Maryland’s Eastern shore encompasses the northwest sector of the Delmarva Peninsula. Comprised of portions of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, the Delmarva is generally considered the largest contiguous block of farmland between Virginia and Maine. Historically, agriculture, forestry and fisheries have been the foundation of the economy of its six Upper Shore counties, which include Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, Caroline and Dorchester. At the turn of the 21st century these “natural resource-based industries” accounted for 22 percent—or more than $2 billion of the Upper Shore’s economic activity.
Poultry dominates agriculture in the Delmarva, and the Upper Shore region provides poultry products and feed grains used for poultry feed. Poultry and eggs, feed grains and soybeans account for 69 percent of farm-gate value in the Upper Shore. Other significant resource-based industries include greenhouse and nursery, forestry, dairy, vegetables and commercial fishing.
The Upper Shore’s landscape is defined by farm fields, forests and waterways. Beyond sustaining the local economy, these working lands have shaped the region’s cultural identity and heritage, distinguishing it from others. However, increasing development pressure and decreasing profitability, combined with a multitude of smaller yet significant factors, jeopardize the future of the Upper Shore’s resource-based industries and the spectacular working landscape upon which they depend.
The Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC) proposed Eastern Shore 2010: A Regional Vision (ES 2010) in 2002. ES 2010 is a proactive, inter-county land use agreement that unites Maryland’s six Upper Shore counties together to achieve land protection, economic development, growth management and regional transportation goals. All six counties have signed on to work cooperatively to ensure a bright future for the region’s working landscapes and communities.
To advance ES 2010’s second goal, ESLC initiated this project with a grant from the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology, Inc. Its objective was to identify the key challenges facing agriculture, forestry and fisheries and to develop an economic development strategy to address those challenges. ESLC convened a Working Landscapes Task Force of local leaders to serve as project advisors and to advance the regional strategy. Then ESLC hired American Farmland Trust (AFT) to facilitate the process.
With oversight of the task force, AFT conducted background research, prepared a white paper, organized focus groups to elicit community input, and drafted this report.