lettuceThis year holds some real opportunities for Maryland farmers who are growing, or thinking of growing, locally-sourced food. A few workshops scheduled in January lay out the path to some of those opportunities.

I mentioned in an earlier post, What is the growth potential for locally sourced food?, that according to a 2010 Policy Choices Survey by the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy, 78% of Marylanders are more likely to buy produce that is identified as having been grown by a Maryland farmer. Add to that the fact that we live in a region with the highest median income and a food budget of $26 Billion. This translates to a huge market potential for local food.

william and mary reunion 005Maryland farmers have responded to this demand; in the last decade, the number of farmers’ markets and CSAs has grown exponentially. Such direct-to-consumer sales are a key component to a locally-sourced food economy, but it can’t stop there. Many consumers are not located near farmers’ markets or CSA drop-off locations and many lead lives that are too busy to search for locally-sourced food. However, they are happy to seek out local food at a nearby grocery store or restaurant.

And grocery stores are aware of the trend. In a 2011 National Grocers Association survey, 83% of consumers said the presence of local food is “very important” or “somewhat important” in their choice of food store (up from 79% in 2009). Likewise, restaurants are aware of the trend. In its news release on December 11, 2012, the National Restaurant Association reported that  “among the strongest consumer trends for 2013 are local sourcing and nutrition. More than seven out of 10 consumers say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced menu items, and more than six out of 10 said locally sourced menus are a key attribute for choosing a restaurant. “restaurant survey

All markets point to the demand for more locally-sourced food, but to reach that broader consumer market, farmers need to distribute food in different ways.

Many farmers would like access to additional retail or wholesales outlets such as retail food chains, restaurants, and other buyers. Those farmers may find their hopes realized with the farmer events scheduled in January, 3013. To start off, Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), Howard County Economic Development Authority, and Wegmans Food Markets Inc. are holding an event: Selling Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers, and Herbs to Wegmans on January 15th at the Wegmans Market Cafe in Columbia. The very next night, the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission is hosting A Developing Opportunity for Contract Produce Growing in Hughesville. Finally, on January 22nd, MDA is holding the 2013 Buyer-Grower Expo. The purpose of this expo is to connect Maryland growers, producers, and processors with buyers from grocery retailers, restaurants, schools, and other venues.

Farmers who sell direct to consumers at farmers’ markets and CSAs should attend one or more of these events to see if they could expand production into wholesale markets. Commodity farmers who have always avoided growing vegetables, fruits or meat because they were reluctant to sell directly to consumers should see what wholesale markets are now available due to the growing demand for locally-sourced food at businesses and institutional locations.

Maybe 2013 is the year! You can find details on all of these events at Maryland FarmLINK Workshop and Events page.  Check the site periodically for updates or changes.