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Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

Selling local products through food hubs: new Maryland report

wallacecenterreport

This blog is the second in a two-part series on selling farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs (read the first blog here). The Wallace Center recently released a new report on Maryland Food Hubs. The Wallace CUSdemandforlocalfood_wallacecenterreportenter partnered with SMADC on the report, looking at research SMADC has undertaken in the past few years on Maryland food hubs (existing and emerging), and the knowledge the Wallace Center has built around food hub and food system work at the national level. The report focuses on the opportunities and challenges for Maryland food hubs, both existing and emerging.

Listed, are five challenges facing Maryland Food Hubs, two and four are good for Maryland farmers to keep in mind:.

  1. Access to capital
  2. Access to adequate supply
  3. managing pricing, sales, and growth
  4. Food safety and regulated markets
  5. Balancing margin and mission

Farmers have an advantage on the market right now, there is more demand for local products in Maryland through food hubs than there is supply. Farmers are also being faced with more regulations with regards to food safety. The report outlines more information for Maryland farmers to take note of. Transparency is also important. Make sure your products are labeled/tracked through the whole distribution chain and that hubs are accurately promoting your farm and products.

Since food hubs are not “one size fits all” models, The report showcases Local Spotlight sections each highlighting the existing Maryland food hub models. Farmer owned cooperatives who serve a tight geographic region (Garrett Growers), a for profit business buying in from farms within a broader region (Friends and Farms), and a business connecting chefs and farmers through an online ordering system and delivery model (Chesapeake Farm to Table). We recently had the chance to tour to Friends andWallacecenterreportmarylandsector Farms and the nearby Maryland Food Center Authority, and we are hoping to tour of Chesapeake Farm to Table this summer. If you are interested in attending let us know (pwentworth@smadc.com) and we’ll be sure to put you on the mailing list for updates.

 

The full report and more information can be found on SMADC’s website here.

 

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 2, Mix’n’Match and Food Forests

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 2, Mix’n’Match and Food Forests

As part of the weekly blog post series, Maryland FarmLINK occasionally features an interview with a local farmer or local food advocate. 

If we want to create a different food system, where regionally-based agricultural systems can thrive, my hope is that we value more models like Chesapeake’s Bounty. This interview is with Will Kreamer, owner and operator of Chesapeake’s Bounty in St. Leonard and North Beach. Highlighting the health, environmental, and economic benefits of local food, the Bounty sells a wide range of products year-round, all from local farmers and watermen. They seek new and innovative ways of connecting producers with steady markets, while considering the ecological consequences of food production. The St. Leonard location also operates a farm work-share program and community education workshops.

This post is part two of a two-part interview. Click here to read part 1. 

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: What is a project or result you are most proud of?

12043129_1229860970372859_6832701550903766269_n
The three sizes available for Mix n Match

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: I like the Mix and Match baskets we offer. Customers can choose from three different sized baskets, each with a set price, and then fill them with any produce from the “Mix and Match” section in the store. Our customers love the baskets. The Mix & Match baskets are working at the new location in North Beach too. When we started at North beach this summer, we had to teach just about every customer, and now they bring their friends, and explain it to them.

I would also say that I am proud of our effort towards more sustainable farming and community education programs. I feel blessed to be able to have the staff and the resources to open up the farm up to provide those programs free of charge, and to try to heal the land here.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: Perfect transition. Let’s talk more about the work-share program and community workshops you offer at the St. Leonard location. Why is this type of education important to you to offer?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: The PCSA, Participatory Community Supported Agriculture, and workshops are open to all ages, including children–who seem to have a really good time coming out on the community work days. What we are doing here on the farm is providing an opportunity for people to come out and learn basic skills that we have forgotten over the past few generations, skills about how to grow food and to do so using minimal resources. Growing your own food is kind of like printing your own money. I like that we are supporting a lot of local farms, but people need to grow more of their own food too. It is not in our long-term financial interest, but we have to start looking beyond our own interests.

PCSA2015
Chesapeake’s Bounty garden boxes growing summer tomato plants at the St. Leonard location.

