidential debates in a non-election year? Me, too.  Already seeing Christmas TV ads and wondering how you’re going to get everything done? Me, too. Take a deep breath, slow down, and consider these 2 suggestions:

  1. Visit a local Christmas tree farm.
  2. Take a stroll at a holiday farmer’s market.

There’s no better way to get in the Christmas spirit than to visit a local tree farm. We visited Schreppler’s Fir Tree Acres in Magnolia, DE recently and I’m so glad we did. The smell of pine and intense green color surrounded us. Chance loved playing hide-and-go-seek in between the trees and all of sudden we were singing Jingle Bells. Many have Christmas shops with decorations, greenery, holly, and wreaths. But you don’t have to buy a thing-getting in the spirit is free! Find a tree farm near you in this guide from Delaware Dept. of Agriculture.

How about a stroll at a holiday farmer’s market this season? Little Wagon Produce will be a vendor at 2 upcoming local markets:

  • Friday, Nov. 20 – Milton “Harvest Market”, Noon-4pm, on the grounds of Dogfish Brewery. Check out this article in the Cape Gazette for more info. Dogs welcome!
  • Saturday, Nov. 21 – Milford Riverwalk 2nd Annual Fall Market, 10am2pm, downtown Milford. Check out this article in Delmarva Life.

You can “buy local” for Christmas gifts, local produce, seasonal decorations, jewelry, baked goods and more while enjoying Christmas music in the background. See my previous post for what Little Wagon Produce will be offering. Downtown Milford is especially a great place to mingle where local residents drink coffee, hug, smile, and fellowship. There’s no entry fee. Just come enjoy the friendly atmosphere and get in the holiday spirit at the same time!


2015 Local Holiday Markets

This past year, Mom and I revamped the Little Wagon Produce website. After 6 years, it became outdated. It’s no small task for a small business. It took several meetings with Tim Smith’s team from Delmarva Digital, new pictures, and updated text. A few new features include a scrolling picture banner and a “We Sell” tab. Over the years, we’ve collected a database of customer email addresses to send seasonal updates. We feel it’s a nice benefit to quickly tell customers, “Sweet corn’s ready!”. This winter, I plan to increase our collection of customer recipes online. To check out our website or join the email newsletter, just go to our homepage.
Here’s our last email update for 2015 regarding upcoming holiday markets:
Greetings Patrons & Friends,
Thank you for a wonderful 2015 season! Little Wagon Produce is closed for the season. On a daily basis, we may have a few produce items available on our wagon for “self-service”. For those of you who stopped in the beginning, you know what this means!  However, we do have 2 upcoming holiday market dates to share with you. Please mark your calendars:
  1. Friday, Nov. 20 – Milton “Harvest Market”, Noon-4pm, on the grounds of Dogfish Brewery (featuring punkin ale), come enjoy the live music!
  2. Saturday, Nov. 21 – Milford Riverwalk 2nd Annual Fall Market, 10am2pm, downtown Milford, come get your Dolce coffee and take a stroll!
We plan to offer the following at these holiday markets:
  • Jams, jellies, honey, canned pickles
  • Spaghetti and acorn squash
  • Butternut and Hubbard squash (good for pie making)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnips
  • Holiday slates with wrought iron (pictured below)
  • Holiday flags with wrought iron (these make great holiday gifts!)
  • Possibly a few fresh greenery pieces (wreaths, garland, etc.)
  • Possibly a few fruit baskets and/or jam & jelly gift baskets
We hope the weather stays mild and would love to see you there! You can also check out our Fall/Winter Recipes on our website. We will be adding more throughout the winter.

If you have any specific needs over the winter, please give us a call at the house (not the stand): 302-349-5206. Thank you again for your business and we look forward to serving you in 2016. Have a blessed holiday season!

Little Wagon Produce
Dan & Becky Vanderwende and Families

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