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. 

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!

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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!

Sincerely,
Little Wagon Produce
Dan & Becky Vanderwende and Families

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Bring on Summer and Fresh Produce!

Written by Christy Vanderwende Wright, Little Wagon Produce, for Milford Live (page 14) in honor of Local Produce Week

Bring on summer and the local produce! A sure sign of summer is downtown farmer’s markets. Little Wagon Produce is busy as a vendor at three – the Milton Farmer’s Market on Friday afternoon, the Riverwalk Farmers Market in downtown Milford every Saturday morning, and the Georgetown Farmer’s Market at 16 mile Brewery every Wednesday evening.

The Riverwalk Farmers Market in Milford has become a regular meeting hub for the Milford community. Shoppers mingle, talk, smile, laugh, and hug in between buying goods. Live music and many new vendors compliment the market. The weather has been warm but the grove of trees provides a refreshing shade. We appreciate the loyalty of Milford patrons year after year. I also appreciate the many questions and concern in my absence. I welcomed a baby boy last August and have taken time off to care for him. My sisters, Danna and Amber, have replaced me and love to share pictures of the baby!

The most popular question we get each year is “Do you have sweet corn yet?” The answer is YES! We are also picking daily our own yellow squash, zucchini, sweet corn, string beans, kale, green tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. We will soon have red tomatoes. Farmers have been blessed with plentiful rain this season. Keep in mind, there are expenses incurred by vendors such as fuel costs, paper and plastic bags or packaging, labor, and significant time picking and packing the day before the market. We tend to spend most of Friday preparing for the market in Milford and schedule 4-5 employees to attend and assist customers during the market.

If you do plan to take a stroll downtown soon, here are a few tidbits to help you be “Farmer Market Ready” this summer:

  • Bring cash! Many vendors are small businesses and cannot afford the fees accompanied with credit card machines. There is no bank in downtown Milford anymore.
  • Bring your own bags! The recyclable grocery bags work great! By doing this, you will help the environment and help us because plastic bags are an additional expense to vendors that we usually do not pass on to the customers. We even pay more and go out of the way to find heavy-duty plastic bags to hold a dozen ears of sweet corn (and they still don’t hold a dozen ears well).
  • Bring a friend! Word of mouth is the best marketing! The Riverwalk Farmer’s Market is open every Saturday from 9am-1pm.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask! Many markets have an information booth or a “Market Manager” to oversee the market each week.
  • Spread the love! Hopefully you will find more than one vendor to patronize. In Milford, there’s a large variety of vendors offering more than produce and there are several businesses nearby such as Dolce Coffee Shop, Blooming Boutique, Sugar Bee Candy Store, Arena’s and Georgia House Restaurant.
  • Bring your smile! Many vendors love to talk and engage their customers, including us.
  • Stay updated! The market is usually rain or shine! Vendors still come out in the rain. Check to see if your local market has a Facebook page and/or website for updates. Milford can be found on Facebook at “Riverwalk Farmers Market” and we update our page as well, “Little Wagon Produce”.
  • Say thanks to the vendors! There would be no market without them!

Thank you to all our loyal customers who already know the ropes and patronize the market week after week! Be sure to check out the Department of Agriculture’s “Buy Local” website for a farmer’s market near you at www.de.gov/buylocal.

Little Wagon Family in the News

Who doesn’t love their picture in the paper? Especially when it recognizes a milestone in your life or the work that you do. So here’s a recap, in news clipping pictures, of Little Wagon Produce Family in the news from the past few months.

Mom-Mom Messick turned 83 on Valentine's Day.

Mom-Mom Messick turned 83 on Valentine’s Day.

Uncle Doug & Jesse (cousin) were in the paper this winter because Doug nominated the Kiwanis group for a $2,500 award through the "America's Farmers Grow Communities" program. The money has been earmarked for students in the Woodbridge FFA chapter. Jesse accepted the check as Kiwanis President.

Uncle Doug & Jesse (cousin) were in the paper this winter because Doug nominated the Kiwanis group for a $2,500 award through the “America’s Farmers Grow Communities” program. The money has been earmarked for students in the Woodbridge FFA chapter. Jesse accepted the check as Kiwanis President.

Bethany (cousin) just finished her freshman year at Misercordia University in Dallas, PA. She ran fall cross country, winter track, and spring track.

Bethany (cousin) just finished her freshman year at Misercordia University in Dallas, PA. She ran fall cross country, winter track, and spring track.

In April, Pop-Pop Bill received the "Delmarva Distinguished Citizen" award from DPI (Delmarva Poultry Industry). He was recognized mainly for his board service on the Sussex Soil Conservation District (which provides support to Sussex poultry growers).

In April, Pop-Pop Vanderwende received the “Delmarva Distinguished Citizen” award from DPI (Delmarva Poultry Industry). He was recognized for all of his contributions to agriculture but mainly for his board service on the Sussex Soil Conservation District (which provides support to Sussex poultry growers).

