The heat did not stop Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown from throwing a party yesterday on the lawn of the Governor's Mansion. Mr. O'Malley opened his front yard to host a barbecue banquet of foods produced by Maryland's farmers.The event kicked off the state's Buy Local Challenge, a week of events promoting and supporting the state's agricultural community.
Mr. O'Malley and other state leaders are challenging Marylanders to eat at least one locally grown food each day from now until July 27th. The governor said he hopes this week will change the way Marylanders think about their food.
"If you buy a tomato and have to drive it here from Mexico or Florida, there's a lot of cost and environmental impact in the transportation," Mr. O'Malley said. "If you buy a tomato that was raised in Anne Arundel County, it's safer and tastier, and a larger percentage of that dollar goes to Maryland farmers," he said.
In the past few years, the local foods movement has gained wide popularity across the country. Many "locavores" buy directly from regional farms because of the food's nutritional and organic value. Grocery stores that cater to organic tastes, like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, also have seen a growing consumer demand.
In Maryland, residents said they would prefer to eat locally.
According to a University of Baltimore study, 78 percent of Marylanders surveyed said they would be more likely to buy produce grown from within the state, and 48 percent said they would be willing to pay at least some sort of premium for that produce.
At the governor's mansion, Maryland farmers were on hand to share their locally prepared foods. The beef came from cows in Hartford County, the corn on the cob was pulled from stalks in Calvert County and the watermelon was grown near Salisbury.
"It's very important for Marylanders to support our farmers. As long as the farmers make a profit, it will be easier for them to keep their farms," said Roger Richardson, Maryland's Secretary of Agriculture.
This is the first year the entire state will participate in the Buy Local Challenge. Last year, Anne Arundel County and Maryland's southern counties participated in the first challenge organized by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission.
Given the recent outbreak of salmonella in tomatoes and other vegetables, Maryland's deputy secretary of agriculture, Buddy Hance, said more people are realizing the advantages to buying local.
"With the food scares going on, people are getting concerned about where there food is coming from and how it gets produced," Mr. Hance said. "They have confidence when they buy from a local farmer that it's a good product at a good price."
Anne Arundel produce
Many Anne Arundel County businesses are eager to join the Buy Local Challenge.
The latest estimates from the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation counted 432 county farms located on more than 35,000 acres of land. Most of these farmers distribute their produce through county's farmers' markets and retailers.
At the farmers' market stand on the corner of Riva Road and Harry S Truman Parkway in Annapolis, Tracys Landing farmer Gail Wilkerson said her stand's business is growing.
"We've sold a lot today," she said. "This morning we had twice as many fruits and vegetables."
Just last week, county leaders opened their seventh farmers' market at the Westfield Annapolis Mall. Most of the stands will schedule special promotional offers and events throughout the Buy Local Challenge. The county is hoping these incentives will draw new consumers to the markets.
"Anne Arundel County has a wide variety of locally grown products available at our farmers markets" said County Executive John R. Leopold. "I encourage everyone to continue to support our local farmers by taking the Buy Local Challenge."
Farmers' markets are not the only businesses signing up for the challenge. A number of area restaurants also are joining in to serve up a week's worth of dishes, using locally grown products.
At the b.b. Bistro in West Annapolis, restaurant owner Carla Lucente said she expects to have an assortment of locally grown breakfast and lunch meals prepared for this week's menu. The ingredients will come from a community supported agriculture farm in Galesville and from her restaurant's own yard.
"We have an organic herb garden in our front garden, and we raise spinach and tomatoes out back," Ms. Lucente said.
In total almost 20 restaurants and food service businesses will participate in the challenge.
In addition, a few restaurants will participate in an agricultural education day at the Knightongale Farm in Davidsonville on July 26th. The event will feature demonstrations on how to cook with fresh produce.
Do it yourself
Other locals are taking a hands-on approach to the Buy Local Challenge.
Instead of heading to the produce aisle of her local grocery store, Debb Stevens, a resident of Severna Park, heads to her family's garden plot to pick fresh tomatoes, snow peas and sweet potatoes.
Ms. Stevens decided to join the Kinder Farm Park's community garden in Millersville four years ago. While she enjoys gardening, she also uses the produce to stock her refrigerator.
"There's always more than enough tomatoes so I always give some away to friends," Ms. Stevens said.
Severna Park resident Lynnley Moore was working in the Kinder Farm garden alongside her young daughter Hannah. They participate in the garden's weekly apprentice garden program, taught by Anne Arundel Master Gardeners.
"Sometimes I will think I don't have to buy as much if I can come over here and grab some fresh herbs," Ms. Moore said.
Kinder Farm Park is one of only a few community gardens in the Annapolis area, offering both the experienced and amateurs opportunities to grow their own produce. The garden is open to all county residents, and almost every fenced-in plot is filled with tall leafy greens.
"We get people from all over the county," said the park's superintendent, Bill Offutt. Kinder Farm rents out garden space for a small fee each year, and Mr. Offutt said the program remains popular, now more than ever.
"We've found that we have a waiting list of about 25 people," he said.
Helen Loughrey, an executive consultant with Annapolis Community Food Gardens, wants to see the county add more garden space within neighborhoods. Her consulting company recently was formed to help residents find grants and public space for food gardens.
"We noticed there was a lack of community gardens in our area as compared to other towns," Ms. Loughrey said.
Larger cities like Baltimore and Washington, D.C., have seen an increase in the popularity of urban farming, and most of these community gardens fill the void of a vacant property.
The City of Annapolis said it has strong interest in starting similar gardens, but Recreation and Parks Director LeeAnn Plumer said recent proposals have not succeeded so far.
"The challenge that has prevented us from moving forward is the lack of available space, or open park land, to offer families and individuals for gardening purposes," she said.
Plans however are moving forward on another community garden similar to Kinder Farm Park.
The county is moving forward with plans to turn a portion of the old Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills into public gardening plots available for rent.
Still, Ms. Loughrey hopes her company can secure the necessary support to begin forming smaller community gardens located within the middle of densely populated neighborhoods. She said these gardens are the best way to cut down on carbon emissions and energy costs, while at the same time building a stronger community identity.
"Basically, everyone's out there in the garden. It's not just a place to grow food; it's a place to hang out," Ms Loughrey said.
Aside from the environmental and community benefits, Ms. Loughrey said she hopes more people view community gardens as a place to grow their own produce.
"When I talk to people they think it's a nice thing to do for the environment, they think it's nice for gardeners, but I don't think people have started thinking of it as a second source, other than the grocery store, for food," she said.
To find out where you can purchase locally grown products during this week's "Buy Local Challenge," please visit: www.buy-local-challenge.com.
Copyright © 2007 Capital Gazette Communications, Inc.