The food we grow here is important for people who have a source of income, but it is very important for people who don’t. And that’s really where we are going to put our focus in the coming years, trying to get more folks out here who might barely be getting by and don’t have enough food to put on the table. If they can dedicate a half hour, an hour, or a couple hours on the farm and learn some things, they can harvest all the food they want to take home with them. The food is here, waiting.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: Can you explain some of the farming methods you’ve researched and implemented at Chesapeake’s Bounty?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: We need to plant more food forests. We should focus on planting more trees that are harvest-grade variety, such as hickory, basswood, and butternut. We need to bring back other trees like the new hybrid American chestnuts that are disease resistant and almost 100% genetically identical to the original American chestnut. Our ecosystem has completely changed with the loss of the American chestnut, from the content of the soil to the health of wetlands. It has also changed the health of our human and animal populations, as it’s an important food source.

Down here, we could also grow the English walnut and harvest the syrup as a substitute for maple syrup, to have our own locally grown syrup. That would be great.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: People are busy, and don’t always stop to think about their food choices. What is the main take-away you hope people get when they leave your store?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: We have pictures and descriptions of all of our farms and farmers in the stores and online and we’re really hoping that people are looking at those and seeing fairly quickly that everything we sell is local.

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PCSA plots utilizing straw for growing vegetables and fruits at the St. Leonard location.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: How can individuals become more involved?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: Like the guerilla gardener, Ron Finley, is famous for saying, “You want to hang with me, come to the garden, with your shovel,” but really– just show up! Come to the farm, if you can call it a farm, and we’ll talk. There is a lot going on here.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: Is there anything else you want FarmLINK readers to know?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: We need more food forests– period. We need to get ahead of the game, and we have the land and the climate here to do so.

 

 

 

 

Feeding the Foodshed

Feeding the Foodshed

8.13.15

It’s August and it’s hot, and this year in particular there has been a lot of rain. Yet many of our local farmers, from vegetable and fruit producers to meat and dairy farms, are working hard to bring enough to market. Last week was National Farmers Market week, and Maryland farmers showed up to share the fruits of their labor with the locals. And locals showed up to purchase it! The bounty, spread out in vast array this time of year, is not only a symbol of how we can live healthier lives and eat a variety of food close to home- it’s a symbol of community. Community coming together to produce for each other and community coming together to purchase from each other.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Anne L. Alonzo recently announced the results of the 2014 Farmers Market Manager Survey. 8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshedApproximately 1,400 farmers market managers nationwide were surveyed and the results show that farmers markets are growing. “There are over 8,400 farmers markets in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and this survey shows that they are thriving and expanding as they provide healthy, local fresh fruit and vegetables to America’s families,” said Alonzo. “The survey will help market managers continue to succeed by giving them a better understanding of the local foods marketplace.” The national survey identified some compelling trends such as increased customer traffic, market managers looking for more vendors, a strong organic presence, and more.

What’s Happening Locally?

In Maryland it seems the farmers markets are seeing similar trends. Shelby Watson Hampton, Agricultural Marketing Specialist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture stated that, “Maryland is diverse, and every market is different, but this year what we’ve seen is that overall attendance is the same if not a little bit more.” She also said there has been a steady number of Maryland Department of Agriculture recognized farmers markets for the past three to four years. “Maryland currently has over 140 vibrant and flourishing farmers markets that are spread out over all 23 counties and Baltimore City.”

8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshed
A recent summer morning at the California Farmers Market in St. Mary’s County.

“These local markets are beneficial to their communities in may ways: they provide consumers with the opportunity to purchase fresh and local products, they increase communication between farmers and customers which helps develop a bond of trust between producer and consumer, and they serve as an important community gathering place where urban, suburban, and rural communities come together,” said Shelby.

And it sounds like the overall farmers market trends tend to be up in Southern Maryland too. Stacy Wilkerson, market manager for North Beach farmers market in Calvert County, said the market is seeing an increase in customers, an increase in vendors (with 20 farmers this season), and phone calls daily from interested new vendors. Stacy also noted that many restaurants have formed relationships with the vendors. In St. Mary’s County, the California Farmers Market manager and local produce farmer David Paulk reported something similar.  “The market is seeing a steady customer base that comes each week April through November”, said David. He also mentioned that number of farm vendors is growing.

