Memories Made at the 2012 DE State Fair

Well, another DE State Fair has passed. Some of us are sad. Some of us are glad. Some of us are just flat-out exhausted. But the “memories made” and lessons learned, especially for the youth, are priceless. My family has always been involved and even though we don’t take many dairy cows anymore, it was fun to try to keep up with my nieces and nephew as they begin their 4-H and DE State Fair careers. Here are a few highlights:

My sister and I helped Mom lay out a lot of vegetables for her entries in the Garden Vegetable Department in the Dover Building the Wednesday before the fair starts. It’s a long stressful morning but for some reason, we keep doing it. Farmer Dan hates it mainly because it’s very challenging to find multiple kinds of one vegetable that are perfect and match.  Most of the veggies are thrown out on Tuesday night of the fair and we do it all over again on Wednesday morning.

We start by laying all the veggies out on tarp and wiping them down. This allows us to compare them and pick the most uniform ones.

Then we pick the best ones and lay them in a yellow try with a towel, so they don’t get bruised. Many classes differ on the number required (i.e. best 4 green tomatoes, best 12 snap beans, best 3 yellow squash).

And our sweet corn won a blue!

Mom received the Superintendent’s Award for the most blue ribbons in this department. She’s only won it 2 times. She was recognized here by the Governor on Governor’s day.

On Sunday, my cousin Bethany Killmon was named “Sheep & Wool Queen”. She spent the rest of the week dressed up and hanging out with important people, such as the Governor on Thursday. What a nice way to end her summer as she gets ready to start her senior year at Sussex Tech High School this fall. My Aunt Vi also came up from Georgia. She loves the fair and catches up with all of her Harrington High School classmates. My grandmother even came up one night with her. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw Mom-Mom Ann strolling in the barn.

Our cousin, Bethany Killmon (on right), crowned Sheep & Wool Queen. She had to apply and give a public speech on what her sheep project has meant to her.

Hangin’ out in the sheep barn!
From Left to Right:
Bethany, Mom-Mom Ann, Uncle Charles, Aunt Vi, Wendee, Christy, Aunt Carla

I could barely keep up with all of my nieces and nephews activities. Maci and Brielle were in the 4-H talent show. Bethany & Alanna presented their 4-H demonstration on raised gardens. Maci & her friend gave their demo on recycling. All four of them won their divisions. Maci showed her Boer goat. Brielle showed her two market hogs. And the list goes on and on. I could barely keep up with Scott either. He loves the fair and spends as much time there as possible. He helps his Mom with her Suffolk sheep.

Maci showing her Boer goat, Patches, and speaking to the judge.

Alanna helping Mom with her big vegetable display.

Oh and by the way, I had a few reasons to be there, too. The DE 4-H Foundation sponsored their Donor Appreciation Brunch on the first Sunday. With the help of a fellow board member, Marian Harvey, we coordinated and moderated the event. Nemours sponsored Healthy Kids Day, which was all day Tuesday. I worked the free health fair, which was in the entertainment tent all day. I also gave a little demonstration in the Ag Commodities Building on Wednesday. I teamed up with Cara Sylvester (see her blog, …story worth telling) for CommonGround to educate fair go’ers on food safety tips for summer. More to come on this later! And on Saturday night I enjoyed the end of it all by going to see Miranda Lambert with some friends. It was a really good show-her voice sounded great and she looked awesome! I loved her skirt and boots!

Miranda Lambert in concert.
July 28, 2012

So, we will all try to catch up on sleep this week and wait another 355 days for next year’s fair come around. Can’t wait to see what is to come and look forward to the memories made next year!

Where Did Winter Go?

I was supposed to rest this winter. So much for that. I’ve been going non-stop in my spare time and much has been for ag related purposes. So much, in fact, that I didn’t blog the entire month of February. Right after the annual DE Ag Industry dinner, I began an 8 week class called Annie’s Project, on Wednesday nights. The first weekend of February I attended my 2nd conference for Common Ground in Charleston, South Carolina…and here it is March already and my family is back in the greenhouse.

