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Resolve to support local agriculture this year

December 26, 2011

I have been watching with a lot of interest lately the news reports about both “Made in America” and “Making a Difference” features.

It is fascinating to me how novel these ideas seem to be to the folks doing the reporting. I guess because I was raised in a community that still values and emphasizes the Judo-Christian work ethic, I don’t find hardworking Americans or generous Americans an anomaly.

I did have to chuckle when an unnamed news anchor was in Iowa covering the recent Republican presidential debate and she made a detour to a grocery store to do a “Made in America” segment. She seemed genuinely amazed that products in the market were of American origin and even more surprised at the Iowa wine. I guess she thought California or France had a corner on the wine business.

I assume she also had little idea she was standing in one of the leading corn-, beef- and pork-producing states in the nation. To be fair, she is not the only American that takes her safe, plentiful, cheap domestic food supply for granted.

I must say I never actually thought of food as “Made in America” only because I don’t think of agriculture the same way I look at manufacturing. There are still a lot of products that are made right here in the USA.

And while you can get imported food here, why would you? OK, you might be able to convince me that certain products are not available from local or national sources, but there would be very few. Just for the record, American lamb is available even if many retailers choose to sell New Zealand lamb.

So, just like the “Made in America” challenge, I would like to challenge you to do something along the lines of the buy local campaign. Many of you will be making New Year’s resolutions, and I would suggest that one of them be supporting local agriculture.

Any easy place to start would be to incorporate local food into your grocery budget at least once per month for the next year. For those of you with more ambition, try to incorporate local food on your menu every week during the growing season. And for the most ambitious, include a homegrown item on the table as well.

As I wrap up, let me define a few things.

First, what is local? Preferably grown in Washington County — if not, at least here in the valley.

Second, the growing season is generally accepted to be May 1 to Nov. 1. Of course, in any given year the weather can shorten or lengthen it.

Lastly, growing something yourself — try something simple like a tomato or an herb.

Now you might say, OK, I understand supporting local farmers by purchasing local foods, but what purpose does growing something yourself serve?

I believe it is important for consumers to understand what it takes to grow food. If you do any or all of these things, I believe you will never look at food the same way again.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at jsemler@umd.edu.

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