“Buy local.” The phrase is a newer addition to our vocabulary, a call for folks to support small businesses in our own communities rather than rely on large global imports.
I don’t remember my family being urged to buy local when I was a child. But I do remember the Veggie Man. I’m not sure that I ever knew his name, or exactly which farm he came from, but during the late 1980s the Veggie Man regularly brought his farm truck loaded with fresh produce up Route 2 and all the way to the end of our neighborhood street. He’d leave the truck running as my mom and I came out to buy fruits and vegetables.
I can still feel and smell the warm exhaust from the back of the idling truck as I sat on its tailgate eating sweet, snappy green beans while my mom made her purchases. I haven’t forgotten those green beans—better than any I’d tasted.
I also remember eating succotash made with corn and lima beans grown by my Great-Uncle Bob in Carroll County. Uncle Bob grew up on a farm as one of 10 children, and they all worked. I could not explain how he could make (gasp) lima beans taste so good. I concluded they must be special because they came from a farm instead of the grocery store.
The most memorable local food from my childhood was, of course, crabs. Off our pier on Cypress Creek, we caught crabs the lazy way: with a trap and a keeper sitting on the mud bottom with chicken necks inside for bait. When we’d collected enough over a few days, we went through the exciting maneuver of transferring the crabs from trap to bucket on the pier (sometimes losing a feisty one right off the pier) and from bucket to steamer in the house (sometimes chasing an escapee around the kitchen floor).
Those crabs couldn’t get much fresher, and I’ll admit, I was spoiled. We ate crabs every two weeks, at least. Whatever meat we got too full to eat, my mom would patiently sit and pick to be frozen for a future crab imperial dinner.
While we didn’t go out of our way to eat “local,” doing so shaped a lot of my childhood food memories.
Today, it often takes a concerted effort to buy local. Grocery chain delivery services and produce shipped in from faraway places often make it more convenient to shop the vast selection of imports rather than seek local options.
For Maryland’s annual Buy Local Challenge, launched 13 years ago in Southern Maryland and now promoted statewide, we asked photojournalist and young father Mark Hendricks to eat something produced locally every day for a week. He enjoyed the assignment, to say the least.
We hope you enjoy reading about his inspired choices and challenge yourself to dine on the local bounty of Chesapeake Country, too.