Are you up for the challenge?
By Chelsea Harrison
Here’s a fun summer taste test: buy two tomatoes, one from your local farmers market or farm stand and one from a chain grocery store. I bet you won’t have any trouble telling them apart; the local Maryland tomato is bright red, it feels heavy with the weight of its own juice, it might even have a few tell-tale bumps or splits from its journey from seed to soil to sun to you. This tomato has lived a little.
The grocery store tomato, on the other hand, is a nauseated not-quite-pink-or-red. It is lighter and while it may be free of bumps or blemishes, it has no character, no pride, no sun-ripened glory. And all this is just from looking at them. I don’t think I have to tell you what happens when you taste them—there is no comparison. It’s as if they are different species.
Buying fresh, locally produced food can make all the difference, especially for summer crops that Maryland is famous for like corn and tomatoes. As the “locavore” (eating all or mostly locally-grown foods) movement has taught us, buying local is best—for local economies, for taste, and often, for your wallet.
BUY LOCAL CHALLENGE
Are you ready for another challenge? July 22 through 31 marks the 15th Annual Buy Local Challenge, sponsored by the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission (SMADC). During the Buy Local Challenge (BLC) week, participants are encouraged to purchase food and goods from local farms, farmers markets, farm stands, wineries, grocers, makers, and markets that stock genuine local products.
Participants can pledge their support for the BLC on the event’s website, buylocalchallenge.com, which also enters you into the drawing for a prize pack. SMADC is also sponsoring a photo contest; 10 winning photos shared on Facebook or Instagram that are tagged #BuyLocalChallenge will be selected to win an insulated totebag.
BUY LOCAL EVENTS
Several local events help celebrate the Buy Local Challenge this year. To kick off BLC Week, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC) and Arundel Ag are hosting Arundel Grown—A Farm to Table Tasting at Great Frogs Winery on Wednesday, July 20 (5-8pm). The tickets range from $30 (for producers) to $60 (general public) and includes a 100-percent locally-sourced meal including Herb-Marinated Flank Steak, Asparagus & Haricot Verts with Herb Dip, Eggplant Caviar on French Bread Toast, Maryland Crab Cocktail, Rockfish Bites with Remoulade Sauce, and much more, as well as two glasses of Great Frogs wine included with ticket purchase (additional wine available for purchase.)
The Arundel Grown event has the added twist of being a networking event, where vendors and producers can connect with hospitality and restaurant industry buyers. Producers and buyers will also receive a contact list of all industry attendees for follow-up contact after the event.
SMADC ‘s Buy Local Challenge 15th Anniversary Celebration will close out the week. This event will be held, rain or shine, on Monday, August 1, from 5:00-9:00 pm at Serenity Farms in Charles County. The event is free and open to all who pre-register for tickets. (There is a limit of 1,000 tickets, and they are available online now.)
The farmers market-style event features 50 local farms and artisans, selling everything from Crabby Corn popcorn to botanical jewelry to farm fresh produce and flowers. FLYT featuring Ryan Forrester will provide live music. The event will also feature food trucks and activities for the whole family such as carriage rides from the Suttler Post Clydesdales, pony rides, a petting pen, and local meat and oyster tastings. The first 900 guests will receive a Buy Local insulated tote, and all guests will be entered into the free raffle with prizes donated by vendors.
Serenity Farms is excited to be hosting the event for the first time. “We are proud to host this amazing event,” says co-owner Franklin Robinson. “As a farming family that has been in Southern Maryland since the 1700s, we are totally committed to not only selling and promoting local meats and produce to our neighbors, but we are also committed to inviting the public in to see a real working farm. We think it is very important to make the larger population aware of the farm culture of Maryland as a whole but specifically of Southern Maryland.”
While the SMADC events have been going strong for years, other local groups have joined in on the fun, including Maryland governors. “The Buy Local Challenge Week originated from SMADC 15 years ago, and then the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Governor’s Office joined in as well,” explains SMADC Director Shelby Watson-Hampton. “It’s an annual collaborative effort to celebrate Maryland’s local farmers, producers, and small businesses.”