8.13.15FeedingtheFoodshed
At the Riverdale Park farmers market last week folks filled out market surveys at SMADC tent.

Cia Morey, administrator at SMADC, attended the evening Riverdale Park Farmers Market in Prince George’s County last week to survey vendors and consumers and reported back that it’s a wonderful weekday evening market in an urban setting that has several farm vendors. The market also has prepared food vendors to take advantage of patrons picking up dinner as they shop for their weekly supply of local vegetables. Over 84% of the respondents of the survey indicated that they were specifically coming out to shop at the market that evening, and the average amount spent per buyer was just under $20. The market has excellent community and town support as they have provided a dedicated market manager and over many years this market has become a strong pillar of the town.

We have heard that sales tend to fluctuate at farmers markets, but that farmers still find markets to be important to meeting new customers, building relationships with them, and helping customers understand what it takes to grow the food they are feeding their families with. And working at a market myself, I see how getting together at the markets builds stronger communities.

For more information on regional farmers markets, or to get in touch about becoming a vendor, visit the Washington Post’s listing of regional farmers markets.

Food hub workshop yields a bountiful crop of ideas

Food hub workshop yields a bountiful crop of ideas

Next to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Wallace Center, Winrock International Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 5.07.06 PMknows more about food hubs than any other organization in the country. One program of the Center is the National Good Food Network which regularly holds webinars about food hubs. The USDA often supports the Wallace Center in its research and workshops on food hubs.

Vineyards at Dodon in Anne Arundel County
The Vineyards at Dodon in Anne Arundel County

 

Understandably, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission was thrilled to co-sponsor a workshop held at The Vineyards at Dodon last week with the Wallace Center for emerging food hubs appropriately titled “Emerging and Early Stage Food Hub Development Workshop.” Joining us were representatives from Chesapeake Harvest, Miltons Local, South Central PA, Community FARE, Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, Chesapeake Farm to Table and Garrett Growers Cooperative, Inc.

As expected, the Wallace Center provided a plethora of information about food hubs. However, the focus of the workshop was a facilitated discussion about what works and what doesn’t and participants had the opportunity to ask the tough questions.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 6.01.44 AM
Devona Sherwood, Program Officer, at the Wallace Center, listens to a response by Haile Johnston

Attendees were excited to be able to discuss food hub formation with Haile Johnston, co-founder of Common Market, a non-profit located in Philadelphia. It operates in the black. This year, they expect to sell $3 million in food. His hope is to enable new food hubs to succeed in half the time and with half the problems that new food hubs typically face.

Food hubs are often considered as more than just aggregators and distributors of food. The good ones create a food chain that adds value to participants at every stage. Haile began the discussion with a situation that occurred at the beginning of Common’s Market’s formation. They were at an auction to purchase apples to be distributed to those who could not afford fresh, healthy food. They were thrilled that the auction price was only $4.50 for a bushel of apples and they bought a number of bushels that day. Afterward, they reflected that they may be helping those in need of healthy food, but it was at the expense of farmers who would not earn a living with those prices. They resolved that their non-profit would operate in a fashion that would help producers as well as consumers of all income levels.

From the beginning, Common Market’s market strategy was to sell primarily to the institutional sector, because they didn’t see the competition at that level with the small operations. The largest segment of their sales is to schools (90), hospitals (20), elder cares facilities and cooperatives. They buy from 85 farmers with a very diverse product line, including turkeys, eggs, yogurt, chicken, apples and vegetables. They do not process yet, though they plan to eventually.

They began with one leased truck and now own a fleet of five refrigerated box trucks. All their food is farmer identified. Seventy-five percent of the food comes from within 80 miles of their non-profit and all of it comes from within 200 miles. Meat and eggs are key components. They operate on a 30% blended mark-up. Three times a week they send out an email to farmers with changing prices. They do some speculative buying but 95% of all perishable product is pre-sold.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 6.33.50 AMThey see advantages to technology but they also see the advantages to human interaction. Their buyers are able to gauge producers’ and distributors’ issues and concerns as they negotiate deals. Their truck drivers get to know both the farmers and the buyers so that they can monitor and build relationships.