Not exactly a newspaper, but I found out through family that my face is plastered to this bilboard on Rt 404 east. Not sure how many beach tourists know that ethanol comes from corn, which I'm standing in front of but maybe they'll get the point. Or maybe they'll google it when they see how much gas has gone up in recent weeks.

Not exactly a newspaper, but I found out through family that my face is plastered to this billboard on Rt 404 east (in MD near Rt. 313 exit). Not sure how many beach tourists know that ethanol comes from corn, which I’m standing in front of, but maybe they’ll Google it when they see how much the price of gas has gone up in recent weeks. Maryland Grain Producers paid for this advertising and there are other billboards on the Eastern Shore promoting agriculture. Apparently ethanol contracts for July are running almost $1 cheaper per gallon than gasoline, making ethanol blends even cheaper than the 52 cents mentioned here. You may see the video ad in this article on national news this Sunday.

 

Top 5 Consumer Questions from 2013 Farmer’s Markets

You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers! As many of you know, Little Wagon Produce can be found at many local farmer’s markets in Sussex County. Here’s the questions (and answers) Mom and I witnessed the most from consumers at local farmer’s markets in Delaware this past year:

#5 Question: Do you have strawberries?

Answer: It depends on when you ask us! On Delmarva, strawberries typically ripen in May. Sometimes it’s early May. Sometimes it’s late May. It’s rarely before May because the threat of frost usually lasts until May 15. It’s rarely in June because the temperature becomes too hot. As you can tell, strawberries are fickle. Too much rain, they rot. Too much heat, they get mushy. Too cold, they don’t ripen. Therefore, if you see a farmer with strawberries in July and August, they aren’t from the Delmarva Peninsula! And that’s why we don’t sell strawberries in July. We try to only sell produce which we grow. I often take this Availability Chart below, provided by DDA, and post it to help customers understand.

Availability Chart

#4 Question: Are you organic?

Answer: No. Why? Because Farmer Dan learned how to farm the conventional way and wants to keep prices reasonable for our customers. He has a pesticide license and only sprays the vegetables when he sees evidence of an insect or weed. He does not spray sporadically because chemicals are very expensive.

Research shows that organic does not necessarily mean a healthier product. A recent review of over 400 scientific papers concluded organic and conventional foods remain equally healthy. In order to be certified organic, we would have purchase an expensive license, buy and plant more seed so that we have enough yields, and employ more labor to remove weeds by hand. This is the reason organic produce costs more.

Our advice? Simply wash your produce thoroughly, whether it’s organic or not! I love this video from a farmer in Kentucky who shares her take, as a mother and farmer, on organic produce:

#3 Question: Can I freeze corn?

Answer: YES! Many customers share ways that they freeze it. Here’s one way how:

Freezing Sweet Corn

#2 Question: How long does sweet corn last?

Answer: The best way to store fresh corn, besides freezing, is to keep it cool. We recommend storing it in the refrigerator and leaving it in the husk when storing. The husk protects it from the air, which causes it to dry out. Our super sweet corn varieties last up to 7 days if kept in the refrigerator! Trust us, it works!

And the #1 Question: Is your corn GMO?

Answer:  No. Why? Genetically modified sweet corn seed has not been available long. We have chosen not to purchase it. This type of seed tends to be more expensive and we don’t feel it is worth the cost because we are not growing large amounts for a cannery, etc. Most vegetable seeds are not GMO altered. Currently, there are only 8 crops commercially offered from GMO seeds in the U.S. Please check out the graphic below. This website and link offers great insight to GMO answers: www.gmoanswers.com

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We look forward to answering more consumer food questions and educating the public at the 2014 Farmer’s Markets! Happy New Year!

Strawberry Lemon Pound Cake

Strawberries

I hope you make the effort to buy your strawberries from local growers this spring!

Because of the cool spring weather here on the Eastern Shore, strawberries are just now ripening, after the middle of May. Strawberries also do not like to get wet, so the rainy weather could make the berries mushy and even end the crop prematurely. My family’s business, Little Wagon Produce, does not offer u-pick strawberries but we have received a couple of requests for this through our Facebook page this spring. For a full list of U-pick’s in Delaware, see here.

Strawberry Lemon Pound Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 frozen pound cake
  • 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 1 package lemon flavor instant flavor pudding and pie filling
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (optional)
  • 1 egg white, unbeaten (I tried to use egg beaters for this and it didn’t work as well)
  • 1 pint fresh, local strawberries (sliced)
  • 1 can refrigerated whipped cream
  • strawberries for garnish

Directions: Cut pound cake lengthwise into two layers and arrange side by side in an 8 inch square cake pan (cut sides up). Set aside. Prepare pudding following package directions except reduce milk to 1 3/4 cups. Beat in dissolved gelatin and lemon juice. Let sit for 5 minutes. Add egg white. Beat on highest electric mixer speed for five minutes. Fold berries into mixture. Pour over cake. Chill until firm enough to cut, at least one hour. To serve, cut into squares. Top with a puff of whipped cream, sliced strawberries, or a whole strawberry. Yields 9 squares.

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For more recipes, click the recipe category on the right or see below:

Meat Monday’s

Cleaning out the Fridge from Thanksgiving