To catch up for lost time, here’s a recap of national and state ag related news or events I’ve been following this winter:

  • First woman elected Chair of the United Soybean Board:Meet Vanessa Kummer
  • DE Public Archives released an Agriculture Photo Collection from Delaware in the 1920’s and 1930’s (I loved seeing many of the old farm practices captured in these pictures as well as some 4-H events!)
  • UD names new head of Cooperative Extension: Meet Ms. Michelle Rodgers (her start date is April 2nd!)
  • USDA closes 259 offices, including consolidation of 131 FSA offices (this link is the latest article from March 3)
  • Bill Gates Endorses Ag Research  (or watch  this Bill Gates video, supporting genetically modified food research) Our industry could use his voice more! I’m so glad he spoke up!
  • Annie’s Project Convenes (more to come on this 8 week agribusiness course for women) I graduate tomorrow night!
  • Common Ground launches new website: (more to come on this, too, but this website is an awesome resource to answer popular consumer questions) Take a few minutes to check it out!
  • Regional Women in Ag Conference was February 9-10, 2012 (I couldn’t find any media on this and I didn’t make it this year because of my full-time work but heard it went well!)
  • DE Farm Service Agency (FSA) Director named: Meet Mr. Bob Walls
  • National Ag Week & Agricultural Safety Awareness Week was March 4-10, 2012 (sponsored by the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety because it is one of the most hazardous industries)
  • National Ag Day was March 8, 2012 (sponsored by the Agriculture Council of America)

This is a quick list, but as you can see, there’s been no shortage of agriculture news and events this winter. With the early arrival of mild weather, it looks like there will be no rest for the weary in between seasons.  By the way, the first day of spring is next Tuesday, March 20. Just where did winter go?

2012 DE Ag Industry Dinner: “Spreading the Gospel of Agriculture”

It was a nice night. The Dover Downs venue makes this annual occasion very formal. And thanks to the impending election year, it was well attended (or crowded, however you want to look at it). There  were politicians everywhere, both state officials and our 3 U.S. Congressmen. The food was good and yes, of course, Delmarva chicken was on the menu! It was a very late night since every Congressman gave welcoming comments and the featured guest, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture-Tom Vilsack, was last to give the key-note address. His speech gave indebtedness to farmers; thanking them for their efficiency (production crops) and innovation (biofuel) and most of all, for providing Americans food security.

This year the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service to Agriculture went to two prominent names in the Delaware agriculture community: Bruce Hotchkiss and Michael Scuse. The latter is a former DE Secretary of Agriculture and currently an Under Secretary for the USDA. But most importantly, he is a farmer from Smyrna, DE. The first is the founder of the widespread Delmarva Farmer; a voice for farmers across the Mid-Atlantic. He is from a NJ dairy farm but spent 57 years as a reporter. Of the entire night, I enjoyed Mr. Hotchkiss’s words the most. He broadcasted the fact that agriculture across the country is under assault from organization’s such as the Water Keeper’s Alliance and the EPA.  But he also publicized that organizations are blossoming up everywhere, to reeducate the public on the gospel of agriculture. He encouraged the crowd with two very small words: JOIN THEM!

This week I travel to my second CommonGround Conference. I hope to learn more media training so I can effectively advocate for farmers. I joined CommonGroundto spread the gospel of agriculture.

L to R: Mr. Bruce Hotchkiss and Mr. Michael Scuse- Both 2012 Distinguished Service to Agriculture Awardees

3 Generations of Farming

Here’s a great picture from the “Mid-Atlantic Farmers Feed US” profile on my cousin, Jesse:

Mid-Atlantic Farmers Feed US

3 Generations of Vanderwende farmers: Jesse (far left), Bill (left), Jimmy (right), Cody (far right)

See more of his profile and several other Mid-Atlantic farmers here. Don’t forget to enter for the chance to win a year of free groceries! The contest continues for 90 days from today (April 2012). What a great way to connect consumers to local farmers and our food supply.

