How the chicken industry fared in pandemic upheaval; other local news

In this week's newsletter: The state of the chicken industry, an accusation of assault on a school bus, homeless shelter news and more.

How the chicken industry fared in pandemic upheaval; other local news
Photo by Joe Korntheuer / Unsplash

Here's a look at news and events from around southern Delaware this week.

Chicken production drops on Delmarva, but only slightly

How did Delmarva’s juggernaut chicken industry fare during a year of pandemic and market upheaval? It did decline a bit in some ways, according to 2021 figures from the Delmarva Chicken Association. (Spoiler, though: It was still huge and very profitable.)

In 2021, the association reckons growers raised 567 million chickens worth about $4.2 billion wholesale. And 1,361 chicken farmers earned $278 million in contract income, while chicken companies employed almost 17,800 workers who brought home $803 million in wages.

But, there were fewer chicken farmers, fewer chickenhouses in active use and slightly fewer chickens raised than the year before. The peninsula has no shortage of chickenhouses, of course, with about 4,900 in service on independently owned farms. But that was a dip of 2.7 percent from last year. Chicken production was down a half percent, and there were 1.2 percent fewer chicken growers.

That actually follows a yearslong trend of the chicken industry doing more with less. Even as chicken production has stayed fairly steady or grown in the past decade or two, the number of chicken farmers has dropped by 45.8 percent in the past 20 years, according to the association.  

Association spokesman James Fisher said in an email that they don’t attribute last year's decline in growers to the COVID pandemic or market conditions. Rather, he pointed to the long term trend of fewer farmers producing more chickens.

Some of the pressure to be more efficient, he said, comes from the increasing housing development on Delmarva taking up farm land.

The efficiency, he wrote, is “a testament to growers and chicken companies being creative and intelligent in meeting the challenge set before them.”

Parent says a bus aide punched his daughter

A father in the Milton area says his 8-year-old daughter, who has Down syndrome, was assaulted on a Milton Elementary School bus in January.

Ryan Pickett criticized Cape Henlopen School District leadership for its response at the April 28 school board meeting. (His commentary begins at 14:07 on the district’s video of the meeting.)

He said he and his wife found out about the incident two weeks later, when state police contacted his wife and told her a bus aide had hit their daughter.

Pickett said Cape superintendent Bob Fulton refused to meet with them. Pickett was able to meet with other district staff and view video from the bus, he said. According to Pickett, this footage showed the aide punching his daughter in the head twice and verbally abusing her.

According to Pickett, the district would not say at that time if the employee was fired, and had not initially communicated with key school staff about what happened.

The district now says the aide is not an employee anymore. Spokeswoman Stephanie DeMalto wrote in an email, “You have requested information pertaining to the conduct of a former employee and related matters. We take the safety of all of our students very seriously and hold all of our employees to the highest of standards. The individual involved is no longer an employee of the District. Under Delaware law, even former employees have privacy rights, and thus we cannot provide further comment.”

The Delaware State News reported that the aide turned herself in to police in March and faces two misdemeanor charges: Offensive touching and endangering the welfare of a child. Read more about the case in their coverage.

New homeless shelter ready to launch pilot program

Redemption City, a startup effort to bring more shelter beds and support for the homeless in Sussex County, is set to open soon in Seaford according to founder Nikki Gonzalez. She announced they will begin a yearlong pilot program called the Sunshine House, with applications opening May 25. They could start moving people in as early as June. This comes just after the announcement from Housing Alliance of Delaware that its annual count of those experiencing homelessness in the state tallied 2,369, the highest total ever and more than twice as many as in 2020.  

If you’d like to help Redemption City with beds and other needs, find its Amazon wish list here.

Planned shelter could triple beds for the homeless in Sussex
Homeless camps dot Sussex County, hidden in patches of woods and tucked away behind businesses. The county has about 150,000 homes, per the latest census, but some people still don’t have a roof overhead. Existing shelters in the county offer about 25 to 28 beds year-round, according to

Georgetown man arrested on manslaughter charge

A woman is dead after a gun went off in a home east of Georgetown, and although police haven’t provided many details about how that happened, they did make an arrest.

State police said Jordan Walls, 26, of Georgetown, was showing a 20 gauge shotgun to a woman at a home on Deep Branch Road and “a gunshot was fired.” Police were called, and the woman, age 54, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police arrested Walls on charges of manslaughter and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and he was held on $120,000 cash bond.

Family event planned with petting zoo and more

The Impact Festival is coming to Bridgeville on Saturday, May 21, hosted by Bridgeville Library and The Inspiring Project, an organization that aims to prevent suicide and bullying. Plans include a petting zoo, inflatables, face painting, craft vendors, and local favorite food vendors like Vanderwende's ice cream.

The event is 11 a.m to 4 p.m. at the Bridgeville Public Library.

Organizers say all proceeds will go to local scholarships and initiatives dealing with mental health, bullying and suicide.