Both former Governor Martin O’Malley and the current Governor Hogan have hosted kick-off events for Buy Local Week in the past, and while those events were on a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the tradition resumes this year. The 2022 Governor’s Buy Local Picnic will be held at the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The invitation-only event includes farmers, producers, and agricultural supporters from all over the state.
WHY BUY LOCAL?
Buying local is obviously a great way to support local businesses and farmers, and there are many other benefits consumers may not realize.
“Buying local is important to farmers because it sustains us. Agriculture, in this region especially, has grown from predominately a tobacco monoculture to a diversified farming culture including production of local meats and produce, agritourism, wineries, and distilleries. Farmers need local dollars and customers to survive and the public needs to be aware of this and hopefully support us,” says Robinson of Serenity Farms.
Buying local is better for the environment because it requires less fuel to transport the food, resulting in less pollution. Local food also tastes better and is better for you; food is at its peak flavor within a day or two of being picked, and also retains more of its nutrients the more recently it has been picked.
Professional chefs often tout their preference for working with in-season, locally-grown ingredients. Celebrity chef Michael Symon said, in an interview with TribLive, “For me, going [CH1] to farmers markets or my local green grocer is half the fun. I get inspired by the huge variety of familiar and unfamiliar ingredients. I come up with new dishes in my head and then rush to my kitchen to try them out.”
Supporting local farmers and vendors by buying directly helps them receive the most profit for their work, which they in turn spend in local economies, reinvesting in the community.
David and Vicki Haberkorn own and operate Morris Hill Farm in Tracy’s Landing. They primarily sell their products through farmers markets. David Haberkorn describes the rewarding relationship between vendors and customers built every week at the markets. “I have people that stop by every week, even if they don’t need anything, just to say hi…those faces that I see every week become friends.”
Haberkorn also describes how buying locally-sourced products from small businesses also helps consumers know where their food is coming from. “The majority of local farmers in this area, we put husbandry of the animals first, we take better care of them…when you circle back to it, you can’t buy chicken or pork as good as ours in any store. The eggs are actually fresh this week. [Chain grocery stores] do not replicate that, it’s just not the same. When you support local farms, there is nothing bad about it.”
FARMERS MARKETS: YOUR ONE STOP SHOP
If buying local is not a habit for you and you want to participate in BLC this year, visiting your local farmers market can be a great start. Many farmers markets are not just fruits and vegetables. It is certainly possible to source a week’s worth of meal ideas from a single market.
Visiting farmers markets is also a fun, wholesome activity for families, and vendors are friendly and helpful in answering questions about their products. Markets often have live music, demonstrations, food trucks, product sampling, and other activities that make a local shopping trip into an experience rather than an errand.
The Haberkorns sell their Morris Hill Farm eggs, chicken, and pork products weekly at Severna Park Farmers Market, Honey’s Harvest Farmers Market, and Anne Arundel County Farmers Markets. David notes that markets are often the highlight of their week. “Farming is not easy work so when you actually get to see somebody that appreciates what we’re doing, it’s uplifting for us….Besides family time, it’s the highlight of what we do.”
Need some more ideas on where to purchase your locally-produced food for BLC week? SMADC has you covered with their So. Md, So Good: Buy Local Guides on their website. Covering Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties, these guides not only cover all farmers markets but also farm stores/stands and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture). Why not make a week of it and see how many you can visit during BLC week?
Whatever your dietary preferences–carnivore, omnivore, or herbivore– we can all be locavores. Don’t forget to submit your pledge on the Buy Local Challenge website before July 22, and who knows? Maybe you’ll be inspired to continue your local buying into the rest of the summer. Your tastebuds, and farmers, will thank you.
LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY
Anne Arundel County Farmers’ Market
Riva Rd. & Harry S. Truman Pkwy, Annapolis
Hours: Wednesdays, 4pm – 7pm; May 4-Thanksgiving
Saturdays, 7am-12pm; April 2-December 24
Sundays, 10am – 1pm; Year-Round
Crofton Farmers Market
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, 1800 Seton Dr., Crofton
Hours: Wednesdays, 3pm – 7pm; May 5-Oct. 27
Glen Burnie Farmers Market
Town Center, 101 Crain Hwy. N, Glen Burnie
Hours: Thursdays, 4pm – 7pm; June 2–Sept. 29
Honey’s Harvest Farmers Market
Honey’s Harvest Farm, 5801 Brooks Woods Rd., Lothian
Hours: First Sunday of the month: 11am – 3pm
Luminis Health (Anne Arundel Medical Center)
Anne Arundel Medical Center 2001 Medical Parkway, Annapolis
Hours: Fridays, 10:30am – 1:30pm; July 1–Oct. 29
Mayo Farmers Market
Wild Kid Acres LLC, 731 Central Avenue, East, Edgewater
Hours: Saturdays, Once per month
Piney Orchard Farmers Market
Piney Orchard Community & Visitors Center Stream Valley Drive off Rt. 170, Odenton
Hours: Wednesdays, 2pm – 6pm; June 1–Oct. 26
Severna Park Farmers Market
Ritchie Hwy (Rt. 2) & Jones Station Rd.
Hours: Saturdays, 8am-12pm; April 30–Oct. 29
SoCo Farmers Market
Deale Library, 5940 Deale Churchton Rd.
Hours: Thursdays, 3pm– 7pm; April 14–Dec. 22
Calvert County Farmers Market – Prince Frederick
CalvertHealth Medical Center
130 Hospital Road, Prince Frederick
Hours: Tuesdays, 2:30pm – 6:30pm; April 26 through November 22
Calvert County Farmers Market – Lusby
Sneade’s Ace Home Center
11861 HG Trueman Road, Lusby
Hours: Saturdays, 9am–2pm; May 15–Oct. 23
Calvert County Farmers Market – Dunkirk
Dunkirk District Park
10750 Southern Maryland Blvd., Dunkirk
Hours: Thursdays, 3pm-7pm; April 29-Oct. 19
North Beach Farmers Market
Senior Center Parking Lot
9010 Chesapeake Avenue
Hours: Saturdays, 8 am–11 am, May 1-Sept. 25
TIPS FOR THE FARMERS MARKET
- Bring cash. Not all vendors accept credit card payments and when they do, they are often paying fees associated with credit card processing, therefore lowering their overall profits.
- Bring your reusable bags or produce bags. It never hurts to be eco-friendly on your market trip, and again, vendors are paying for the plastic bags they distribute, so save them some hassle and forego the plastic.
- If you’re going to haggle, do it at the end of the day. Some vendors don’t haggle, as they may already be putting their best prices forward, and that is their prerogative not to haggle. But when the market is closing up, vendors may want to avoid having a lot of stock left and may give some great deals.
- Get there early for best selection. Popular or short-season crops like strawberries and peaches may sell out quickly (or at the Severna Park Farmers Market, those luscious little pão de queijo at Vera’s Bakery).
FARMERS MARKET SAMPLE MENU
This sample meal menu is based on vendors at the Severna Park Farmers Market but could easily be replicated at your local market. This is a great menu for having some friends over for a cookout!
Pão de queijo (a.k.a. “cheese balls”) (Vera’s Bakery)
Crab Delights (Pampered Crab)
Crabby Chip Pickles (Ville’s Dills)
Cheese Plate with a variety of cheeses (My Nana’s Kitchen)
Mixed Grill: Sweet & Hot Italian Sausages, Chicken Thighs, Chicken Breasts (Morris Hill Farms)
Sliced watermelon (Hochmuth Farm)
Corn on the cob (Zahradka Farm)
Quick-pickle cucumber & onion salad (Zahradka Farm) (Thinly slice 2 cucumbers and 1 onion, add to pickling liquid of 1 part vinegar, 2 parts water, mix in 1 tsp sugar, salt and pepper to taste, marinate for 30 min. or more in the fridge.)
Brioche rolls (The Breadery)
Baltimore Bomb Pie is a pie made with (locally made) Berger Cookies (Dangerously Delicious Pies)
A colorful bouquet or two of locally-grown flowers (Joyce’s Flowers)
“Oh My Garden” Hand-poured small batch soy candle (Evie & Park)…smells just like a tomato (the legit kind)
Are you up for the challenge? We want to see all the creative dishes you come up with using your local Maryland products. Send us your recipe and a picture of your dish using (mostly) Maryland raised, harvested, or made products and we will share them on our social media pages. Be sure to tag the farms or vendors where you got your Maryland-made products! Email [email protected] or find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.