When the Alliance mysteriously started receiving Bon Appetit magazine last year, I was intrigued, but when I received the April 2021 issue titled “1971: A Year that Changed Food Forever,” I read on with great interest.  As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary this year, it struck me how 50 years has seen many advancements in the areas of the buy local food movement and how farmers grow, and consumers buy sustainably grown food products.  

The article discusses the revolutions of the food industry in 1971 – the founding of Starbucks, the introduction of the McDonald’s quarter pounder, the invention of Rival’s Crock-Pot, and the launch of FedEx which enabled diners to purchase foods from all over the United States for overnight delivery.  So too was it the year that the book “Diet for a Small Planet” hit the mainstream.  In the 1970s, the world was starting to see population booms, and the impacts of human development on our natural resources were becoming better understood through scientific efforts. This coincides with the start of the Chesapeake Bay restoration movement, and the work that we still do today.  

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the environmental movement in the United States started to gain momentum at the same time. The 1970s saw the first Earth Day, the signing of the Clean Water Act, and so many other vital federal environmental policies.  

There is a close link between efforts to maintain local farming and food sources, and the work of restoring the Chesapeake Bay.  The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on big, unstable supply chains, as food products couldn’t make it to shelves because of global interruptions to commerce. I visited my farmer’s market more in 2020 because of these disruptions.  It made me realize how far my food comes and how I should support the local economies of my own community.  In the Chesapeake region, municipalities, counties, states, and the federal government, have been working hard at preserving the agricultural way of life that connects us all so intimately with our food and land.  And environmental conservation is a critical link to both the future and the preservation of this way of life.

Because our former Executive Director of 23 years, Fran Flanigan, knew the Chesapeake Bay’s problems started upstream, she started reaching out to George B. Wolff, from the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau in the early 80s. Fran and the Alliance understood the large role that the Susquehanna watershed plays in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay – supplying half of the freshwater to the Chesapeake.  So much was at stake in getting the agricultural community onboard with cleanup efforts, and so much has been gained from it.

The Alliance hasn’t always called our programmatic work “agricultural” until the last five years.  But the truth is that we started planting riparian, or tree buffers, along streams on agricultural fields in the 1980’s.  As science began to show the importance of Pennsylvania’s efforts to the Bay cleanup, the Alliance continued to pick up speed working with agricultural producers to tree their farms and protect their streams.  Decades later, we’re planting over 60 acres of trees each year on agricultural land.

Fifty years into cleaning up the Chesapeake has taught us the need to scale up and leverage more resources if we’re going to meet our lofty 2025 goals.  While agriculture makes up approximately 42% of nitrogen pollution, 55% of the phosphorous and 60% of the sediment of the pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, farms are essential to all people. There are more than 83,000 farm operations here, comprising nearly 30 percent of the 64,000 square mile region and producing more than 50 commodities, including corn, soybeans, wheat, fruits, and vegetables. To feed the 18 million-plus (and growing!) population, farmers must continue to be part of the solution for cleaner water.  In fact, the Alliance implements projects with roughly 50 farmers each year, who believe in being good stewards of their food, their land, and their local waterways.  

Ice cream bar at our annual Taste of the Chesapeake thanks to our partner, Turkey Hill. Learn more about our work with our local food supply chain here.

So, fifty years ago, a small coffee roaster sold his first grande cup of coffee – an innovation that would change the way we consume this ever-necessary morning beverage.  I’ve been spending a lot of time looking five decades back and pondering what the next 50 years will look like.  If we truly want the Chesapeake to rebound, it is imperative that we support our local farmers not just at our farmers markets, but through volunteer opportunities to plant trees with our generous landowners.  

If Bon Apetit claims 1971 is the year that changed food, I declare it the year that also changed the Chesapeake.  

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