Chase Marvil, founder of The Inspiring Project, is a Woodbridge School District alum. Read more about how he got started in this 2015 article.

The Inspiring Project’s Facebook page says prices for activities Saturday are “as low as $2.”

Correction

Speaking of Bridgeville, I’d like to take the opportunity to clarify that there’s no such place as “Harrington Shores” in town. Despite that, in last week’s newsletter I somehow managed to call the Heritage Shores development by that name instead.  

However, future developers take note: We used “Harrington Shores” first. Contact the Delaware Independent with naming rights inquiries.  

Memorial Day observances in Seaford and Bridgeville

The city of Seaford will mark Memorial Day on Monday, May 30, with an 11 a.m. ceremony at the Veterans Memorial in Kiwanis Park. The Seaford Veterans Committee said the speaker will be Brian O’Day, a Marine Corps officer and Seaford High School graduate. At about 12:30 p.m., American Legion Post 6 and VFW Post 4961 will offer open houses and lunch.

In Bridgeville, the Heritage Shores Military Club will also hold a service Monday at 10 a.m. at Union United Methodist Church.

Parking and dog owner misbehavior in Harrington

Because of concerns over narrow streets, Harrington City Council is considering an ordinance banning parking on the south side of Thorpe Street and the south side of East Milby Street between Commerce and Hanley. At Monday’s Council meeting, City Manager Norman Barlow said residents were upset about the parking situation, and there were concerns about emergency vehicles being able to get through. He said the city would reach out to residents about the changes.

Also, a number of dog owners in Harrington are apparently taking a “let dog crap lie” approach when their pets unload on sidewalks and yards. Both Vice Mayor Micah Parker and Mayor Duane E. Bivans said they’ve witnessed such dog littering and heard from people about the issue.

City code frowns on this behavior, unless your dog is in your own yard – see the relevant passage under “Animal Excrement.”

Bivans asked code enforcers to keep an eye out for violations and give reminders.  

The sounds of Broadway in Milton

Local performers will bring music from Broadway shows Wicked, Shrek, Aladdin, Frozen, Into the Woods and more to the Milton Theatre on Saturday, May 21 at 8 p.m. The Broadway Magic Cabaret is for all ages and tickets cost $20.

Matt Lucatamo, Erin Bobby, Conor McGiffin, and Candice Castro, performers for Broadway Magic Cabaret. Photos courtesy of Milton Theatre

One mayor hangs on, another loses

Incumbent Georgetown Mayor Bill West won reelection last Saturday, although challenger Ruth Ann Spicer got a fair amount of support. Out of 602 votes, West garnered 375 to Spicer’s 227, for 62 percent of the vote.

In Lewes’ election on Saturday, voters ousted Ted Becker, who had been mayor since 2014, by a narrow margin. Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams won with 471 votes to Becker’s 414. Candidate Richard Moore got 238 votes.

Notably, 1,123 out of 1,484 registered voters participated, a whopping 76 percent turnout. Municipal elections in Delaware often only draw a sliver of potential voters (Seaford, for example, recently saw 15 percent turnout.)

The classic bluegrass and blue crabs combo

This is a bit out of our usual coverage area, but bluegrass music/seafood lovers will want to take note of the Bluegrass and Sunset Festival along the Chesapeake Bay in Crisfield, Maryland. It’s slated for Saturday, June 18, from noon to 8 p.m. with fireworks to follow. You can get steamed crabs and other food and drinks, while taking in music from Danny Paisley and Southern Grass, the Travelin’ McCourys, Tim and Savannah Finch with the Eastman String Band, Navy band Country Current, and Blue Crab Crossing (yes, that's a real band). Find more information and get tickets here.

Road work

Barnes Road near Bridgeville, which was slated to close for pipe replacement Monday, should reopen by Friday, May 27, according to DelDOT.  

Other upcoming events

Friday, May 20

Teen Night at Laurel Public Library. Snacks and drinks, video games, reading and crafts. 5-7 p.m.

Zerbini Family Circus in Georgetown. 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Southern Delaware Arts Festival at Sussex Central High School. Dance, drama, and choir and band performances by students from multiple schools, the Southern Delaware Chorale, Upper Chesapeake Community Band and more. Friday 6-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  

Saturday, May 21

Paint Laurel plein air in combination with a community day in town. Artists, free art activities, a community meal, basketball tournament, cornhole, games, food, music and more. 7 a.m to 6 p.m.

Free Play Day for all ages with Small Town Gaming at Bridgeville Library. Video games and lunch. 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m.

A belated 100-year anniversary celebration for the Ellendale Fire Company, two years after COVID canceled plans. Parade starts at 1 p.m.

Tuesday, May 24

Club Bibliotheque with light snacks for tweens and teens at Greenwood Library. For discussion this month: “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson. 4-5 p.m.

Saturday, May 28

Blades Volunteer Fire Company car show at the firehouse. Antique, vintage and custom cars, along with craft and food vendors. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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