A Great Way to Kick-Off 2012: “Mid-Atlantic Farmers Feed US” Launches Tuesday, January 3

Want to put a face and even a family behind the food you put on your table? Here’s your chance. A program called Mid-Atlantic Farmers Feed US is showcasing 10 farmers from the Mid-Atlantic region beginning Tuesday, January 3. The goal is to introduce local consumers to the local hardworking men and women who raise healthy, nutritious and affordable food through online videos of the farmers at work. After watching the videos, consumers in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and D.C. can enter for a chance to win free groceries for a year!

With a successful initial launch in the Midwest, film crews visited the Mid-Atlantic to tape farmers in October 2011. The farmers selected will feature several commodities such as beef, cattle, corn, dairy, hogs, mushrooms, poultry, roasters, soybeans, vegetables, and watermelon. Delaware farmers profiled include:

  • Dairy: Allison & Burli Hopkins, Hopkins Creamery, Lewes, DE (see Facebook page here)
  • Vegetables: Jay Baxter, Baxter Farms, Georgetown, DE
  • Poultry: Jesse Vanderwende, Walnut Tree Farm, Bridgeville, DE

 Yesterday I blogged about my cousin, Bethany Killmon; therefore, I have to mention that Jesse is also my cousin.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesse loves our family farm and is a young entrepreneur; he built two chicken houses by the age of 19. He grew up on the farm and spent almost every minute learning the ropes from his father and our grandfather. I can’t wait to see his video!

It is my hope that you, the consumer, can find a few minutes to watch one or two of these videos over the next 90 days (just click here:! Or at least just visit their Facebook page to “like” them!

Thank you to the farmers featured for giving up their time in the field or on the farm to do this. I hope farmers continue to take advantage of these new online social media outlets to promote public trust and show that they have the same values as consumers.

Keeping the EPA Away

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?”

Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving. Everyone loves Thanksgiving. It’s the holiday where all families can come together and do one thing only and do it well…..EAT!!! No wrapped gifts in sight; just good food, family and laughter. I’m so fortunate because my grandmother loves to cook and she handles all the details, even at the age of 76. I helped her set up and prepare and I even ran to the store for some extra canned peas but other than that, I have no idea how much the full spread cost her for all 26 of us. So I did some research.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a traditional Thanksgiving meal will cost 13% more this year than last. The turkey alone will cost 22% more. Much of the increase can be linked to higher cost in energy, meaning fuel for transportation. Inflation is also a factor. According to a new USDA forecast, food prices in 2011 are projected to increase by 3.5 to 4.5%. Prices for cereals, bakery products, poultry and processed fruits and vegetables are forecasted to rise rapidly in 2012, even though inflation is expected to slow. Two things automatically come to mind: I should budget more money for groceries next year and I definitely take advantage of my grandmother’s cooking and her gratuitous nature.

I am thankful for the awesome holiday dinner I shared with family yesterday. But as I think ahead, I worry about tomorrow. How will the less fortunate be able to afford food in the future? With a growing world population, how much more will prices inflate? How available will food products be? How much more will fuel prices increase? I traveled to Detroit recently for a work related policy conference and by touring the city I learned the last national grocery store chain left the city in 2007. Most Detroiter’s shop for groceries at a corner gas station. This makes me even more thankful not only for yesterday’s meal but all year-long.

I also can’t help but think back to my last post on GMO’s: The Rest of the Story. The facts above reinforce the need for genetically engineered crops. You see, not only do they increase farmers’ production and yields but the oil from these plants can be used in alternative fuels, known as biodiesel. When used, biodiesel can reduce transportation costs and fuel emissions; positively impacting rising food prices, our environment, and even our economy.

Finally, I’m thankful for American farmers, especially those in Delaware including my family, and the fact that they are the reason food was so good yesterday and all year-long.