Earlier this week, I attended a listening session for a new business that recently formed, Grow and Fortify. Their motive is to help farmers around the state understand and conquer the barriers that make it difficult for Maryland farms to grow and expand their enterprises. They are tackling topics like value-added agriculture, and defining the ambiguous definition of agritourism in effort to help farms grow and expand. The legislative and regulatory process at the national, state and local levels prove to be complex, and not always defined for agriculture and food enterprises. Maryland Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bureau and other agriculture groups have provided their support to Grow and Fortify, as they see this is an area of need.
The small team (bios), though new to working together under Grow and Fortify, have had many years of combined experience and have worked at the local, state, and federal level on agriculture, food, and beverage issues. They are now making their rounds about the state, hearing from farmers, ag agencies, nonprofits, and counties, to gauge the need and interest in their expertise.
At the Southern Maryland meeting, attendees brought up the need for changes to more uniform codes in local county departments, and with fire marshalls, and health permitting laws at the state level. Examples were provided about counties that have successfully changed some regulations, such as St. Mary’s county who worked with the health department and SMADC to implement guidelines for meat, jams, and jellies (value-added products) to help expand farm business offerings. Attendees felt that sharing and replicating the changes one county makes into other counties would be helpful. Food sampling at farmers markets, festivals, and fairs was also brought to light as a challenge. For example, an aquaculture farm in St. Mary’s county could not sell his oysters at a recent Baltimore County festival because he only had a permit from St. Mary’s County, even though the counties pull from the same state code. In this instance, it would be less time consuming and costly for the farm to receive one license from the state for food sampling.
What is needed at the state level? What are good examples of success? Who out there is having trouble, and what are the unique challenges you’re facing?
The standalone service sounds like it is already making headway at answering some of these questions.
If you are interested in more information, Grow and Fortify has additional listening sessions scheduled around the state in December and January, including one in Annapolis next week. They have made themselves easily accessible, as they want to hear from as many Maryland farms as possible on their specific needs for value-added agriculture.