In the past six months, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission’s Rural Economies Workgroup has been exploring how Maryland can advance a wide variety of rural business ventures. On June 4th, the focus was on food production, aggregation and distribution.
The hope of many Maryland farmers is to gain more access to institutional, restaurant and retail markets. Members of the Food and Food Production subcommittee, including representatives of state departments, Maryland Farm Bureau, MARBIDCO and others, assembled at the Coastal Sunbelt facility in Savage Maryland to learn more about plans to scale up farm food aggregation and distribution. The discussion revolved around the nuts and bolts needed to turn the dream of a more complete local food movement into a reality.
Tracy Ward was the first speaker and she discussed the new Chesapeake Harvest food hub in development on the Eastern Shore, one of about a half-dozen in development around the state. She indicated that produce farmers wanted to grow food year round and that interested farmers are hoping to build 72 high tunnels to extend production beyond the regular growing season. The Food Hub is interested in contract purchasing to provide assurance that there would be markets for what is grown. Tracy outlined the opportunities and challenges for a local food hub.
She was followed by Jason Lambros, Vice President of Purchasing at Coastal Sunbelt Produce. He said that his company aggregates a million cases of food regionally and he believes that there is a market demand for triple that number. He noted that his company runs 200 trucks and most come back empty. Most of their produce still comes from California. He would be happy to work with local food hubs to aggregate and distribute food to larger markets.
The Company is also processing a dozen types of salsa on site and food processing will be a significant part of the new expanded facility to open next year.
Participants left with a clearer picture of the opportunities and challenges to increase food aggregation and distribution from local farms in Maryland. The Food and Food Production subcommittee is expected to forward its recommendations to the Rural Economies Workgroup this summer. Ultimately, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission will consider recommendations for legislation and policy changes to be forwarded to the General Assembly.