By: Christine Bergmark, Executive Director, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
Looking back over 15 years of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, I am filled with pride. We, the farmers, consumers, visionaries, staff and volunteers, have accomplished so much. Sixteen years ago, few could have envisioned Southern Maryland agriculture without tobacco. But the new crops, new markets, farm innovations, and consumer demand that followed gave hope with each fresh planting season that agriculture was and would continue to be vibrant in Southern Maryland.
New industries have flourished. Who could have imagined that our wineries would take hold? That the Buy Local Challenge we created would have been picked up in so many other states? Who in 1999 could have seen that countless consumers would be willing to pay a little more for great locally produced meats? And that agritourism would teach a new generation of children about food and farms?
We at SMADC held fast to the vision, but never could we have imagined that the new markets would be so welcoming. With a staff of 4, sometimes 5, and volunteer commissioners numbering 17, we were nimble, responsive, forward-thinking and in some ways, a laboratory for innovation for the state.
Now, as SMADC enters a new era, I encourage you all, one last time, to realize how the choices that we make every day –as legislators, county officials, tax payers and consumers- impact the future of our farms. I urge you to continue the good work that has helped evolve our farms and agriculture towards a great future.
Buy Local Challenge Week continues to grow customers!
Seven years ago, it started as a way to create markets for Southern Maryland farmers who had transitioned out of tobacco and into food/drink production. Quickly it morphed into a statewide Buy Local Challenge Week.
As it matures, the event is serving as a celebration of accomplishments in the resourcing of locally produced food in Maryland. This year, perhaps the biggest celebration was at the Governor’s residence in Annapolis where Governor Hogan welcomed hundreds of happy grazers of offerings from 15 Maryland chefs, including the First Lady, who served up one of the best recipes of local food.
However, the main purpose of the week is to find new converts to local farm products. I helped to teach a class of realtors about selling and leasing farmland last week. As I often do at such events, I asked how many attendees had consumed some food produced locally in the last week. Perhaps a third raised their hands and only a few had heard of the Buy Local Challenge.
I believe that, as Wendell Berry says, “eating is an agricultural act.” Consuming local foods helps to create local jobs. It helps to determine how food is produced (ask farmers at markets how often they get asked how their food is produced!). Consuming local foods helps to keep farmland out of the hands of developers. It keeps land open and porous and alive for nature’s systems to thrive. Local food production creates surpluses that are usually donated to those in desperate need of fresh healthy food. How cool is it that you can do all these things just by eating fresh healthy food?
Just a few more days in the Challenge to convert new disciples!
When Buy Local Challenge Week began 7 years ago, it was a challenge to find enough locally sourced food to feed yourself. No more. Aside from a few condiments, consumers can find a well-rounded diet. A locavore in Maryland can find a wide selection of meats and dairy year around. We can find a broad selection of seasonally grown fruits and vegetables, though it is next to impossible find locally sourced strawberries in the winter months!
To extend variety and supply beyond the growing seasons, some chefs, most notably Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen, have been canning and/or freezing seasonal foods to use year around.
For farmers and those who support them, it is important to “walk-the-walk,” and sometimes “talk-the-walk” for locally sourced food, whenever we can, especially during a time when local vegetable and fruit farms absolutely depend on markets to survive. By walking the walk, I mean visiting local markets, retail establishments and restaurants that publicly advertise that they purchase from Maryland farms.
By talk-the-talk, I am suggesting that we all ask for locally-sourced food at facilities that don’t advertise local-sourced food. If they have it to offer, encourage them to advertise. If not, be persistent in asking. Talk-the-talk can also include inviting your friends to events that locally-source food and encouraging our member organizations to use locally-sourced food when they hold events.
Many people can intellectually accept the advantages of eating locally-sourced food, without practicing it, so I have some other reasons to tell them to help you close the deal:
A healthy ag economy is the best form of land preservation. Over 92% of all Marylanders support land preservation according a a 2010 survey by the Schaefer Center for Public Policy.
Locally-sourced food builds the local economy, creating jobs and local investment.
Farms that can feed Maryland residents increase our food security and our ability to feed those in need.
Local foods promote food safety. In today’s global markets, contamination outbreaks tend to be hard to pin down and notifications are slow to consumers. It is great when you know where your food comes from and can ask about how the food is produced.
Local foods taste better! Fruits and tomatoes do not have to be ripened with gas. The varieties can be selected by farmers for taste rather than shelf life.
The Buy Local Challenge begins on July 18th. We only have one month to line up our local sources and encourage our family, friends, and groups to do the same!!