Greetings from oh so hot Adams County in south-central Pennsylvania. Much like the rest of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic we are currently in the grips of 100 degree Fahrenheit weather. There’s a warm haze over the rolling hills of the county’s Fruit Belt.
It’s too hot for the salad greens of May, and the cherries of June. Now its blueberries and apricots, and the apples are on their way.
In my last post, I said I’d provide a “lay of the land” and the local contexts in which the Adams County Food Policy Council (ACFPC) is working to ensure a just and sustainable food system in our area. Part of this local context is acknowledging Adams County’s strong farming tradition.
This farming tradition has been acknowledged by many but perhaps one of the best statements on its centrality to the area can be credited to President Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower retired to a farm just outside the borough of Gettysburg. In his 1967 book, “At Ease: Stories I tell to Friends,” he wrote: “In a place like Gettysburg” both native and visitor “may easily become absorbed in the three days of conflict,” ignoring the fact that both before and since the bloodiest battle on US soil in 1863, “history was also made here in quiet lives, on farm and village street” (quote taken from the Adams County Historical Society website).
Eisenhower himself came to Gettysburg for the “quiet life,” using it as his retreat from the hustle and bustle of DC, and finally retiring here. He also contributed to the area’s farming culture, breeding a show herd of black Angus cows. Black Angus cows still grace the farm, which is now designated the Eisenhower National Historic site and open to visitors exploring the area. Cows in general are a common feature in Adams County, even gracing the battlefield, where they are allowed to graze. (For more about battlefield cows look for an upcoming post!)
While cows are a feature of Adams County’s farms, here are a few other facts and statistics about our farms (gleaned from the 2007 brochure of Pennsylvania State Agricultural Extension Agency):
- There are about 1,260 farms in the county.
- The average farm size is 142 acres.
- About half the farms are run by individuals whose primary occupation is the farm. (And here’s an interesting fact, the ratio of male to female primary operators was 1,105 to 184, or in other words about 15% of farmers in Adams County are women keeping the county pace with national averages: see US 2007 Agricultural Census.)
- Almost half the farms in Adams County raise meat cattle (460; which probably explains why cows are a staple feature), there are 65 dairy operations, and 75 orchards. Hogs, chickens, and sheep also make up the farming landscape.
- Approximately a fourth of all farms (327) recorded hiring farm labor, both seasonal and permanent.
What do all these statistics add up to? Simply put: we have a vibrant farming community, but like all farming communities, especially those that demonstrate small family owned farms, there are always social, political, and economic complexities and challenges. For example, the average age of an Adams County farmer in 2007 was reported as 55 years. And though over half the county (56 percent) was designated farmland in the US Agricultural Census of 1982, aging farmers and real estate development pressures have threatened and continue to threaten local farmland.
The good news is that citizens in Adams County aren’t sitting by simply bemoaning the threats to their farming heritage, or sighing over the complexities of managing local food systems in a competitive global economy. Instead, they are tackling these issues head on. While a plethora of organizations and groups such as the Adams County Land Conservancy, the Young Grower’s Alliance, and the Adams County Local Food Network are vigorously confronting the issues, Penn State’s Agricultural Extension office in Gettysburg has taken the lead through its Ag Innovations Summit.As Katie Ellis, a key organizer of the summit states, the main point of the summit is to answer the question “what do we need to address next to ensure the continuation of a stable future for Adams County agriculture?” (qouted in Penn State Ag Extension news.) What make the Ag Innovations Summit unique is its agenda to bring various groups together and to think holistically about the various issues confronting agriculture, including those related more specifically to local food consumption. For this reason, the Adams County Food Policy Council (ACFPC) with its focus on food security is also invited to the table.
Working collaboratively within this larger network, the ACFPC is plugging away at ensuring a stable farm and food future for Adams County. In my next post, I’ll share some of its innovative work, including that of the Fairshare project. More to come. In the meantime, I’m off to partake in the bounty of the land. Made at home with local ingredients: Blueberry sherbet and cherry stout here I come!
Blueberry Sherbet Recipe:
For a single batch:
4 cups berries (any type, I used blueberries)
2 cups sugar
2 cups buttermilk
Mash berries and sugar to get the juices out. Add buttermilk and mix well. Pour in trays (I usually use cake pans) and freeze medium hard. Then break into pieces and blend in a mixer (I use my kitchenaid) to get a good texture. Freeze in containers. Alternatively, you can use an ice cream maker, but I’m never tried one. Doubling the recipe is perfect if you have a lot of berries.