A point that Haile came back to numerous times is that “Relationships are paramount across the food chain!”  That was a notion that resonated with attendees.

 

 

 

 

Pollinating the local economy to grow jobs and prosperity

Pollinating the local economy to grow jobs and prosperity

Consumer demand is changing the U.S. food industry and local economies can take advantage of consumer demandpollinating for less processed fresh and local foods. A National Good Food Network webinar last week highlighted some ways to grow the local economy.

Rather than simply attracting another region’s businesses and retaining the ones you have, Michael Shuman, author of The Local Economy Solution, suggests that local governments and nonprofits should:

(1) Maximize local ownership. (2) Maximize local self-reliance. (3) Spread models of Triple Bottom Line  success.(4) Create an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

the PsHe noted that the first instinct of many pollinators (i.e. those seeking to grow local food businesses) is to turn to outside funders. A better approach is to work with local businesses and investors to build the local economy. Main Street Genome is an example of how pollinators can help to level the playing field for local business development by providing expert advice. Another is the Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C. (mentioned here previously) that helps to create food businesses by handling all the tough regulatory and infrastucture issues of food business development.

Local Money matters

A final point that Shuman makes is that a local bank is three times more likely to reinvest in the local community than a national bank. That is one way to ‘plug the leaks’ and boost the local economy.

Linda Best, founding member of FarmWorks in Nova Scotia, was the other speaker on the webinar. She talked about how the Canada province had been losing food production for 50 years, but was making a comeback with FarmWorks, whose mission is to “Promote, and provide, strategic and responsible community investment in food production and distribution in order to help increase access to a sustainable local food supply for all Nova Scotians.” In brief, FarmWorks links local investors with emerging companies.

We all know that in nature pollinators do magical work to turn flowers into food. Pollinating local economies can make the farm-to-table connections to grow jobs and prosperity.

 

Food security and food safety with locally sourced food

Food security and food safety with locally sourced food

USDA defines food security for a household as “access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” However, food security not only has food access and affordability components, it can be jeopardized by natural and man-made disasters. . .

old farmerAmericans are known for certain cultural traits such as independence, hard-work, inventiveness, and perseverance. The homesteading movement and beginning farmer movement harken back to the notion of being independent and feeding ourselves and our own communities.

Some have found it preposterous that our food is being off-shored or grown here, processed in China, and returned here for sale. The American psyche revolts at the notion that we have to rely on another country for our own food.

There are practical reasons why regions should be planning for more food independence, due to natural and made-made disasters. After 9-11, transportation systems shut down and store shelves emptied. There was speculation as to how many days it would be before major cities would run out of food.

Disruption of transportation and commerce was not the only type of attack considered by the terrorists. On November 19, 2003, Senator Susan Collins of Maine convened a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs on “Agroterrorism: the Threat to America’s Breadbasket.” In her introductory remarks,  she reported that “Hundreds of pages of U.S. agricultural documents recovered from the al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan early last year are a strong indication that terrorists recognize that our agriculture and food industry provides tempting targets.”

Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey noted that “Unfortunately, our food chain from lautenbergproduction to processing to distribution and consumption presents an all too easy target for those who want to harm America, and few targets have the impact that one could conceive as that coming from our food supply, something unknown that takes time to discover and then the time involved in reaching a large group of people in a given area, possibly a huge group if things go as one could imagine.” It would appear that if all of our food production was dispersed in small and medium farms, then the risk of attack on food systems would be lower.

Civil Eats story about Vermont's leadership in the local food movement
Civil Eats story about Vermont’s leadership in the local food movement

Another risk to food security lies in the fact that a majority of U.S. fruits and vegetables is grown in a region that has endured four years of drought and long term projections predict continued dry periods for the rest of the 21st century. Already we have seen the U.S. become more dependent on fruits and vegetables from foreign sources. Over 20% of fresh vegetables and over 50% of all fresh fruits are imported and less than 1%  is actually sampled for food safety compliance.

