Fill your dinner plate with locally grown food

April 29, 2008|By JEFF SEMLER

Spring is here and, with it, the growing season. If you farm or plant a garden, you have been toiling for some time now because, as you know, work starts before the temperature starts to rise.

If you are a consumer (and we all are), then, I hope your favorite time of year is arriving - and that is when we can buy local food for our dinner tables.

David Bennett of the Farm Press reported on a recently released survey by the Center for Food Integrity that showed an alarming number of U.S. consumers are oddly unaware of the role farmers' play in providing food to the world. But, in some instances, the chasm between fact and public perception is so large one hopes those surveyed aren't indicative of the general population.

I trust you are not one of those disconnected from your food supply. Whether you are or whether you aren't, now is the time of year for you to sample the bounty of the county, as well as add fuel to the local economy.


Julie Scharper of the Baltimore Sun reported more cheerful news: "More consumers spurred by environmental concerns, fears of contamination and a desire to know more about the origins of their meals, are choosing food grown or raised close to home. Locavores, as they are called, say local produce contains more nutrients than produce that is picked early and shipped long distances. And, perhaps most important, local food tastes better, they say. For farmers, the locavore movement has brought hope that small family farms can persist, or even thrive, in the 21st Century."

"By buying this (local) food, you're supporting these farms and keeping farms in your community," says Michael Pollan, who has written several books, including "The Omnivore's Dilemma, About the Food Industry." "It's a way to try to check sprawl. And what farmers give to a community is quite extraordinary."

Here are some more reasons to buy local food (adapted from: Growing For Market, 2001):

1. Locally grown food tastes better. Food grown in your own community was probably picked within the past day or two. It's crisp, sweet and loaded with flavor. Produce flown or trucked in from California, Florida or overseas, is much older.

2. Local produce is better for you. Fresh produce loses nutrients quickly. Food that is frozen or canned soon after harvest is actually more nutritious than some "fresh" produce that has been on the truck or supermarket shelf for a week. Locally grown food, eaten soon after harvest, retains its nutrients.

3. Local food preserves genetic diversity. In the modern industrial agricultural system, varieties are chosen to ripen simultaneously and withstand harvesting equipment for a tough skin that can survive packing and shipping, and for long shelf life in the store. Only a handful of hybrid fruit and vegetable varieties meet those demands, so there is little genetic diversity in the plants grown. Local farms, in contrast, grow a huge number of varieties to provide a long season of harvest, an array of eye-catching colors, and the best flavors.

4. Local food supports local farm families. With fewer than two million Americans now claiming farming as their primary occupation, farmers are a vanishing breed. And no wonder - input costs are at historic highs. The farmer now gets less than 10 cents of the retail food dollar.

5. Local food builds community. When you buy direct from the farmer, you are re-establishing a time-honored connection between the eater and the grower. Knowing the farmers gives you insight into the seasons, the weather and the miracle of raising food.

6. Local food preserves the rural character and open space. As the value of direct-marketed fruits and vegetable increases, selling farmland for development becomes less likely. Picturesque barns, lush fields of crops and meadows full of wildflowers will survive only as long as farms are financially viable.

7. If every Washington County household spent just $10 on locally grown farm products for 12 weeks, $8 million could be invested back into our neighboring farms and economy.

When you buy from local farmers, you help to keep Cumberland Valley farms vibrant! So, eat local and enjoy the delicious food available close to home.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at

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