By the middle of the 20th century, we had lost the capacity to feed ourselves. As the century progressed, we had become increasingly enamored with everything shiny and new. By the 1960s, people were even walking on the moon! Innovation seemed limitless. Everything new and from the grocery store was better than “home grown,” or so we thought. Grocery stores became our source of food and major corporations became our aggregators, processors and distributors.
Today, we’ve become like the little kids who went to school and the bullies stole our lunch money and gave us something barely edible to eat. . . .literally.
However, in the last twenty years, some consumers have begun to rebel, not liking the “freshness” and taste of store-purchased food, and not happy with the dozens of indecipherable ingredients on the labels of processed food. More recently, the desire for local food has emerged as the number one trend in grocery stores and restaurants.
Agriculture still generates $8 billion for Maryland’s economy, but most local food that we grow here is processed out of state and sold by a third party. Without the ability to aggregate, distribute, process, and sell our own food, we give up freshness, taste, and economic benefit. On average, the USDA estimates that farmers only keep about 7% of the total food dollar. That is beginning to change.
On November 5th, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission hosted a Buyer Grower Workshop–Production and Sales to Retail/Wholesale Markets.
We invited attendees to discuss how to rebuild the local food system. Christine Bergmark, Executive Director, noted the incredible growth of direct sales to consumers in the region and in the state. However, she encouraged the audience to think beyond the direct sales from farm to consumer. The workshop began with a panel discussion including two buyers, two farmers, and two food hubs representatives:
- Micah Martin – Woodberry Kitchen
- Jason M. Smith – Wegmans
- Brett Grohsgal – Even’ Star Organic Farm
- Doug Hill – Cabin Creek Heritage Farm
- William Kreamer – Chesapeake’s Bounty
- Bernie Fowler, Jr. – Farming 4 Hunger
Each speaker was asked to respond to a series of questions about business practices and challenges. Afterward there was a Q and A from the audience.
The 50+ farmers, chefs, and fishermen peppered the panel members with questions and were eager to learn more about their operations. Discussions continued on into the break. Attendees seemed passionate about exploring the relationship between locally sourced food and a healthy community.
More to come on this topic in the next few months!