One Vision for the Eastern Shore Food Economy

Cape Charles Wave Columnist

May 25, 2015

alttableLast Saturday I hosted a Weston A. Price booth at the Crabby Blues Festival. It was a wonderful day not only because of the fabulous weather and music by The Janitors but because of the many health-minded people who stopped by my booth to talk about their successes with weight loss, their farming experiences, and dietary plans that they like. Several folks signed up to take one of the Juicing and Smoothie classes that I’ll be offering. And quite a few festival-goers expressed an interest in buying the fermented vegetables that I had on display.

What are fermented vegetables? Sauerkraut and kimchi are examples of vegetables that are prepared in a crock or glass jar and covered with a brine of water and salt. Over a week or more, the lacto-fermentation process causes the growth of bacteria which benefits the gut. Many traditional societies ate these fermented or cultured foods with each meal to keep their intestinal micro-biome in balance. Today we have culture starters that can be added to the brine which adds an even broader spectrum of beneficial bacteria. Someday I may have the time to start a home-based business to make and sell these vegetables.

I was so pleased to see the many small businesses selling their products at the festival. These enterprises add so much value to the Shore’s economy and in my mind they suit our environment. We are not a place for large corporations, polluting chicken houses, and massive agribusiness. I’d like to see a return to a sustainable farm-based economy where our neighbors grow our food and small businesses grow up around the farms to add value to their products. Those of us who partake in eating and using what our neighbors have to offer may pay more for food, but we’ll all see a return in the explosion of money-making activity, community, and especially our health.

I’ve reported on two small farms, La Caridad and Willowdale, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and there are quite a few more: Mattawoman, Perennial Roots, Copper Cricket, Shine and Rise, By the Bay Alpaca, ES Emus, and others I have yet to discover. These farms produce vegetables, herbs, fruit, pork, chickens, eggs, rabbits, dairy, emu, alpaca and probably things I don’t know about.

Fermented vegetables


The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) activities are up and running today and we have a Farmers Market in Onancock, and smaller farms offer their produce up and down Lankford Highway. It would be good to see a Farmers Market in Cheriton, Eastville, or Cape Charles. What about the meat from farmers, though? Today, they must drive the animals to the closest USDA butcher who happens to be in Delaware. A six hour round trip is a burden for our farmers and a cruelty to the animals. What if there were a qualified butcher on the Shore, or what if they could process their meat themselves? They could take their frozen meat to the Farmers Markets or sell them from their own farm store. This would bring in more income to the farmers and we’d have healthier options for meat.

I already reported that Miriam Elton purchased raspberries from La Caridad Farm for her Brown Dog Ice Cream. What if the myriad of small bakers on the shore had access to a consistent supply of organic grain for their baked goods? Wouldn’t you prefer to buy bread for which the raw materials had been grown and baked on the Shore? What about catered parties and restaurant food? Wouldn’t it mean more if your restaurant and caterer used meat and vegetables from a highly regarded local farmer?

Supposing these things came to pass — how would the grain get to the baker and how would the food get to the caterer? We’d begin to see a local distribution system evolve also providing jobs for people right here. Tourists coming here would see a variety of artisan products in the stores and might even want to try my sauerkraut. These local activities will lead to the Shore being a destination for products produced here and the economy will start to grow. Perhaps someone would start brewing craft beers and a farmer might turn one of his fields over to grapes to support a growing wine industry.

The Shore’s future is in cottage industries which make use of the products our farmers grow. A focus on sustainable and organic farming will lead to a huge improvement in our soil and the cleanliness of the Chesapeake Bay. As a result our watermen will see oysters and fish thrive which will lead to more demand for our clean products.

How do we make all this happen? First of all our government leaders in our town councils, boards of supervisors, State delegates and senators must work to remove impediments to growth. They should be looking at ways to help our farmers and artisans make a living, perhaps starting with some sustainable agriculture courses at the Eastern Shore Community College. They should take warnings by people representing industrial agriculture with a grain of salt. Courage and integrity is required to resist the blandishments of campaign contributions. Food inspectors should work with and help people who want to start businesses and should be allowed to make accommodations for home-based businesses where cost is an issue.

But there’s much more to the story than just Government. In order for this scenario to happen, people here on the Shore have to care about what they put in their bodies and they have to want to support their local farmers and artisans. I am reading a book called Financing our Foodshed by Carol Peppe Hewitt. In it she describes how the Slow Money North Carolina organization, by means of its committed lenders, provided financing for 30 small farmers and local food business owners. The 60 lenders were people like you and me who might have some money that is not being gainfully used. They courageously lent some of their savings to neighbors who used it to buy things like Hobart mixers, solar greenhouses, and expanded retail space, knowing that at best they would receive a small amount of interest and at worst they could lose the whole amount. In lending this money, they kept small farmers and artisans working, invested in their community, and improved their local economies.

Hewitt says “First, we start financing ourselves, then we strengthen one another’s local food businesses with referrals. Along the way, we begin to heal the earth and one another. The food is better, more people stay employed in local businesses, our money stays closer to home for a bit longer, and our local food system becomes stronger and more resilient, The returns are better health, joyous engagement with one another, and a degree of hopefulness that we might be able to design a better more equitable financial system.” Wow!

Who else is with me in thinking this is a grand plan? Are there any readers who would be interested in lending small amounts of money to a farmer or food artisan? Are there any farmers or food artisans who need an infusion of cash to grow their business? Are there people out there who might be willing to help me learn about Slow Money and how to make it work for our community? I can be reached at [email protected].



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