Cathy Allen

Cathy Allen

Did you know that Maryland’s largest commercial industry is agriculture? Producing billions of dollars annually in revenue for the state and employing over 350,000 people. But the average consumers in Maryland are not buying locally and not buying fresh from their local farmers.

Today, Maryland has 100 farms over 7,679 acres of land that are certified organic. In fiscal year 2015, some 296,682 acres on 2,187 properties have been preserved for farming.  This is the result of The Maryland Agriculture Land Preservation Foundation.  Created in 1977 within the US Department of Agriculture is one of the first programs in our nation dedicated to the preservation of agricultural lands by purchasing easements that restrict any future development of farmlands or woodlands.

Through the work of the Foundation, along with state and local partners, by 2022 the goal is to preserve an additional 1,030,000 acres of agriculture land, woodland areas and open space.  In July 2015, fifty nine percent (59%) of land has been preserved, that equates to 608,493 acres of land.

So why aren’t Maryland consumers buying locally from their farmers, when there are fresh organic foods and meats grown and raised in their state?

As the chair of the ‘Grow It Eat It’ agriculture campaign for Baltimore City Extension, University of Maryland, I need to know why.

Is it because of convenience?  Is it because of price?  Or is it because of lack of knowledge in preparing fresh foods?

Let’s explore the pros and cons from buying local at farmers markets verse big business supermarket chains.

Freshness– Produce from local farmers are harvested within 24 hours. Produce in grocery stores are harvested up to 3 weeks before reaching the store shelves.

Refrigerator Life– Produce last up to 3 weeks. Since it is fresher it stores longer and stretches your dollar and with less food waste. Produce in grocery stores only last up to 2 days, costing you money.

Prices– Local Farmers can negotiate on the price, while grocery stores are fixed priced.

Subsidies– Small farms and ranches receive virtually no government assistance. When you buy locally you are paying the real cost of food.  Big agriculture businesses receive generous subsidies on corn, sugar, soy and other crops lowering the cost of processed foods that are high in sugar and fat.

Community Health and Value– Buying locally puts money back into the local economy and keeps rural and urban farming communities financially healthy. Supermarket chains support only big business-most of all dollars leaves the state.

Nutrition– Buying local you know that it is fresh, meaning more nutrients and vitamins and it’s almost like having your own garden without the work.  At grocery stores by time you buy produce it has lost most of its nutritional value and taste.

Miles Traveled– Buying local reduces the carbon emissions by 95%, so the air you breathe is clearer. On average supermarket foods travels  1,500 to 2,500 miles to reach your dinner table.

Health– Eating fresh and local foods lower you intake of fat, sugar and chemicals. Eating chemical based foods causes long-term chronic health problems such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and cancer.

To increase local patronage of farmer markets, The Maryland Department of Agriculture is hosting Buy Local Challenge Week  from July 23 through July 31.  The challenge encourages all Marylanders to eat at least one locally grown or raised product each day of Buy Local Challenge Week.

Listed are links and directories for buying locally at farmers markets and recipes to assist you in buying local and buying fresh.

Cathy Allen is an award-winning Urban Environmentalist, the co-creator of G.R.A.S.S. (Growing Resources After Sowing Seed) as well as Chair of the “Grow-It Eat It” campaign. G.R.A.S.S. is an environmental entrepreneurial nonprofit program based on the fundamentals of gardening, agriculture and ecology. In conjunction with Baltimore City Public Schools, Allen’s campaign has planted over a half-million trees on the lawns of Baltimore City public schools.