Central Delaware Becomes Food Central

From the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region to farmers’ markets and community gardens, Kent County gives new meaning to the word “growing.”

Kent County, for all its positive attributes, has long been derided for its relative lack of dining options and innovations. Now, that is starting to change. Thanks to the efforts and partnerships of local growers, brewers, winemakers and policymakers, central Delaware is slowly morphing into an epicenter for epicures.

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Blue Earl Brewing

Blue Earl Brewing in Smyrna is the brainchild of Ron Price, a veteran of the homebrewing circuit. Formerly known as Warlock Brewing (the name switch stemmed from a trademark dispute), Blue Earl is slated to open in March. The new name—a combination of Price’s middle name and his second life as a blues musician—doesn’t change the brewing M.O., which calls for hoppy, American-style beers, Belgian ales, plus German ales and lagers. Once Blue Earl officially opens, Price anticipates a taproom with 12 beers on draft. For the thirsty locals around Central Delaware, that can’t come soon enough. “It’s very humbling to know and learn every day of new folks that are really excited about the brewery opening up,” Price says. “People who say, ‘I can’t wait to taste your beer.’ It’s awesome. It’s truly inspirational and keeps me motivated.” (210 Artisan Drive, Smyrna, www.blueearlbrewing.com)

Vintage Atlantic Wine Region

When Cindy Small and the organizers of the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region studied a map of the region, they discovered something astonishing. Through research, the group learned that the soil, climate and topography of the Mid-Atlantic region are similar to those of the famous Bordeaux winemaking region in France. At one point, “Somebody found a map of Bordeaux, flipped it upside-down, and lo and behold, it was almost the same exact shape as our region,” says Small, executive director of tourism for Kent County. And while the 90-mile radius that surrounds the Delaware Bay, Delaware River, Brandywine River Valley and the Chesapeake Bay may never share the same otherworldly clout of Bordeaux, they do share some mighty fine wine. And so, through the collaboration of visitors bureaus, tourism officials and winemakers associations throughout the area, the Vintage Atlantic Wine Region was formed in 2014 to promote the 40 wineries, and countless wine trails, events and extravaganzas that operate within our borders. While each winery and pocket of the region has its own unique character and charm, the Vintage coalition aims to sell visitors on the entire close-knit region, with the idea of co-promoting one another through shared networks. Delaware’s four wineries—Fenwick Wine Cellars and Nassau Valley Vineyards in Sussex County and Harvest Ridge Winery and Pizzadili Vineyard and Winery in Kent—are looped into the marketing push. The collective is still in its early stages, but the marketing campaign is already well underway. The group hopes, Small says, to develop regional events and “passport” promotions in the near future. In the meantime, check out www.vintageatlanticwine.com to learn more.

Food Innovation District

Between the Kraft Foods plant in Dover, Mountaire Farms in Harrington, Perdue facilities in Milford—not to mention smaller outfits like the Haass’ Family Butcher Shop and Kirby & Holloway in Dover—Jim Waddington recognized a common thread that runs through Kent County. Today, Waddington, the director of economic development for Kent County’s Levy Court, is leading the charge for the county’s Food Innovation District, which aims to identify and display the economic impact of the burgeoning agricultural food system in Kent County, seek out innovation and emerging trends in the industry, and explore new opportunities for growth. “It really started three years ago,” Waddington says, when his office received a site selection inquiry from an out-of-state food producer looking to build a new plant. “That got me thinking about what is our asset base in Kent County in terms of agriculture and things like water and wastewater capacity.” Kent County boasts 167,000 acres of farmland, 59,568 (or 35 percent) of which are permanently preserved. “As an economic development guy, I’m thinking, how can we leverage that to create additional benefits and jobs?” Waddington says. The district, which is directed by a steering committee of public- and private sector experts, considers itself an “economic gardening tool”—one that will continue to dig into economic research, expertise and training, particularly the kinds that stem from smaller, modern, trendier agri-food businesses. Eventually, they hope it will lead to the development of food-related hubs, bolstered possibly by financial incentives or tax breaks. The hope, says Waddington, is to turn Kent County into one of the top five counties in America for food-related site selection.

Photograph by Kevin Fleming 

Ron Price is opening Blue Earl Brewery in Smyrna.

Kent’s community garden movement is growing.

