DAVIDSONVILLE — A listening session at Maryland Farm Bureau’s 104th-annual convention discussed procurement of Maryland agricultural products by the state.
Buying local is a growing trend, but current processes and infrastructure make it difficult to buy Maryland grown foods.
Delegate Lorig Charkoudian, representing District 20, has been a staunch advocate to reform the current food procurement system by state agencies.
“We spend a lot of Maryland money buying food, and the vast majority of Maryland money spent buying food goes to food grown well outside of Maryland,” Charkoudian said.
According to the USDA, “local food” consists of any food grown within a 250-mile radius. A large portion of food purchased in Maryland comes from North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Charkoudian noted that food production is more expensive in Maryland due to farmers taking on additional costs to protect the Chesapeake Bay. She argued the state should be investing their money back into the local economy when purchasing food.
Charkoudian and state Sen. Katie Fry-Hester of District 9, are preparing legislation to address two of the main issues in the current food procurement system: distinguishing Maryland farmers from other “local” farmers and building out local aggregators.
Phase one consists of establishing a preferred local farmer procurement program, based on nutrient management participation and other standards for which Maryland farmers already qualify. The legislation would create an office within the Maryland Department of Agriculture to house the program and create a requirement for state agency contractors to reach out to local farmers for food procurement.
Phase two would focus on creating a grant program to build out local aggregation systems around the state. Through these local processors, small farms could work collaboratively to satisfy larger contracts.
In November, the Maryland Farm Bureau Board of Directors sent a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan in support of this initiative.