Due to modern food distribution systems and land use policies in the U.S., it is easier for a tomato from Mexico to reach grocery store shelves than a tomato from nearby farm communities. As reported by Civil Eats, Laurie Ristino, Vermont Law School’s director of the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, says that current law is heavily bent toward the industrialized food system. Vermont has already made great progress at breaking down the barriers to a “relocalized” food system.

In Maryland, if we level the playing field for local farmers, we can stimulate the local economy, have fresher, tastier food and build in a measure of food security and food safety protection against natural and man-made food disasters. We can start by:

  • supporting local farmers markets,
  • helping farmers gain access to food distribution systems and institutions,
  • making sure that our local and state regulations permit retail sales and allow for value-added production. and
  • including local food production in our comprehensive plans and action strategies.

 

 

 

Can Maryland be food self-sufficient?

Can Maryland be food self-sufficient?

Baltimore.LexingtonMarket
Lexington Market in Baltimore City. Library of Congress

As recently as 70 years ago, Maryland was virtually food self-sufficient, with local farmers providing nearly all the food staples. Since then, modern agriculture practices, food business models, and improved transportation systems have reduced food prices and provided a much wider variety of fruits and vegetables and processed goods in supermarkets. Trade agreements allowed tariff free imports to lower prices and increase variety even more. For a number of reasons, Maryland farms (and East Coast farms in general) have not been able to compete in a number of food products and acres of those products decreased dramatically by the end of the 20th century.

However, in the last few decades a new trend has emerged. Alarmed about loss of farmland in their areas and wanting to know more about how their food is raised, a growing number of consumers began to seek out local food. Farmers markets, CSAs and food and drink festivals have piqued interest. In Maryland, a logical question is how many customers could Maryland farmers supply? Can we ever be food self-sufficient today?

New Report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
New Report from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

A new study out of  the Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future begins to answer that question by looking into what food is produced in Maryland and what its 6 million residents may be consuming. At the same time, it cautions that “this comparison is not meant to advocate that the entire state could or should feed its entire population based solely on what it grows within its own borders. Rather this can help create a stronger connection between the local and regional food movements, the foods we choose to buy and eat, and agriculture within the state and region.”

Some findings:

  • Maryland farmers produce more than enough chicken, lima beans, and watermelon to meet Maryland consumer demands.
  • Maryland farmers produce 67% of the spinach demand, 57% of the sweet corn demand, 46% of the egg demand, 28% of the milk demand and 26% of the beef demands.
  • Potatoes are the most popular vegetable and Maryland farmers meet 9% of that demand
  • Tomatoes are the 9th most popular food product on Maryland farms yet we produce only 2.14% of the population’s demand.
  • Maryland farmers produce about 2.8 billion pounds of corn for grain, a lot of which is used for livestock feed, seed, and industrial uses.

Of course, watermelons and lima beans are only produced for a few months and demand for these products (and other perishable products) is year around. In 1940, consumers’ diets were more attuned to the growing season. Now they expect strawberries in January. However, milk and meats are produced year around. Grains can be stored and many greens (and even tomatoes) can be grown year around in high tunnels or greenhouses. Their commercial viability depends price. Price is a factor, but 70% of U.S. residents say that they would pay at least 5% more for locally sourced food.

Maryland is not close to being food self-sufficient, nor will we ever be totally food self-sufficient as long as we are consuming a significant amount of food from tropical plants such as coffee, bananas, oranges, etc. Total food self-sufficiency was not the purpose of the Johns Hopkins report or this blog.

The point is that Maryland does grow an amazing amount of food and can grow more. There are challenges in rebuilding the quantity of food that grows well in this climate, including labor, regulations, aggregation and distribution of food to institutions, etc. but if residents in Maryland want more local food, let’s test their resolve. Maryland’s agriculture industry and our state economy will benefit from the effort!

 

 

 

New local food processing and marketing options – food incubators

New local food processing and marketing options – food incubators

Many of us were surprised that the growth in the number of farmers markets was farmersmarkettrendappearing to flatten out in the U.S. And in its report to Congress, the USDA reported that between 2007 and 2012 the number of farms with direct-to-consumer sales increased 5.5 percent, but with no increase in direct-to-consumer sales. However, the report speculated that local food might be moving through other marketing channels, like grocery stores or institutions, the value of which is not measured by the Census of Agriculture. I believe that this is the case.

