Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dorchester's Ag History

Dorchester County has a rich agricultural heritage and has employed the largest part of its population in the growth and harvest of various crops.

During the colony's earliest days, Dorchester County plantation owners, who had their land in the form of grants from England's crowned heads, grew tobacco. "Tobacco on the banks" paid their taxes to the crown, but the plant wore out the soil, and soon farmers further inland and down the Atlantic coast grew the lion's share of tobacco and Dorchester County farmers turned to other crops.

The Revolutionary and Civil wars saw Dorchester farmers not only fighting in those conflicts, but also growing produce to feed our troops. After the Civil War, Dorchester's rich farmlands produced fresh vegetables that were either transported to the large cities across the Chesapeake Bay, or canned for future use.

The canneries were important agricultural and financial entities for many years, ending with the closing of nearly all of the plants by the 1960's when the end of World War II and segregation spelled the death knell of migrant worker camps and government contracts.

Today, Dorchester's farmers grow some produce for local farmer stands or markets, or sell to larger packers like Frito Lay, but the fields that were once full of melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes are now seas of grain destined to be food for the huge chicken farms that dot the area.

Last year, residents living near the Allen plant in Hurlock saw local farmers produce a veritable mountain of corn so tall that when it was covered with plastic local kids used it for sledding during one of Dorchester County's rare snowfalls.

The mountain of grain is now gone, used to feed the thousands of chickens raised for distribution all along the Eastern Seaboard.

Dorchester County may well be the garden of Eden, for it has fed millions over the years and its fields continue to be rich and fertile, bringing wealth and work to the residents in the land of pleasant living.

Just a bit of a history lesson today, so thank a farmer and keep on the sunny side. Terry

(The photo is a picture of children on a tomato farm about 1941. The photographer was John Collier and the photo is in the collection of the United States Department of Agriculture.)

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