State spotlights locally grown produce

WYOMING — Fifer Orchards will play host to several local dignitaries this morning — including Dover South Rep. Lyndon Yearick — in recognition of Local Produce Week, a second-annual celebration of locally grown and sold fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the state.

Fifer Orchards will celebrate Local Produce Week at its Farm & Country Store at 1919 Allabands Mill Road in Wyoming at 10 this morning.

Jessica Yocum, of Fifer Orchards, said farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs and roadside produce stands have helped to fuel tremendous growth in local produce sales over the past several years, including the Wyoming-based farm.

Gov. Jack Markell kicked off Local Produce Week with other dignitaries at the ShopRite at Christina Crossing in Wilmington on Monday, joining farmers and grocers in acknowledging the growth of the local produce industry.

“Our family farms are an important driver of our state’s economy, with $1.2 billion in sales and creating tens of thousands of jobs,” Gov. Markell said. “The delicious fresh produce they grow is a nutritional backbone of our families’ meals, providing healthy, delicious locally grown food.

“Whether we buy sweet corn at the grocery store or peaches directly from a farm stand, all Delawareans are reaping the benefits of their hard work.”

Ms. Yocum said the CSA program has really turned into a hit in its six years at Fifer Orchards.

“Starting in 2011 we only had around 50 CSA members and now we’re up to around 800,” she said. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s fun. Everybody loves it and we always get positive feedback.”

The CSA program begins with a preseason investment by the consumer. Membership in Fifer Orchards’ summertime program costs $34 for 18 weeks ($612); customers can also get boxes of local produce every other week for $37 ($333).

The farmers use the investment to plan for, grow and harvest the crops. They are offerings such as spinach, beets, strawberries, blueberries, corn, squash, zucchini and other items, depending on the season.

The farmers appreciate the CSA program since it helps keep their farms operating.
Department of Agriculture officials said they work year-round with a variety of initiatives to connect farmers with buyers such as grocery stores and restaurants. All 19 public school districts buy products from Delaware farmers. And direct-to-consumer sales from farmers markets and farm stands are on the rise.

Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Austin Short said supporting the work of Delaware’s 2,400 family farmers is critical to his department’s mission.

“From raising chickens to harvesting watermelons, our farmers are the hardest-working in the country,” Mr. Short said. “It is an honor to be able to help them grow, create jobs, and feed our state, nation and world.”

More than 240 Delaware farms grow fruits and vegetables and there are 40,000 acres of land in produce — up 9 percent from 2007 — according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

Two of Delaware’s largest fresh produce crops are sweet corn (more than 70 farms on 9,500 acres) and watermelon (more than 70 farms on 2,600 acres).

More than 40 farms grow strawberries and there are more than 160 acres of apple orchards and 230 acres of peach trees. Delaware’s largest vegetable crop by acreage is lima beans, grown for frozen processing on more than 12,000 acres.

Ms. Yocum said there is still concern about the loss of farmland due to development throughout the state, but added that things such as CSA programs help benefit local farmers.

“We are losing a lot of our farmland in Delaware to development,” she said. “The CSA program benefits our farmers and creates a healthier agricultural climate. Community Supported Agriculture keeps your food dollar within the local economy and keeps farmland in agricultural use and open space.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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