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Kent Community Gardens

Gardens aren’t just for planting flowers and vegetables—they have the transformative ability to grow communities. So says Shelly Cecchett, executive director of the nonprofit Greater Kent Committee, which forged the Kent Community Gardens initiative in 2014. Since it launched with one garden in central Dover, the project has grown tremendously. It invites local businesses, organizations and citizens to take part in building, planting and maintaining community gardens scattered around the Dover area. The gardens provide a source of fresh, healthy food for local urban centers and senior communities, and serve as an educational tool for kids about nutrition and the area’s rich agricultural heritage. So far, 20 gardens have sprung up around Kent County in areas like Simon Circle, Kirkwood, Manchester Square, Owens Manor and Dover High School, attracting partners, sponsors and volunteers from the likes of Delaware State University, the local chapter of 4-H, the Dover Housing Authority and even Lowe’s. “I’ve never seen a committee grow like this one,” Cecchett says. “This initiative reaches so many, and Kent County is excited to get involved.” “We didn’t know what to expect,” says Jeremy Tucker, a volunteer from the Delaware Electric Co-Op. “It’s incredible to see the outpouring of support. All of these groups came together to lend money, or a rototiller, or seeds. There’s an opportunity for any individual to contribute. We’ll take any help that we can.” (www.greaterkentcommittee.org)

Farm to Fork

The locavore movement has swept most of the country since it emerged as a dominant dining and culinary trend several years ago. With its thousands of acres of farmlands, its revered food growers and orchards, Kent County earns a prominent place at the table. “The conversation is changing,” says Waddington. “There’s more interest in where your food comes from now, and people are gravitating to locally grown produce.” Last fall, following the latest installment of the Delaware Wine and Beer Festival, Kent County tourism kicked off its firstever Restaurant Week. Sixteen restaurants participated in celebrating the very best in locally grown produce, meat, fish and fowl, which shined the spotlight on local faves like Fifer Orchards via restaurants like Cool Springs, Roma, Where Pigs Fly and Abbott’s Grill. Abbott’s even hosted its own special five-course Barrel-to-Table dinner that paired locally inspired dishes with beer, wine and spirits crafted in Central Delaware. “It’s all about trying to use as much as we can with the abundance that we have here,” says Abbott’s Grill owner-chef Kevin Reading. “To be fortunate enough to have so many great growers in the area, it would be ludicrous to not do it this way.” Says Small of Kent County tourism, “This is everywhere. This is across the country. So when you come here, you want to have local steamed crabs, asparagus, corn—just the freshest possible local food that you can get.” Look for the second annual Kent County Restaurant Week, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 18-25.

Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel is part of the Vintage Atlantic Wine Reigon


Need a Lift on the Good Libations Tour?

First came the Delaware Wine & Beer Festival. Next came a new wave of local beer, wine and spirits makers. With all the good vibes in the air, the groovy, flower-powered Good Libations Tour, which launched in 2014, was a natural fit. Good Libations is a free passport program that helps circulate people between the area’s participating venues. With six locations on the tour, “We are lovingly calling it the six-pack,” says Small. Interested parties can make the loop themselves, or book a trip on the Good Libations-approved C Breeze shuttle limo, or on the newly added luxury Brew Bus. (www.goodlibationstour.com)

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Farmers’ Markets

Delaware rode a farmers’ market hot streak into 2015. In the previous year, farmers’ markets throughout the state grossed $2.6 million in sales, shattering the previous record of $2.1 million in 2013, says David Smith, a state Department of Agriculture marketing specialist. “It’s showing us that visitors and citizens are shopping at farmers’ markets, and enjoying the things our farmers grow.” It’s no different in Kent County, where a small but growing slate of farmers’ markets offer customers everything from fresh veggies and fruits to jams, jellies, baked goods, crafts and more:

The Harrington Farmers’ Market
Where: Downtown Harrington, Commerce and Clark streets (across from M&T Bank)
When: Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., from May-September

Loockerman Way Farmers’ Market
Where: 1 Loockerman Way, Dover
When: Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m., from June-August

Smyrna Farmers’ Market
Where: Smyrna Opera House, 7 W. South St.
When: Thursdays, 4-7 p.m., from June-August

Riverwalk Farmers’ Market Downtown Milford
Where: South Walnut Street & Mispillion Riverwalk
When: Saturdays, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., from May-October

Eat, Drink and Buy Art

Eat, Drink and Buy Art on Delmarva is a collaborative marketing tool developed by the Tourism, Arts, Downtown Development, a network of 11 communities around the region—which includes Dover and Milford. The idea, which was developed by tourism bureaus on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is to promote the cultural treasures in rural towns around the region to the group’s shared collective network. Small and the Kent County Convention and Visitors Bureau serve as a gatekeeper for Delaware’s two spots on the map, and they are working to extol Dover’s thriving Main Street vibe, as well as its galleries, art walks, eateries and boutiques—everything from the Biggs Museum of American Art and the Johnson Victrola Museum, to ecarte dance theatre, Schwartz Center for the Arts, Smyrna Opera House, Frankfurt Bakery and McGlynn’s Pub. An all-encompassing mobile app is in the works, as is a recurring arts-related interview on National Public Radio. (www.eatdrinkbuyart.com)

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