A new state initiative connects the state’s farmers with residents and craft alcohol producers
Agriculture is Delaware’s top industry, with a yearly economic impact of $8 billion. Delaware’s 2,500 family-owned farms, which provide more than 20,000 jobs, produce fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, flowers and plants, and even live Christmas trees.
But how many Delawareans know when they’re buying locally-grown produce and goods? Despite agriculture’s importance to the state, until now there has been no clear connection between consumers and Delaware-grown crops. New Jersey produce is “Jersey Fresh” and Maryland farmers have “Maryland’s Best.” What about the First State?
A new initiative by the Delaware Department of Agriculture, Delaware Grown, is creating a statewide brand for farmers, so that when the state’s citizens go to the grocery store, they’ll know if they’re buying local goods.
Says DDA Chief of Community Relations Stacey Hofmann: “When you go to the grocery store and you’re bombarded by choices, a lot of times you don’t know what’s locally grown. We wanted a way to show that something is Delaware-grown whether you’re at a store, local farmers market or farm stand.”
Consumers can identify what’s local by a specific brand sticker. When produce is in season, shoppers can look for the logo—a graphic of a barn with the text “Delaware Grown: Pick Fresh. Pick First.”
Hofmann says Delaware Grown produce is sold statewide in ShopRite, Redner’s Market and Walmart, to name a few places. But an upcoming website, delawaregrown.com, will go live in November or December and allow consumers to see where they can purchase Delaware Grown products. The website will also feature recipes, videos and suggestions on how to prepare Delaware-grown fruits and vegetables.
“Farmers are excited because they now have something that they can brand as ‘Delaware,’ as an opportunity to bring awareness,” says Hofmann.
Overall, things are looking good for the agricultural community. As pride in farming increases, and the trend toward local and healthy foods continues, Hofmann predicts that the number of state farms, which already make up 41 percent of Delaware’s landmass, will grow too.
“We’re seeing an uptick in small farms that are producing,” says Hofmann. “People are connected now more to their food source, and they want to eat healthy.”
It’s only natural then that Delaware’s top industry would meld seamlessly with another popular, and delicious, state industry—beer.
“There are different beers and ales that have flavorings, so we’re trying to make sure that can be done with a Delaware Grown fruit or vegetable, depending on what the craft producer is looking for,” says Hofmann. “We’re really trying to build that connection to be stronger for craft producers and farmers.”
Take barley, for example. Many area breweries use malt made from barley grown right here in Delaware.
“When we look at barley, it’s a specialty area,” says Hofmann. “Now our farmers are producing more barley to meet that need.”
Between 2017 and this year, about 4,000 acres of Delaware land went toward malting barley, and Hofmann says 95 percent of participating farmers are willing to grow more barley in the future.
A huge player in connecting local farmers with local brewers is Proximity Malt, a company that shortens the supply chain and has a plant in Laurel. Amy Germershausen, Proximity Malt vice president of sales and marketing, says the company has provided malt, made from barley sourced within a 100-mile radius of the Laurel plant, to approximately 70 percent of Delaware brewers within the past year, as well as to some small distillers and home brew shops.
She could not disclose brewery names, but she says they work with area brewers “large and small.”
“We get excited about the virtuous circle created,” says Germershausen. “Brewers buy our malt, which pays our farmers, who buy their beer.”
When the Delaware Grown website delawaregrown.com is up, check it out, then head to participating grocery stores featuring local products. Find farmers markets and farm stands at de.gov/buylocal.