Guilfoil’s book covers 100 years of area’s poultry
SELBYVILLE, Del. — Joanne Guilfoil couldn’t find what she was looking for in a book about a century of chicken growing on Delmarva, so she wrote it herself.
Last month, Guilfoil launched her book, “Chickens on Delmarva: 100 years of Backyard Flocks, Farms and Friends” on June 8 at the Hall’s Store Visitor and Education Center
In Ocean View, Del., the Sussex County town where the modern poultry industry began.
The 180-page, coffee table-style book highlights the major changes that have occurred in the industry and the people involved in them coming about. Along the way, she details interesting side stories like the bootleggers in the 1930s that used chicken houses to hide their stash and how Delmarva chicken reached soldiers’ plates in Iraq.
Along with the industry’s rich history, the book digs into what it takes to start and operate a modern poultry farm and a backyard flock.
There’s also a section on what can be done when a house has outlived its usefulness in growing chickens.
Guilfoil said she was insistent on combining the how-it-happened part of the industry and the how-to aspect of being a poultry farmer into the book.
“I wanted the two things together,” she said. “If someone is interested, there’s information on how to do this.”
One section of the book focuses on growers, telling their stories in the chicken business.
She said bringing in grower stories really helped the book take shape.
With schooling in architecture, Guilfoil said she was first focused on the chicken houses, how they were built, changed and rehabilitated for other uses.
An early collaborator persuaded her to broaden the scope and bring in more of the human element.
She said her work on the book started in 2016 and the first growers she interviewed were John and Linda Brown in Harrington, Del., who had recently been recognized by the state for their environmental stewardship.
“I just called to ask them questions,” she said. The questions brought out stories, then photos were shared to illuminate the stories and Guilfoil said at that point, she knew she needed more.
“I was hooked. I thought, ‘I have to do this,” she said.
Guilfoil went on to interview 35 growers, some who have had poultry growing in their family for generations and others who found a second career in poultry farming.
“This was a lot of work but I met some wonderful, wonderful people,” she said.
“Chickens on Delmarva” in essence completes a chicken book trilogy for Guilfoil who first published “The ABCs of Chickens on Delmarva” and “Chickens A-Z, a Reference Manual” in 2021. The “ABC book” is youth-focused and describes a different aspect of the peninsula’s poultry industry through every letter of the alphabet.
The reference manual details raising meat chickens as well as birds for show, aimed at a middle school reading level audience.
“There’s a lot of science, a lot of history and real people,” she said of the reference manual.
For four years, Guilfoil gathered information and about 400 photos and conducted interviews for “Chickens on Delmarva” and said she was done with it in 2020 and hoped to time its publishing to the 100th anniversary of Perdue Farms, which plays a large role in the book.
After a few hiccups in locking in a publisher, Guilfoil linked up with a high school classmate and publisher in California to reach the finish line, but the pandemic, Guilfoil’s need for hip surgery and publisher’s bout with cancer, albeit successful, led to further delays.
“Between the two of us, we had a rough year in a half,” she said with a reflective laugh.
So, while somewhat coincidental, the book is out in the same year celebrating the 100th anniversary of Cecile Steele turning a 10-fold delivery error of chickens to her farm in 1923 into an integrated industry as she raised the extra chickens, sold them and ordered another large flock, the second time on purpose.
The book is on sale for $45 through Guilfoil’s website, shorebooksllc.com, and several book retailers in Sussex County and on the Lower Eastern Shore.
Guilfoil said she hopes “people have as much fun reading it and learning as I did putting it together.”
And it’s been fun sharing the book in the weeks since its launch.
Her first interview subjects, the Browns came to purchase several books to send around to friends living all over the world.
The gesture was overwhelming she said.
“It just made me think, maybe it was all worth it,” Guilfoil said.