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Jay Young

Support Your Local Farmer and Stay Healthy

Harford Business Ledger: July 2007

It seems that the news is increasingly filled with reports of scares related to food contamination and a proliferation of warnings and recalls associated with these reports. These incidents seem to occur indiscriminately and affect everything from pet food to food meant for human consumption.

The fact that the source of our food supply has become increasingly international is certainly in part responsible for the phenomenon. I have a client whose local seafood business became so successful that he could not meet the demand using only American resources; plus, labor, benefits, insurance and regulatory compliance costs were so expensive that he was forced to go overseas and establish a plant from which to import crab meat (of course, using foreign labor is hardly unique to the food industry -- have you called for computer tech support lately?). With these changes also comes increased risk of contamination and of a catastrophic event occurring.

Perhaps coincidentally, another phenomenon is developing as a result of the changing times: our local farmers, facing increasing economic challenges, are expanding their own retailing efforts and are more aggressively marketing home grown products to the community. Farmers are also significantly expanding the nature of the products that are available. The Harford County Administration and the County Council have recognized this trend and have broadened the kind of agriculturally-based commercial enterprises that are permitted under the zoning code in an attempt to keep farmers and farming economically viable. It is, therefore, becoming increasingly important for us all to buy locally, both for our own personal safety, and as an effort to support our local farming community and the rural features which drew many people to Harford County in the first place.

It's easy to do this, because there has been an explosion of locally-grown products available at local retail outlets. A partial listing of direct marketing ventures in the agricultural community is available at www.harfordfarms.com, and Harford County also publishes a direct marketing guide.

Our innovative local farmers have created three tiers of retail opportunities. The first includes those farmers who sell their products in more traditional retail stores throughout Maryland; this includes Fiore Winery, whose products may be purchased in 400 stores throughout Maryland; Deer Creek Beef, which is sold at The Mill, Bittner's and Port Side Grille; Hawksville Creamery Cheese, available at Klein's Family Markets; and Darlington Lamb, available at Danny's Country Store.

The second tier consists of a number of farmers that have created "on the farm" retail venues for direct sales to customers; this list includes Kate Dallam's Broom's Bloom Dairy Store, Lohr's Orchard, Brad's Produce, Andy's Eggs at Tower Hill Farm, Belvedere Farm in Fallston, the Vaughn family's Daily Crisis Farm, and more.

The third tier involves local centralized venues created by farmers. Included in this category are the Twilight Market and Farmer's Markets in Bel Air, Havre de Grace and Edgewood. Harford Countys web site also contains a creative "electronic farm" listing 49 selections for flowers, 52 selections for vegetables and 40 farms which provide direct marketing of every kind of agricultural product you can imagine.

Another innovative opportunity is available through One Straw Farm, the largest organic vegetable farm in Maryland, which sponsors a community-supported agriculture program. This program is effectively a cooperative venture delivering to retail locations statewide (a 10 participant minimum is required). This program creates a mutually beneficial relationship between farmers in the community; participants provide funding for the farmer in advance of the growing season and receive fresh home-grown organic produce -- many different in-season items per week -- from June 4th through November 17th. More information on community-supported agriculture can be found on One Straw Farm's web site: www.onestrawfarm.com or the web site of the Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture: www.futureharvestcasa.org.

Jay Young

As concerns increase over the safety of our food supply, the use of chemicals and pesticides, and the worry of just plain not knowing where your food is coming from, shopping at home offers a safe alternative. The Harford County agricultural community should be congratulated for the innovative ways local farmers are adapting to a changing economy. Harford County should also be congratulated for providing assistance to those farmers in making that adaptation. Eat healthy -- stay healthy -- shop locally!

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