Harvest Breakfast eyes soil conservation story
CENTREVILLE — More than $2,500 was raised for the Maryland Food Bank, Eastern Shore Branch, during the 27th annual Harvest Breakfast on Friday, Dec. 2 where attendees learned about the history of the Soil Conservation District.
Organizers were hoping to raise $1,000, but the generosity of those attended the breakfast boosted the final figure to more than double of what was expected. A total of $2,574 in cash and checks was donated during the event and the money will be used specifically for the eastern shore food bank, meaning the money will be spent locally.
“It’s marvelous. The size of the heart of agriculture continues to amaze me,” said Steve Schwalb, director of the Eastern Shore relations for the Maryland Food Bank. “Having been in agriculture for 33 years with Perdue, I always knew the ag industry cared about the hunger situation,” Schwalb said.
The breakfast, itself, was sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension and held at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park in Centreville. About 200 people attended.
“It’s a celebration of the harvest in Queen Anne’s County. We bring together the farmers and the Queen Anne County Chamber of Commerce,” said Jenny Rhodes, agriculture agent for the University of Maryland Extension.
“Every year, my job is to educate the people who attend about agriculture. The idea is to bring everybody together to talk about agriculture,” Rhodes said.
County officials from across the Mid-Shore attended and Queen Anne’s County Sheriff Gary Hofmann also attended in addition to the farmers and business people.
Local students from the Future Farmers of America also attended, helping with the pledge of allegiance and the invocation. “These [FFA] people will be the next generation of agriculture leaders in our community,” Rhodes said.
Among the farmers who attended were Eugene Higgs and his brother, Tom Higgs, who have a farm called Cornerview Farms near Ingleside. They farm corn, soy beans, wheat, and beef.
“We always come to the Harvest Breakfast. Tony gave an excellent speech today,” said Eugene Higgs, referring to Tony Riggi’s speech about the history of the Soil Conservation District.
Tom Higgs said he enjoyed seeing the community in one place. “It’s almost like the county fair. It’s good to see everyone,” he said.
The breakfast part of the program was well received and included typical food on the Eastern Shore such as sausage, scrapple, fried potatoes, eggs, and fruit.
Tony Riggi, district manager of the Queen Anne’s Soil Conservation District in Centreville, gave a long and detailed the history of soil conservation while the audience listened intently.
“The concept of the Soil Conservation District was the idea of Hugh Hammond Bennett, a soil scientist from North Carolina known as the father of soil conservation. His early warnings of the dangers of soil erosion branded him as a ‘crank’ by many of the scientists of the day. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s would change all of this,” Riggi said.
The Dust Bowl encompassed more than 100 million acres over portions of six states and the storms would plague the plains, displacing more than a quarter million people and sending 200 million tons of topsoil into the sky.
“April 15, 1935 became known as “Black Sunday” where a mountain of suspended silt and sand a 1,000 miles long, moving up to speeds of 100 mph, darted across the plains, swallowing 300,000 tons of earth as it raged,” Riggi said.
Four days later, Bennett was meeting with senators in Washington and an aide was informing him on the status of the approaching wall of silt heading toward the Capital. Finally, the aide appeared at Bennett’s side and give him a signal.
Bennett took the senators to the window and proclaimed, “This, gentlemen, is what I’m talking about... There goes Oklahoma.”
“Eight days later, the Soil Conservation Act passed unanimously, funds were allocated, and a permanent agency to restore and sustain the soil was created within the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Riggi said.
Soil conservation officially began in Maryland in 1935 and the Queen Anne’s Soil Conservation District was established on Dec. 19, 1941.
“The District has been charged with many responsibilities over the last three quarters century. Soil and water quality conservation plans promoted shore line protection, flood control, and public drainage projects. Sediment runoff reduction, no-till farming, cover crops, and crop rotations followed,” Riggi said.
Toward the end of Riggi’s speech, he talked about the future for the Queen Anne’s Soil Conservation District.
“I don’t have a crystal ball,” Riggi said, “but I will assure you we will continue to provide our cooperators with first-rate assistance and services. We will continue to mentor the next generation of conservationists. We will continue to pursue the most effective methods of conserving our precious natural resources.”
Riggi has roots in the Eastern Shore and Delaware.
He grew up in Dover, Del., but spent as much time as he could on his grandmother’s farm in northern Queen Anne’s County.
He received a bachelor’s degree in soil and water conservation from Delaware State University and, upon graduation, he began his career as a technician for the Caroline Soil Conservation District.
In 2001, he became the ag assessment planner for the Eastern Shore. His first stint as Queen Anne’s Soil Conservation District manager began in 2007 and, in 2011, he worked for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. He returned as district manager in 2014.
Tony Riggi, district manager of the Queen Anne’s Soil Conservation District in Centreville, speaks about the history of the Soil Conservation District nationally and in Queen Anne’s County.
A total of $2,574 was donated for the Maryland Food Bank, Eastern Shore Branch, during the Harvest Breakfast on Friday, Dec. 2. Steve Schwalb, director of the Eastern Shore relations for Maryland Food Bank, holds up an envelope that has the cash and checks inside.
Receptionists at the Harvest Breakfast greeted people as they came in at the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park in Centreville on Friday, Dec. 2. From left, Sue Wolff, Shelia Shorter, both from the University of Maryland Extension Office, and Jenell Eck, former Miss Maryland Agriculture.