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 be 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.
Another 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?
Will [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.
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.