At the MOFFA Winter Meeting on February 21st, I had the opportunity to learn about some of those new marketing opportunities in a session entitled Connecting with Chefs & Distributors. 

Terrance Murphy discussed opportunities with Whole Foods Market and his own great experiences working with local farmers as a chef. Chris Miller discussed MOM’s Organic Market’s commitment to organically produced food and opportunities for local farmers to supply their stores locally. Several local farmers are already selling directly to MOMs. Four Seasons Food Distributor, out of Houston, Texas, is also a major supplier.

Jonas Singer
Jonas Singer

Jonas Singer is co-founder of Union Kitchen, a food incubator. It opened in 2012, out of a 7,300 sq. ft. warehouse in NE Washington, D.C. and its goal is “to build a platform and a megaphone for small businesses by providing a low-cost, low-risk, full-service kitchen for local businesses to grow and establish their operations.” One way they are doing it is by eliminating the need for start-ups to take on debt, purchase expensive equipment, sign a long-term lease, or some of the other risks entrepreneurs usually have to face.

Jonas noted that this allows new businesses to spend their time focusing on growing their businesses. That approach has worked amazingly well. In a little over two years, they have helped to start over 60 businesses and create over 300 jobs. For its success, Union Kitchen was one of the 10 finalists for USA TODAY’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2014.

Of course, most of these emerging food enterprises are interested in local food as a way to make them unique and more connected to their communities. There is also more interest from regional and national food distributors to use locally sourced food. Jonas commented that Coastal Produce has been great at helping them supply locally sourced food. However, Union Kitchen is interested in doing more to work with local farmers.

Food incubators like Union Kitchen help to level the playing field for local business. And local, sustainability produced food can help them produce a niche. It is working. Fourteen of their members are nominated in a total of nine categories for Best of DC, 2015!

We grow better when we grow together.

Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets

Saving family farms in Maryland – level access to markets

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 7.10.19 AMThis blog is the last in a series on saving family farms in Maryland. In the first blog, I highlighted the need for beginning farmers. In the second and third blogs, I addressed access to land and infrastructure needs. In this blog, I discuss how to create a level access to markets.

The local food movement has given us hope that we can maintain family farms in Maryland. For decades, I have heard of farmers telling their children that there is no future in farming. That attitude is changing. Now more farm children are returning to farms. And clearly, more people care about family farms and want to know how their food is grown.

However, the playing field is not level. Recently, National Public Radio covered an 18-month investigation by a reporter from the Los Angeles Times which described working conditions on mega-farms in Mexico.  According to the reporter, the mega-farms are mistreating workers and paying them $8 to $12 per day, hardly on par with regulations and expectations in the U.S. The story also noted that major U.S. food chains are purchasing from these farms.

Farmers in Maryland face additional challenges in trying to provide more locally-sourced food.  In the 19th century, and early 20th century, most grain, canning and food processing operations left the state and local health regulations were not designed for small scale food processing operations. Meanwhile, chain stores out-competed local food markets in the 20th century. Few locally owned stores still exist and local farmers have a tough time negotiating square deals with most chain stores.

Without local food stores, farmers selling retail were literally kicked to the curb. If farmersScreen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.32.12 AM wanted to sell the food themselves, they had to sell at roadside stands or in farmers markets, where local zoning would permit them. In commercial shopping centers, chain grocery stores typically would require landlords to impose covenants restricting local farm sales. To take advantage of the local food movement, some chains have established local market sections in their stores, but “local” can be as much as a 300-400 mile radius and farmers are  subject to their terms and whims. Many farmers have stories about working with chains. After the picture of the farm went up in the food isle, the produce orders would disappear.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 6.39.33 AMHere are possible solutions to help farmers get level access to markets.

1. Encourage counties to include goals that promote local food systems in their comprehensive plans and adopt zoning ordinances that permit value-added production on farms.

2. Insist that our legislators oppose trade agreements that create unfair competition for our farmers. They should not have to compete with food from countries with weak environment, labor and food safety standards.

