The New Face of Farming
Times change, and so do farms. In the information age, GPS and the Internet are keeping Delaware’s family operations on the cutting edge. Some good ol’ fashioned ice cream doesn’t hurt.
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Like and his cousins Curt, Bobby and David Fifer have all returned to work at Fifer Orchards, which originated in 1919. Now they’re implementing changes and taking risks of their own. In addition to using GPS technology, Fifer has placed high tunnels over its strawberry, raspberry and tomato crops. The shelters—installed at a cost of $30,000 on a little more than an acre—extend the growing season.
By growing more productively and marketing its products in new ways, Fifers Orchards capitalizes on the growing demand for fresh local produce. In addition to its retail markets on the farm in Wyoming and on Highway One in Dewey Beach, Fifer sells at farmer’s markets, which are increasing in number and popularity across the state.
Last year the 15 farmer’s markets in the state generated $1.1 million in sales, according to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee. “It gives small farmers a great venue to sell their products, and that’s a good thing,” he says. “But the other thing I like about it is that it’s also a statement that agriculture is right in your backyard, though you might not really know it. It connects people to their food.”
About 80 percent of Fifer’s income is generated from the wholesale operation. It sought other outlets by marketing its products to local grocery store chains, whose customers are increasing demand for local produce.
“These huge grocery chains were getting the message pretty hot and heavy from their customers,” Fennemore says. “They were walking in the door and demanding local produce, and this goes totally against how these grocery chains are set up, because they’re based on mass quantities coming from all over the world and economies of scale. Even the Wal-Marts of the world have changed their operation to seek out as local as they can get. You can take that for what you want. We sell what Wal-Mart considers local pumpkins in Tennessee—and they’re from our farm.”
Pursuing that trend from another angle, Fifer Orchards has reached out to upscale restaurants at the beaches. Diners will find its produce in dishes at The Buttery, Espuma, Stingray and the Back Porch Café, to name a few. Taking it a step further, Fifer partnered with Nage restaurant in Rehoboth last year on its farm-to-table dinner series.
Nage procures local produce from about 20 farmers, according to chef du cuisine Hari Cameron. Cameron, who has a deep respect for the farmers he works with, predicts the trend will grow.
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