Har­vest Break­fast eyes soil con­ser­va­tion story

Record Observer - - Front Page - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY ck­ersey@ches­pub.com

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.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

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.

PHO­TOS BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

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.

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