Surf and Turf
Farmers returned home with lasting impressions of how fragile and complex Bay life is.
“Bringing farmers here gives them an excellent opportunity to see the Bay and appreciate its beauty and the ecological system,” Bill Chain said. He is CBF’s Senior Agriculture Program Manager in Pennsylvania and a key organizer of the Farmers-to-the-Bay visit. “Farmers may also better understand how what happens upstream affects the Bay,” Chain added.
For about a dozen Pennsylvania farmers, it was a unique opportunity to see and experience the effects of their efforts to reduce pollution and to exchange with local watermen shared challenges and rewards of farming surf and soil.
Over three days, farmers paddled, fished, and explored at Port Isobel, CBF’s education center near Tangier Island in Virginia. They dropped crab pots into the Bay and retrieved about three dozen blue crabs the next day. They saw bottom dredging and scraping for oysters, and brought up grasses, shrimp, crabs, and puffer fish. They tested the water for salinity, clarity, and nutrient pollution.
On Tangier Island, farmers ate seafood and visited the island museum on a quiet Sunday morning.
A watershed moment was a two-hour meeting between farmers and watermen James “Ooker” Eskridge, who is also Tangier’s mayor, and Lonnie Moore, a former Fleet Senior Manager for CBF.
“We harvest the sea, you harvest the land,” Ooker told the farmers. They shared their concerns about market prices, regulations, weather, health care, and the dangers of their jobs.
“I think that both the watermen and the farmers want to do better,” farmer Donna Hughes said afterwards. “Better for their farms, the Bay, their families, and their communities,” She farms 52 acres of pastureland in Centre County. “You can feel, and hear, the frustration in their stories and discussions.”
“Farmers are often continuing to farm because it’s so important to maintain the heritage of their family,” Glen Cauffman said. He raises Angora goats in Perry County. “Many of us think about our grandfathers and great-grandfathers who worked very hard to organize these farms that we inherited and were passed down to us. It’s a great deal of worry when we can’t keep them sustainable and keep them going.”
“My oldest son is doing it,” Eskridge added, referring to working the water. “I didn’t force him into it. Glad he did because it passes it down. My father was involved in it, grandfather, great-grandfather. We’re proud of what we do.”
“There’s a great challenge for farmers in Pennsylvania and it goes back to regulations,” Bill Chain told the group. “It goes back to the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint and the agreement which all the Bay states signed and said they would develop watershed implementation plans.”
Chain noted that the Commonwealth is taking heat because its watershed implementation plan (WIP) came up short in the amount of nitrogen reduction and annual funding. “That shortfall in funding is the kind of funds that might be available for farmers to implement all types of conservation practices,” Chain said.
As hoped, time spent on the Bay made lasting impressions on the farmers from Pennsylvania.
“Getting the hands-on feel for oyster dredging and setting crab pots, as well as actually being on Tangier Island and in the mid-Bay setting, gives a whole new feel and outlook about the Bay, and a greater understanding about how fragile and complex the water and the Bay life is,” Joyce Bupp said. She and husband Leroy grow corn, beans, and wheat, and have steers on a farm in York County.
The exchange between those who farm on surf and turf will continue if a proposed Watermen-to-the-Farm trip comes together in the future.
Pennsylvania Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation