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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.

 

Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

Selling local farm products through food hubs- new national report

msu

This blog is the first in a two-part series on selling local farm products through outside distribution channels like food hubs. This week, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems, along with The Wallace Center, released the 2015 National Food Hub Survey findings, which indicates that the food hub model can be financially successful across a variety of legal structures and geographic or customer markets.national_food_hub_survey_2015

Food hubs are businesses that aggregate and distribute source-identified food products, i.e. food that carries it’s farm name through the supply chain. As consumer interest in local and regional foods grows, the market for food hub services also grows. The findings of this report, together with the 2013 National Food Hub Survey, are the beginning of a data set that tracks what food hubs look like and what impacts they are having across the United States. What I found of most importance in the findings is that, 90% of food hubs who responded are increasing market access for small and medium farms as part of their daily operations. With many small farms judgling off-farm jobs and limited budgets, this is good news for those who are trying to be a farmer, a marketer, and a distributor.

National Food Hub Findings
Snapshot of key findings. Click to expand text.

“Food hubs bring great opportunity, but they face unique challenges that will require investment and innovation to overcome,” said Dr. John Fisk, Director of the Wallace Center at Winrock International. Some challenges food hubs face include: 1) securing capital, 2) securing more products, and 3) responding to opportunity to grow. More than 50% of hubs are concerned about securing more supply – and growth could be a liability for at least 40% of hubs because of barriers to adequate capital and limited delivery, warehouse and staff capacity. The full report is available online, as well as a webinar recording of key findings.

We will cover the challenges and opportunities specific to the Maryland region (based on a second new report!) in the next two posts for this series.

If you’re interested in learning more about food hubs and how they are operating in Maryland, I encourage you to join us next week at Friends and Farms in Columbia, Maryland for a tour of their food hub, and a short discussion with the Wallace Center. Email me at pwentworth@smadc.com to learn more.

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Chefs and Farmers Initiative Creates Movement

Across the country there is momentum to bring more local food to restaurants. Recently we wrote a blog on upcoming trends for restaurants where locally-sourced foods topped the charts for yet another year. Innovate solutions are popping up everywhere in the Chesapeake region too. However, farmers and chefs are busy people who are usually running in two separate directions. So how do local restaurants find all these wonderful farms, and how do farmers make connections to new chefs?

Southern Maryland Chef and Farmer Events

Over the winter of 2015, local catering company Herrington on the Bay, invited chefs and farmers from the Herring Bay region to come together over lunch in order to tackle this question. Herrington organized the meeting, reaching out to local agriculture organizations like SMADC and AAEDC for lists of farmers in their area who sell wholesale and chefs who are interested in local products. Ideas were shared, new connections were made, and a Facebook group was created to allow for transactions to begin to take place. As the year went on, both parties realized that more had to happen to take this concept to the next level.

Herrington Purpose, Mission, Vision for the group
Guiding  principles for the group.

Over the winter of 2016, just a few weeks ago, Herrington hosted a second event, expanding to include a wider reach of producers (including meat, dairy, and produce) and chefs. Around 50 attendees showed up to hear from Anna Chaney, owner and operator of Herrington and Honey’s Harvest Farm, about plans to get more local food on to more local plates. Chefs and farmers are busy people so to have them in the room together was an accomplishment in itself!

Additionally, Chesapeake Farm 2 Table (CF2T) was invited to demonstrate the distribution model they’ve come up with for Baltimore. Becky (owner and operator) and Audrey (general manager) of CF2T laid out for the group what was needed to start their operation:

  • A network of member farmers and chefs wiling to participate
  • An online ordering system that handles multiple farms products and chefs payments (additionally farmers and chefs can do payment offline)
  • A coordinator to receive food to one location (the Hub). Farmers drop the food off in clear plastic bags (vs. crates or other materials) since they will not be returned
  • A vehicle and a driver to deliver to Baltimore restaurants

What’s next for Southern Maryland?

The conversation was buzzing as people mingled, many meeting for the first time, learning about each other and exchanging contact information. Relationship and trust building, from year to year, and a networking group is invaluable!

Local Food Featured At MD Chef/Farmer Event
The kinds of meals we were conspiring to create were also in supply at the event.

The group concurred that this was something needed to benefit the region. There are still many pieces of the puzzle to solve. Who will run it? Can it be run as a pilot program for the region? The intent is to get better food on the table, but it also has to pay the bills for both sides. The group must be willing to work together in some capacity so that a 50 mile transportation radius (likely for our rural area)  isn’t so onerous (for example, maybe a farmer brings product to a central drop point where the van can pick it up). In essence, have more people driving 15 miles vs. 50. And as Anna said during the meeting, “if we all give a little, we can get a lot.” And there are some leaders who’ve already stepped up to the plate to put these pieces together!

Keeping a Regional Perspective

It is imperative that we create synergies across the region to increase local food supply, and profitability for farmers. That’s why it was fantastic that CF2T came down to meet the group, and why SMADC has been happy to lead the efforts to bring the Maryland food hubs (emerging and established) together a few times a year. CF2T said they enjoyed getting to know their neighbors to the south and they were excited to see what’s next for local food sourcing in southern Maryland! We are too!

If you are interested learning more about these ongoing efforts, email us anytime at info@marylandfarmlink.com.

 

Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds

Kimchi to Charcuterie- Savvy marketing by local producers tickles consumers taste buds

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MDA Secretary Joeseph Bartenfelder in attendance.

Every year Maryland Department of Agriculture holds a Buyer Grower Expo in Annapolis, providing a forum for farms and value-added producers to meet new potential buyers. In the last few years that SMADC has been going, we’ve seen the numbers in attendance continually rise- with now over 60 growers, processors,  watermen, and small food businesses attending from Maryland.

What was most impressive this year was the sheer variety of products available. Both from the farms that are growing them and from the producers who are processing Maryland grown food into an array of value-added products.

Creative Packaging

Especially appealing, was all the creative packaging. Selling, marketing and experiencing the Chesapeake grown oyster, for example, has reached new levels of refinement.  No longer distributed in boring boxes, they included bright and bold statements with catchy phasing like, “come unhinged!” (Madhouse Oysters) and “get cultured!” (Black Horse Oysters). Even the language used to describe the flavor of each oyster sounds like a wine tasting, “…Madhouse oysters start with salt…subtle, enough to enhance, not dominate…clean, firm meat yields a beautiful sweetness, like a first kiss. Memorable.”

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Photo by @hexferments getting ready for the Local Fair Fare in January where I had the chance to sample a bright purple kombucha drink, which I thought was colored with food dye but turned out to be a natural herbal flower.

This trendy, creative marketing is a common thread among the progressive food businesses showcased at the Expo. Popularity of fermented foods is increasing, once only for health food stores, is now becoming more widely available in the mainstream market. Farm Marketing has reached a new level of sophistication. With colorful branding, and appealing tag-lines to excite the taste buds.
Value-added fermented foods like sauerkrauts, kimchis, and kombuchas (in varrying flavors and pops of colors) come in brightly colored packaging that jumps out at you from the stand. Speaking not just from the health perspective but also a delicious food and condiment option, these producers are taking fresh Maryland-grown produce and transforming it into value-added products to spice up everyday dishes.

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Michelle’s Microgreens on display for chefs.

Produce farmers differentiate themselves

From hydroponics to farms specializing in gourmet garlic only, and sprouts, with great attention paid to the detail of presenting the product in an attractive and appealing way, like Michelle’s Mircogreens (pictured left) with 8 different types of sprouts, a shelf life of 2 weeks, and ready to be used as needed to decorate and maintain the flavor of fresh dishes by chefs. Several young wholesale farmers were in attendance, stepping up to the family plate, including Miller, Shlagel, and Swann farms. They represent the next generation of farmers who are increasing their outreach to larger wholesale markets such as major grocery chains and schools.

Locally cured meats & quail eggs

Meats were also well represented with small farm enterprises such as Cabin Creek Heritage Farm, who recently diversified into quail production for quail eggs. And meat and poultry producers seeking larger clients.  The American palate has had a longstanding love affair with Charcuterie. It has been difficult however, to find locally produced processed meats in Maryland. Enter: Meat Crafters, a new start-up in Landover, Maryland producing a full line line of specialty hand-made charcuterie meats in small batches. They offer an opportunity to custom pack for the local farmer, and they are USDA inspected for beef pork and poultry.

A good bang for your buck!

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Meat Crafters Charcuterie Display at the Expo

The average cost of an expo table at a big event is usually $100 or more, but for $20 a table, the Maryland Buyer-Grower Expo is well worth the fee if you are are a farm or value-added business looking for new buyers. Maryland and regional buyers are well represented, and many have the Expo on their calendars well in advance, year after year. We commend the publication MDA produces for the event, which is also available online. The directory includes names and addresses of buyers represented at the Expo for contact throughout the year. We’ve already heard of some new follow-up connections that were made after the Expo.

 

 

 

Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

Chesapeake region farm conference shares knowledge, strengthens relationships

What better way to kick off the New Year than brushing up on farm skills, and collaborating with other food system innovators. Last week was the annual Cultivate the Chesapeake Conference, hosted by Future Harvest- Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (CASA) – and as usual, it did not disappoint!

IMG_1006 (1)
Session on turning farm food seconds into value-added products.

Although there are many winter conferences and meetings, I always return home from this one with my farm knowledge acutely sharpened. It’s a good time to meet with people you don’t see often, drawing upwards of 500 attendees from all over the food system spectrum. While the focus is on sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake, I find the diversity it pulls from incredible– from first-year to seasoned farmers, beekeepers to livestock producers, cut flower and organic growers (hosting workshops together), local food producers to public health workers, seed companies and agriculture organizations.

The real key to success, I heard noted during the workshops, was collaboration and honest feedback with other farmers. Speakers were willing to share books, articles, and lessons learned in the field. In talking with a fellow new farmer, Karyn Owens, after a session on seed varieties, she said, “it was inspiring to see farmers come together and discuss varieties that work for them, either producing large yields or having little disease pressure, while another farmer down the road or the next county over may have different soil or type of growing condition and they prefer another crop variety. But I took away the value of knowledge sharing and being open to trying new things, because you just never know!”

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Mike Liker discussing ways to finding the optimal scale for your farm.

The high energy some of the farmers spread while sharing their knowledge was also notable. That can quickly become contagious in a room full of farmers, especially beginning farmers who are just starting out, and trying to make it through initial setbacks. Dave Liker of Gorman Farm, shared his experience with growing too fast. “Don’t take on too much too fast”, he stated, “instead keep gung-hoe working hard in the areas where you’re most passionate.” Listening is key. I heard a lot of, “I’ve been there, trust me, don’t do this, instead try this…” talk at the conference.

Sessions on composting with the ever-inspiring, young farmers of Moon Valley farm helped to consider the economic differences in making compost onsite and trucking it in, and a session on cover cropping provided effective ways to build better soil. I even sat in on a session with a food producer who is taking seconds from local farms and turning them into value-added products, while providing meaningful jobs to women re-entering the job market after incarceration. We heard from powerful keynote speakers, such as Dr. Ricardo Salvador, about leveling the field for farmers success and healthy food. Another Keynote (who considers the Chesapeake region home), Natasha Bowens, spoke about diversity in farming throughout history in America, which she wrote about in her new book, “The Color of Food.”

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Young Farmer Meet-up.

Although insightful in itself, I was not just there to listen, but also co-host an interest gathering with the Wallace Center on food hub research, and the potential for Maryland. Maryland food hubs (new and emerging) attended, as well as farmers thinking about selling to food hubs, and farmers who currently sell to food hubs through Tuscarora Organic Growers cooperative, who also happened to be in the room. The discussion focused on where we are as a sector, food hub challenges, and how to keep the momentum going. The gathering provided feedback and information that will help shape a report due out in the spring on the market potential for Maryland food hubs.

Despite all this, I may have been most excited to help organize a young farmer meet-up during the conference with the Maryland Farm Bureau Young Farmers Committee and the Maryland Young Farmers Coalition (a new chapter of the NYFC). Leaders and members of each group, along with other young farmers, came together to learn about how to get engaged and involved. Young farmer groups like these are important to the future of farming in this region that is losing farmers, and farm knowledge, at too fast a pace.

It seems evident (in this day in age) to network and share with peers. Remember to check Maryland FarmLINK and Friday’s Weekly Round-up email which includes upcoming conferences, events, properties, and news relevant to Maryland and regional farming.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 1, Sourcing Regional Foods

Interview: Chesapeake’s Bounty Part 1, Sourcing Regional Foods

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 provides community education workshops.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: What motivated you to take ownership of Chesapeake’s Bounty?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]:  To be honest, I reopened Chesapeake’s Bounty in September of 2007 after it had been closed for about a year. I needed some money, and I foolishly thought I could make a quick buck selling Christmas trees for one season.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: You often talk about moving toward a decentralized food system, and made the recent decision to source exclusively from growers and watermen in the Chesapeake Bay region. How does that influence the work you do?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: My position on food production might 10275925_10154766299740034_5079606529511402587_nbe considered radical, but I hope one day it is considered normal. I started this business because I needed some money, but I found out that if I couldn’t make money in this business, I could at least find happiness. In the few years leading up to the decision to source 100% local products, I started gaining more knowledge about the trouble our food system, and food systems all over the wrold, are encountering. I realized that one of the most important solutions to these problems is to decentralize food production as much as possible. In other words, we should be able to feed ourselves from our own communities with enough food for minimum nutrition. I also realized it is fairly cheap and easy to do that. Our work here at Chesapeake’s Bounty will continue in that direction as long as I am able to.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: “Local” is a popular buzzword in the food sector, but it means something different to everyone. How do you define “local” for your business?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: The name of this business is Chesapeake’s Bounty, so our rule is that everything has to come from the Chesapeake region. However, if you are talking about something highly perishable then we want it to come from as close as possible to our stores in St. Leonard and North Beach. Almost all of our produce and dairy comes from Southern Maryland or Eastern Shore farms. Our seafood comes from the Chesapeake Bay exclusively, and 99% of it’s caught in Southern Maryland. When we get into storage crops, apples for example, we get them from further north, 1) because they don’t grow well down here and 2) because they have a long shelf life.

Another great example of how the term “local” depends on the product would be our cooking oils. They are certified organic, non-GMO cooking oils, but in order to get enough sunflower or canola seeds to make the oils, the processor has to buy from farms in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. The whole process– from growing, to harvest, to processing, to distributing– is within our Chesapeake region, the closest we can source it.

11169809_10155441560205034_4237773088529844614_nAnother thing, let’s say it is our goal to eventually be St. Leonard’s Bounty instead of Chesapeake’s Bounty. We have to get to that point, and one of the ways to get there is to buy our apples and cooking oils out of Pennsylvania now, and create the market here. That way we know if we make a commitment to a local farmer or these products, the demand is already there.

That has worked successfully for meats. We used to have to buy meats from all over the state, and now our meats are exclusively from Southern Maryland. That was not possible three years ago. A lot of the meats we sell are coming from right here in St. Leonard now too.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: You have a unique opportunity to visit local farms to pick up food on a weekly basis, and to talk to many farmers every day. Farmers often find there are not enough hours in the day to farm and do marketing, and therefore appreciate you promoting them and offering their food 7 days of the week. What is your favorite part about this task?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: Two things, but they are very much connected. The first is being in touch with the farmers and the watermen. There is a lot of small talk and that’s the core of the relationship really, but in that small talk, valuable pieces of information are exchanged. Information about market prices, issues with a particular crop or harvest, information about the upcoming season, etc. Things that are important for me to be aware of so we can prepare here at the Bounty for that product, or sometimes, a shortage of that product. The second is that the farmers and watermen also glean information from me because I’m in touch with all the other ones. So without intending to gossip or reveal information, still exchanging useful information to help people out. There is the gab, and then within in the gab, the information about what’s going on in the local food scene around here. It’s fun! I like being aware of what’s going on.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: What unique products do you sell?

10926226_10155005657365034_1652215613439467169_nWill [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: We have the organic cooking oils, and organic non-GMO flour and grains from Southern Maryland. We sell a very special line of dairy products from a very small farm with 100% grass-fed cows and a beautiful operation. We have locally made health and beauty products like balms for healing wounds and soothing pain made from locally grown herbs or wild harvested plants.

Priscilla [Maryland FarmLINK]: What are some products you are still looking for, or looking for more of, from farmers?

Will [Chesapeake’s Bounty]: We just started an operation to grow mushrooms, as mushroom sales are steadily increasing.  Mushrooms are a product I hear more farmers getting into, and I think that’s a good way to go. Mushrooms are an important food source for the future. They feed on decaying matter that’s not useful for anything else, and they constantly rejuvenate.11950329_1215274578498165_5917398930030668558_o

I think we could use some more winter production too, such as with the use of high tunnels and hydroponics, although we have to be careful with the hydroponics because they are energy intensive.

We need to have more meat animals that are raised without feed or using non-GMO feed. Regardless of the personal beliefs of the farmers, the people are demanding it and we have to answer to the people.

 This post is part one of a two-part interview. Coming next week,  we talk about Will’s work-share program/community education components and creating resiliency with forest farming. Read part 2 here

Buy Local Challenge Week continues to grow customers!

Buy Local Challenge Week continues to grow customers!

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.36.13 AMSeven 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.

Governor Hogan welcomes attendees
Governor Hogan welcomes attendees

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 Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 10.34.29 AM 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!

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

Charles County Schools to bring local produce into the cafeteria

Charles County Schools to bring local produce into the cafeteria

By Cia Morey, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission

Last week, between thunderstorms here in Southern Maryland, I attended a meeting the
Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) hosted for local farmers. This was a pre-bid meeting to learn about an opportunity to sell local fresh produce to Charles County schools. CCPS has prepared an Invitation to Bid (ITB) for the 2015-2016 school year.

Maryland’s Farm to School Week this year is September 14-18, 2015. During this week, farmtoschool.2schools try and serve something local every day for a week. Charles County is taking steps to truly bring farms into the schools throughout the school year.

William Kreuter, Supervisor of Food Service understands that farmers in Southern Maryland cannot serve the entire school system for the whole school year. A majority of the school year takes place when most local farms are not producing as much.What’s unique about the bid is the school locations are bundled in a total of nine zones. This allows a bidder to only bid on a zone they feel they can fulfill when they have product available. Also, in the bid “local” is defined as 100 miles from La Plata, Maryland. That allows farms from all over the state of Maryland to participate in the bid if they want.

Kreuter said, “Through the bid process we look forward to developing an ongoing business vege4relationship with the local farming business community that will benefit local farmers and bring healthy food to our students.” Questions on the bid are due July 7, 2015 and final bids are due by July 23, 2013, 2 p.m. For bid information please visit the link.

We are thrilled to see a local school system create an innovative, flexible approach from which farmers of all sizes can participate. Farmers can win and so will students who will get the freshest food on their plates.

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