When Bay Weekly asked if I would be interested in covering Maryland’s Buy Local Week and take part in the Buy Local Challenge, which would require me to consume something local each day for an entire week, I jumped at the opportunity. I normally eat a pretty clean diet so a chance to indulge a bit in some of the Free State’s most beloved delicacies sounded like a fun, and tasty, challenge.
I normally write about wildlife and the environment, so it was fun to embrace the “wild life” of my inner foodie. Not only did I get to eat some delicious local produce but I also took advantage of local seafood and a dessert. I was able to visit a farm I have been going to most my life (Larriland Farm in Woodbine) and visit a new one (Swann Farms in Owings).
The entire impetuous of the Buy Local challenge is to support Maryland-based agriculture, produce, meat, seafood, and more. Originally conceived by the Southern Maryland Agriculture Commission in 2007 to support local farmers in the region the challenge has now expanded across the entire state.
It’s fun, delicious and allows families to support local farmers and foster an appreciation of where their food comes from. If there’s ever been a time to support our farmers, it’s now.
Day 1: Peaches, Swann Farms, Calvert County (Owings)
Swann Farms is an awesome family farm operated by Joe-Sam Swann, a sixth-generation Maryland farmer. They offer pick-your-own berries, an excellent produce stand, and a stunning field of sunflowers.
The first thing I noticed at their stand was the boxes of peaches—large, plump, marvelous peaches. I learned they were of the John Boy variety and, before I could drool on them, immediately purchased some.
Now what to do with them? Eating a large juicy peach fresh off the tree is a rite of summer, but I wanted to do something special for this challenge that I had never done before. The answer lay in grilling.
The beauty is in the simplicity. I cut the peaches in half, removed the pit, lightly brushed both sides with oil, and grilled each side for 5-6 minutes on high heat. If you thought peaches were juicy before just wait until you grill them. The natural sugars come alive with flavor from the grill’s heat. You can top them with ice cream or some homemade cinnamon butter, but honestly, they are perfect all by themselves.
Day 2: Zucchini, Swann Farms, Calvert County
Did I mention how awesome the produce is at Swann farms? I decided to take some fresh zucchini and slice it thin into chips. I tossed them with some olive oil, laid them on parchment paper and coated them with Parmesan and a little dried basil. My wife and I ate them all in less than 10 minutes. Some people add breadcrumbs to their zucchini chips but I opted out because of what I planned to eat the next day.
Day 3: Smith Island Cake, Eggspectation, Howard County (Ellicott City) Bonus dessert
When I originally decided to take part in this challenge, I wanted to consume a giant piece of original Smith Island Cake from the Smith Island Baking Company. There’s really nothing quite like it.
It wasn’t that long ago I learned that the Eggspectation restaurant in Ellicott City Maryland makes a strawberry version of the beloved classic that is supposedly fantastic.
“Blasphemy!” I said out loud at the thought of strawberry in place of the creamy chocolate. As I did some research, however, I found there are many different varieties of the cake, even an Old Bay version. “Come on, Mark, this is supposed to be a challenge after all,” said my mind. I decided to indulge and boy, am I glad I did. If Smith Island Cake and strawberry creamsicle produced an offspring this would be it. Layer upon layer of pink strawberry cake with alternating layers of creamy white icing and I was in a state of food-induced ecstasy.
Day 4: Corn on the Cob, Swann Farms, Calvert County
I enjoyed grilling peaches so much I wanted to try it again with corn, also purchased from Swann farms. It was perfect. All I did was remove the silk, pull back the husk and soaked the corn for 10 minutes in salted water. I then pulled the husk back over the corn cobs and grilled them over medium heat for 20 minutes, flipping the ears every 4-5 minutes. The kernels were soft and sweet. The temperature of the grill really brought out the sweetness, as before with the peaches.
My daughter asked to take a bite from mine. When I asked for it back, she answered with a strong and affirmative “No, Papa.”
Good thing I grilled four ears!
Day 5: Soft Shell Crab, Roy’s Kwik Korner, Anne Arundel County (Glen Burnie)
How could I take part in this challenge without something crab-related? I asked a friend of mine, Anne Arundel County resident Denise Nooe, where I could get a good local soft-shell crab. Without hesitation she told me to check out Roy’s Kwik Korner in Glen Burnie.
I actually wanted to enjoy some soft-shell earlier in the challenge but when I called, they were sold out. This time I called when they first opened at 10am and ordered a sandwich platter complete with hushpuppies and onion rings.
The seafood industry and watermen are synonymous with the Bay and its culture. Enjoying these delicacies from local establishments support the industry, which is what this week is all about.
Day 6: Playground Legend Double IPA, Calvert Brewing Company, Prince George’s County (Upper Marlboro)
Maryland has a thriving craft beer scene with over 100 brewpubs and microbreweries. I love visiting new brewpubs and trying local beers. For this challenge I decided on Calvert Brewing Company. The beer of choice was their Playground Legend Double IPA, an ambitious double-hopped India pale ale at 9.2 percent ABV (do not operate farm equipment, or any machinery, after consuming this!).
Upon first sip the hops take hold and don’t let go. The flavor is big and bold with notes of citrus and mango. It’s a beast of a double IPA and a very enjoyable drinking experience. My wife, who is not a big IPA fan, loved this beer.
After the beer was finished, I hung up my gear—done for the night.
Day 7: Smoothie made with blueberries & blackberries from Larriland Farm in Howard County (Woodbine)
Larriland Farm in Howard County is one of the largest pick-your-own farms in the state. Throughout the growing season the farm offers a wide variety of vegetables and berries, including gooseberries, as well as many varieties of peaches and apples. I have been picking there since I was a child and I am especially fond of the October tradition of pumpkin-picking and hayrides.
For my last meal of the challenge I considered making a pie or cobbler. Then it dawned on me that the beauty of eating local produce from Maryland farms is the incredible flavors that one can only experience when the food is fresh. So I opted for a smoothie of fresh blueberries and blackberries that was incredibly refreshing on a brutally hot summer’s day. Challenge complete.
One thing this challenge showed me is that it is worth the effort to purchase food straight from the farm. Not only is it much fresher, it also supports farmers and their families. It makes one appreciate the culture and local delicacies of home. No longer should this be a weeklong challenge, but a year-round lifestyle.
You can find ideas for your own Buy Local challenge, plus menus created by area chefs at www.buylocalchallenge.com. Find more on social media by searching for #buylocal.
Thank you to our farmers, brewers, chefs, and seafood producers!