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Book traces farming history; Local author chronicles Del. agriculture
By George Mast   - 07/30/2007


More Info on This Book: Delaware Farming

DOVER — The tale of the past 350 years of Delaware agriculture is told through historic photographs in a local author’s book, “Delaware Farming,” set to go on sale today.

Author Ed Kee, a vegetable crops specialist for the University of Delaware, said when he got an offer from Arcadia Publishing to put together the book, he jumped at the chance.

“I took it as an opportunity to not only find some great old photos but to explain the history of Delaware farming,” Mr. Kee said.

The 127-page book details each county’s agricultural history and contains a host of black and white photos along with detailed captions. The pictures, which portray the many different aspects of early farming and agriculture, were taken from the Delaware Public Archives, the Delaware Agricultural Museum archives and from family collections.

“I have always had an interest in local history and agricultural history,” said Mr. Kee, who has written two other books about Delaware agriculture.

Last year he wrote a book about the mid-Atlantic region’s canning and freezing industry, entitled “Save Our Harvest,” and previously wrote “Where Buyer and Seller Meet,” a book describing the history of the Laurel auction market.

Arcadia Publishing, headquartered in Mount Pleasant, S.C., specializes in local history pictorial books, said Kendra Allen, the publisher’s Delaware editor.

She said “Delaware Farming” is a part of an “Images of America” series and is one of the only books they have done focused on agriculture. The publisher’s Web site lists 20 other books about Delaware towns and historical markers that have been, or are being, published.

After seeing the success of a similar agriculture book about New Jersey she said they decided to produce a book about Delaware. Ms. Allen said they then contacted Mr. Kee because they were aware of his expertise and previous book experience.

Mr. Kee said Delaware has always been associated with agriculture and farming.

“A book like this is an important record for Delaware because it shows how important and pervasive agriculture was,” he said.

While less acres are farmed today than in the past, Mr. Kee said agriculture is still a very large part of the state’s identity.

“Agriculture has put its stamp on Delaware’s political, physical and social atmosphere,” he said.

A native of New Castle, Mr. Kee said he gained his interest in agriculture from the summers he used to spend at a family home in Lewes.

While in Lewes, he began working at Nassau Orchards. After graduating from the University of Delaware with a Master’s of Science degree in agriculture in 1975, he worked as farm manager for the orchards for three years before going to work for UD.

Mr. Kee said because he has been involved in Delaware agriculture for so long, he knew where to turn to find photos when he began working on the book around the first of the year.

While many photos were taken from various archives, some of the pictures, like the one of Ray and Dave Woodward perched atop their father’s John Deere tractor in 1939, were taken from the albums of longtime farming families.
Dave Woodward of Middletown said he worked with Mr. Kee for many years as an agricultural agent for Kent County and was honored to have the old picture of his brother and he included in the book.

Remarkably, the tractor, a two-cylinder John Deere, was the first tractor in New Castle County to have rubber wheels, Mr. Woodward said.

“I think that’s about the only picture of that tractor that we have,” he said.

Mr. Kee said one problem he ran into while piecing together the book was that many families had only a few farming pictures from the past decades.

“A lot of families said we were so busy doing all the work we never took any pictures,” he said.

One thing Mr. Kee said he made sure to include in the book was a caption describing where each photo was taken so that readers could see for themselves how much the landscape has changed over time.

He said one of his favorite pictures in the book is a photo from the 1940s taken at the Eagle Poultry Plant in Frankford. The picture shows several very skinny chickens hanging on an assembly line on their way to being processed. Mr. Kee said the scrawny birds in the picture are a far cry from the size of the chickens grown today and is just one example of how significantly things have advanced.

Included in the book is a short history of Delaware’s chief agricultural products and how they changed over time. In the book he describes how at one point in the 1930s Kent County had more apple trees per square mile than any other county in the country.

Mr. Kee lists the shift to mechanized power in the early 1900s, scientific advancement during the World War II-era, and the construction of DuPont Highway, or U.S. 13, in the 1930s, as three of the biggest events in state agriculture the last century.

Also included in the history is a short description of how one of Delaware’s largest industries was accidently born in 1923 in Ocean View when Cecil Steele received 500 broiler chickens instead of the 50 she had ordered. Mrs. Steele kept the chickens and later sold them for a profit. Soon neighbors and friends also caught in on the act and the colossal industry was born.

While fewer people may be involved and less land may be usable because of development, he said he believes that in the extended future Delaware will continue to have a core agricultural business.

It is because of this continual change that Deb Wool, curator of the Delaware Agricultural Museum, said she believes Mr. Kee’s book is a valuable tool and plans to stock the book at the museum.

“Preserving some of this history is very important to understanding some of the changes in Delaware,” she said.

Mr. Kee said he is donating royalties from the book to the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village to help with their efforts in preserving Delaware history.

He said he is pleased with how the book has turned out, but knows its release won’t cause a rush of other books.

“I don’t think it will be quite the rage of the Harry Potter books,” Mr. Kee said.

Emily Higgins, publicity manager for Arcadia Publishing, said copies of the book will be available at local bookstores and independent retailers. She said the book can also be ordered from Arcadia Publishing by calling (888) 313-2665 or by visiting www.arcadiapublishing.com.

Buy It Now: Delaware Farming $21.99

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