It was so refreshing to attend the 4th annual DE HEAL summit today in Dover. HEAL stands for Healthy Eating & Active Living and is a coalition of 200 individuals who want to improve the health of Delaware. The theme of today’s summit was “Impacting Obesity through Environmental & Policy Changes”. Words I heard throughout the day were: land use planning, complete communities, walkable, bikeable, smart growth, open space, built environment, healthy living and more.
How does this topic relate to agriculture? Obviously, farmers are the key to providing the fresh food necessary to decrease obesity rates. But also because the idea of farmland preservation fits in perfectly with the idea of “smart growth“. There are individuals and groups who are currently advocating to make communities more livable, INSTEAD of creating more developments on more land (also known as sprawl); leaving more space open and family farms intact. One such group is DE Greenways. I sat in on their breakout session today and learned more about the work they’re doing in the Rehoboth Beach area. They are essentially helping to “retrofit” the land already developed at the beach to make the area more livable. How? By connecting existing roads and trails, creating bike and pedestrian friendly areas, and communicating these areas to the public. Ever heard of the Breakwater Junction Trail? DE Greenways advocated for this 6 mile trail, which connects Rehoboth and Lewes.
There is definitely a cost savings associated with improving current infrastructures. The further we sprawl, the further we must provide transportation, emergency, and medical services to residents. Along the same line of thinking, to ensure the future of Delaware agriculture, the preservation of farm land is essential. We are lucky to have a state preservation program, which was initiated in 1991. Twenty years later, Delaware has preserved almost 130,000 acres. Smart growth ideals and farmland preservation principles go hand in hand. We should advocate together!!!