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Writing a Book from Scratch

Delaware author tells the story of raising chickens in Delmarva

November-December 2023

by Sean Clougherty, The Delmarva Farmer

Joanne Guilfoil of Selbyville, Del., couldn’t find a book about raising chickens in Delmarva, so she wrote one herself — and debuted it in Ocean View, Del., the Sussex County town where the modern American poultry industry began.

The 180-page, coffee-table book highlights the major changes that have occurred in the Delmarva poultry industry and some of the people who made them come about. Along the way, she details interesting side stories like the 1930s bootleggers that used chicken houses to hide their stashes and how chicken from Delmarva eventually reached soldiers’ plates overseas.

Along with the industry’s rich history, the book digs into what it takes to start and operate a modern poultry farm and a backyard flock.

Joanne Guilfoil says she hopes people have as much fun reading her book as she had writing it. (Courtesy Michelle Baer)

Guilfoil says she was insistent on combining the how-it-happened part of the industry and the how-to aspect of being a poultry farmer into the book.

“I wanted the two things together,” she says. “If someone is interested, there’s information on how to do this.”

She says her work on the book started by interviewing John and Linda Brown in Harrington, Del., who had recently been recognized by the state for their environmental stewardship.

“I just called to ask them questions,” she says.

Guilfoil went on to interview 35 growers, some who have had poultry growing in their family for generations and others who found a second career in poultry farming.

“This was a lot of work, but I met some wonderful, wonderful people,” she says.

For four years, Guilfoil gathered information and approximately 400 photos. She then conducted interviews and finished “Chickens on Delmarva” in 2020. Guilfoil wanted to time its publishing to the 100th anniversary of Perdue Farms, which plays a large role in the book.

After a few hiccups in locking down a publisher, Guilfoil linked up with a high school classmate who happened to be one. But then came the pandemic, hip surgery and the publisher’s (successful) bout with cancer.

“Between the two of us, we had a rough year-and-a-half,” she says with a reflective laugh.

The book eventually debuted in 2023. is happened to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Cecile Steele turning chicken farming into an integrated industry in 1923.

Guilfoil says she hopes “people have as much fun reading it and learning as I did putting it together.”

When it was finally published, her first interview subjects, the Browns, came to purchase several books to send around to friends living all over the world.

The gesture was overwhelming. She says, “It just made me think, maybe it was all worth it.”

The book is for sale through Guilfoil’s website, shorebooksllc.com, and at several book retailers in Sussex County and on the lower Eastern Shore.

This article comes from The Delmarva Farmer, an agricultural newspaper for the mid-Atlantic region.