Lunch, courtesy of Maryland

Cookout in Annapolis celebrates the good taste and good sense of buying local produce

July 19, 2008|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

The tables were heaped with the summer treats: corn on the cob, barbecued chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs and watermelon. And all of the food - and wine - served at a cookout at Government House yesterday afternoon was produced in Maryland.

The celebration marked the beginning of a week designated by the state to encourage people to eat locally grown produce, meats and dairy products.

"We challenge all Marylanders in this week, the peak of the growing season, to feed their families local foods," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, noting that buying local foods benefits the environment, supports small farmers and bolsters the state's economy.

"When you buy a tomato that has traveled 1,500 miles, a much larger portion of your money goes to gasoline," O'Malley said. "When you buy a tomato from a local farm, more of your money goes to support the farmer."

Farmers from across the state, environmentalists and buyers from large grocery chains joined officials from the Maryland Department of Agriculture at yesterday's event. As a steel drum band played in the intense heat, farmers chatted about how they have benefited from the growing interest in locally grown produce.

"People are realizing that it's good for you to support neighbors" by buying from local farms, said Ned Sayre, who raises Black Angus cattle on his Churchville farm. "Plus, in many cases, it's just better food."

Luke Howard, who runs an organic vegetable and grain farm in Queen Anne's County with his wife, Alison, said that recent food-safety scares - such as this summer's salmonella outbreak - have spurred more people to choose produce grown at small farms by people they can trust. Like many farmers at the event, he said that it was important to his customers to know the person who grew their food.

Buyers for retail chains said that consumer demand is prompting many stores to sell more locally grown food.

"It's just the right thing to do," said Ed Mandl, a regional produce buyer for Wal-Mart who attended the event. "How much fresher is it going to be if we can pick it today and sell it tomorrow?"

Kim Coble, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said consumers protect the bay when they choose local. Trucking produce and livestock across the country, and keeping it cool on the journey, generates much more pollution than, say, transporting corn from Rosedale to Baltimore. In addition, supporting farms preserves green space and protects land from development.

"A well-managed farm is a lot better use of land than a development," Coble said.

The local-food trend has been a boon to the region's farmers, said Mark Powell, a spokesman with the state Agriculture Department. "If this continues, I think we'll see local farmers increasing production," he said.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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