Survive and advance (Editorial)
As Delaware welcomes back another farmers’ market season — the first without restrictions since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 — we were reminded of a young farmer we’ve spent some time with over the last four years.
In a June 13 article, the Delaware Business Times interviewed Zachary Dittmar, owner of Dittmar Family Farms in Felton, about the new market season. He was preparing for an important (and profitable) summer at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market after two rocky years.
“It’s a bittersweet thing,” he told the newspaper. “It’s awesome that (market revenue is) a big chunk of (our) money, but COVID was a perfect example — if the state says no to farmers’ markets, that’s 40-50% of our income.”
It was nice to hear from Dittmar.
The Delmarva Farmer first met him in 2018 when the new CSA owner had recently purchased his 40-acre Felton farm and launched a blossoming local food operation — all while driving a bus for the Milford School District and working three 12-hour shifts at a Walmart distribution center.
His operation began as a garden at a previous home. He and his wife attended Delaware State University’s Farm School in 2016. Things expanded from there — until disaster struck.
First, the pandemic shuttered farmers markets in Delaware, a key revenue stream for Dittmar, forcing him to rely on alternatives such as his CSA. (Others across Delmarva in similar situations rapidly launched retail operations and began delivering to homes.)
Then things got even worse.
In September 2021, Dittmar went to bed with weather reports predicting an inch or two rain. Eight inches fell. The next morning he found large chunks of his operation submerged under several feet of water. A brand-new tractor was flooded. Penned livestock were wading up to their necks. Fall crop vegetables were ruined. It was a $30,000 hit in just a few short hours.
“It really put us in a bad position headed into the winter,” he said at the time.
He soon realized a poorly maintained culvert likely contributed to the flood and quickly found himself in a bureaucratic tangle as he tried to address that.
Suffice it to say, the Dittmars have survived a lot over the last few years. Many regional farmers have. Hopefully, things are normalizing. Dittmar seems to think so.
“Things have actually gotten a lot better,” he told the Business Times. “The only restriction really this year with farmers’ markets is getting into one. There’s enough folks out there that there’s a wait list.”
That’s surely a good sign.
Here’s to a good summer for farmers, especially those such as Dittmar who continue to beat the odds.