Every December at the Bridgeville Fire Hall, the Sussex Soil Conservation District holds their annual “Cooperators’ Dinner” to honor farmers for their stewardship of the land. I like to go for the beef and dumplings, of course, and to sit with my family. My grandfather has been a member of this board since 1977 and is the current Chairman. As Chair, he moderates the program, which entails different awards each year. In past years, I was glad to see my dad, Farmer Dan, awarded for his soil conservation practices and dedication. Last year was special, too, because my sister-in-law was awarded for her middle school “Conservation Club” work.
However, this year was a little different. There were no family members being awarded this time, which was fine. Local farmers, Clifton Murray from the eastern side of the county and Bill (father) & Bob (son) Otwell from Laurel, were both awarded “Cooperators’ of the Year”. Each recipient is welcome to make remarks after receiving the award. In the past, I remember Farmer Dan thanking the district and its employees for assisting him with applications, paperwork and even just educating him on the programs available. This year’s awardees did the same; however, both referenced the surmounting regulation coming down on their industry. Mr. Murray spoke first and referenced the “regulation coming out of the woodwork”, especially on the poultry industry. The senior Mr. Otwell spoke next and stated, “We do care about the land and we want to take care of it as best as we can. But we also want to do all we can to keep the EPA away.” I believe farmers have always been great stewards of the land; keeping abreast best management practices and implementing new techniques such as cover crop seeding. But being a good steward of the land today requires much more, including living in fear of regulatory authorities who can inspect your farm at anytime.
It was also interesting to hear the history and progress of the Sussex Conservation District from Jessica Watson, Manager of the Sediment and Stormwater Program. Just as Sussex farmers have had to adapt and change, so has the district and its mission. It was created in 1944, when agriculture was the dominant presence. Today, most of the eastern half of the county has been developed as it has gradually turned into an urban setting. The district has had to think outside the box and create services that are in demand of suburban and urban landowners, not just farmers, such as offering equipment out to hire, installing drainage pipes, and mowing assistance. It was also emphasized that funding is not secure for the district organization; citing the need for specific grant writing skills within their staff. At the end of the night, the District Coordinator, Debbie Absher, shared an awesome video: Tribute To Farmers: God Made A Farmer Video . Check it out!
Who would’ve known that in addition to assisting farmers in being good stewards of the land, they are also helping farmers protect their livelihood by “keeping the EPA away?”