As the holiday season begins in full swing on Thursday with Thanksgiving, followed in four weeks by Christmas, the last gasp of community activities is filling the calendar, as is usually the case at this time of year. Last week proved no exception.
On Wednesday evening, Nov. 18, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) hosted its Oyster Expo at the newly-opened Eastern Shore Conservation Center in Easton. Academic, government and non-profit organizations filled the space with exhibits and chatter about the future of the oyster fishery and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
As I learned in the Sunday Star, one group which had no exhibit—Talbot County watermen—did not endorse the convivial atmosphere and feeling of partnership that I thought permeated the event. While a representative of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) touted the success of the Harris Creek Oyster Restoration Project in Talbot County, watermen questioned the efficacy of this well-acclaimed sanctuary established to replenish the oyster population.
Dr. Elizabeth North, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, is undertaking a research project to examine how the oyster industry and policymakers can join forces to achieve consensus on policies and regulations affecting those making their livelihoods harvesting oysters. Based on skeptical comments made by a representative of the watermen’s association, I find it crystal-clear why Dr. North’s project is important in seeking a balance, however difficult, between restoration of oyster habitat and continuation of a once-thriving industry.
On the Thursday following the Oyster Expo, I attended the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s (ESLC’s) annual conference, this one focusing on renewable energy. In a way, there’s a link between restoration of the oyster habitat and use of renewable energy, such as solar and wind. If there’s a limited volume of fossil fuel energy in our world—and some may question that assertion—and use of coal and oil pollute our world and create unhealthy conditions and global warming, then renewable energy is critical to the long-term survival of Planet Earth.
Though the ESLC conference contained no dire predictions of doom and gloom, the message was clear to me: we cannot conduct business as usual in our personal and professional lives as we must accept responsibility, hopefully, to conserve our natural resources and find ways to use alternative energy sources. This effort thankfully seems to be gaining greater and greater support in the corporate and non-profit worlds.
I was disheartened to read the past weekend that the British government is withdrawing subsidies for solar and wind firms, seemingly buckling under to pressure from the fossil fuel industry. This is regrettable. While the United Kingdom may not be the world power it once was in the 20th century, it still has a strong voice in the international community.
Finally, on Friday evening, I heard a wonderful talk by Ed Kee, secretary of agriculture in Delaware, about the history of canneries in the Delmarva Peninsula. His presentation was part of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s newly inaugurated series of Shore Talks. Up to the middle part of the 1900s, tomato canneries were a major industry on the Eastern Shore, characterized by Kee as the “king” of food processing at the time.
One of the most prominent players in the tomato processing business was Phillips Packing in Cambridge. This company dominated the economic landscape of Dorchester County.
Why has the canning industry nearly vanished on the Delmarva Peninsula? As Ed Kee explained, one reason was that our little part of the world could not compete with the volume and prices produced by growers in the huge state of California. All is not lost of the Shore’s link to food processing, in Kee’s opinion, as poultry has become a dominant industry, as illustrated by Perdue Farms. Another form of renewal.
One final comment about restoration and renewal: Thanksgiving represents a time, before the relentless onslaught of Christmas pressure to buy and buy more gifts, to celebrate family and the sustenance it provides as we navigate the flows and ebbs of life. Plentiful food, accompanied by chatter and laughter, is a strong antidote to difficult challenges.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.