3. Work with businesses and government to rebuild local food aggregation systems and distribution systems, such as

  • -More local food transport systems.
  • -More indoor and year-around markets.
  • -Better market sites in towns, such as around village squares and other activity centers.

4. Tell the stories of farmers who provide great local farm products.

5. Support a food system that is sustainable and treats everyone in the food system fairly.

Giving farmers level access to markets will build the local economy, create jobs and help insure that our food is fresh and safe.

 

We will have “made it” when there are locally sourced bakeries!

We will have “made it” when there are locally sourced bakeries!

I LOVE bread. I am not very good in the kitchen, but years ago, I had grown weary of bread 010store-bought bread with a list of chemicals I did not recognize and I resolved to make my own. For a number of years (I won’t say how many), I tortured the family with my attempts at yeast breads that were barely edible. Then about two years ago, two transformative events occurred. First, my wife found a recipe that I could follow successfully, almost without fail. Second, local farmer Wilson Freeland found a hard red winter wheat (with the help of county extension agent Herb Reed),  that would grow well on his White Cliff Farm in Southern Maryland.

Hard red wheat is used to make bread. Most wheat grown in Maryland is soft red winter wheat and it is used for making cakes, pastries, flat breads, and crackers. Mr. Freeland bought his own stone-ground mill and I was one of his first customers.

Rice at Next Step Produce
Rice at Next Step Produce

Then last year I had another local supplier when Next Step Produce began raising rice, buckwheat, rye and wheat organically. They purchased equipment to thresh, winnow and mill the grain. I now alternate between both sources!

A bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds. The market price for wheat has ranged from $5.00 to $8.00 per bushel in the last few years, or roughly 11 cents a pound. In 2012, Maryland farmers raised 14 million bushels of wheat or 840 million pounds, with a market value of $87 million dollars.

According to the USDA Agricultural Resource Marketing Center, per capita consumption wheatof wheat flour has hovered around 134.5 pounds in the last few years. With a population of nearly 6 million residents, Maryland consumes roughly 800 million pounds of wheat product and, since most Maryland wheat is not processed in Maryland, our state’s economy gets very little of that income. The milled price for wheat flour would retail for at least $1 per pound to several dollars per pound for organic flour, many times more than the price per bushel from wholesale markets.

There used to be hundreds of mills in Maryland – dozens in my home  county –Calvert. The creek behind my house powered a mill. You can still see the dam formed in the stream bed used to funnel the stream that turned the mill. Mill Creek is a common name for streams. There is only one large mill in Maryland according to a Baltimore Sun article published last year. The Wilkins Rogers mill is located in Ellicott City and its headquarters is in Halethorpe, Pennsylania. The Ellicott City mill operations may be consolidated to Halethorpe within 10 years.

But according to the Sun article, the long-term trend might mean the return of more local mills to Maryland. “Where it once made sense to mill wheat where it was grown and ship flour across the nation, it is now more cost effective to haul trainloads of grain to the country’s population centers on the coasts and produce flour there,” said James A. Bair, vice president of the North American Millers Association.

I am loving my locally sourced flour and make a loaf or two every week. I encourage more Marylanders to find their local source and help keep our dollars local. But I realize that most people don’t make bread. Therefore, I believe that we will have made it when we have locally-sourced bakeries throughout the state!

My Bread Recipe (prep takes about 20 minutes and bread in a total of 90 minutes)

  • 3 cups whole wheat flour (hard red winter wheat or hard red spring wheat)
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups warm water

Method

Add yeast and honey into 1/2 cup of warm water in a small bowl. Stir and let sit a few minutes until yeast begins to work. In a large bowl, mix flour and salt and then stir in the yeast mixture. Then add remaining warm water (about 1 1/2 cups) until all ingredients are moist.

Butter a 9″ x 5″ pan and add moistened ingredients. Set aside to rise in warm place for 12 to 18 minutes until mixture rises to fill the pan. Heat oven to 390 degrees and bake for about 33 minutes.

Note: Maryland Farm and Harvest will be presenting a story on November 11th about Aunt Annie’s pretzels, produced in Maryland using Maryland produced wheat flour. Aunt Annie’s headquarters are in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (just 80 miles from Baltimore) and it has store locations throughout the country.

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