Farmers and consumers in Maryland and throughout the U.S. are encouraged to participate in Buy Local Challenge Week.
Maryland’s 5th annual Buy Local Challenge kicked off Thursday at Governor Martin O’Malley’s mansion with a cookout decked out with—you guessed it—local foods. After the event, more than 3,000 Marylanders had signed a pledge to participate in Buy Local Challenge Week (July 23 to 31, 2011), in which they committed to consuming at least one local product each day of the week.
“It’s a win-win program,” says Christine Bergmark, executive director at the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission, an organization helping to organize the week’s events. “The farmer wins, the consumer wins, politicians win—everyone wins. … It’s a small investment you can make with your dollar and it keeps farms in business.”
And Maryland, along with the rest of the U.S., continues to face the problem of farmland loss. According to the USDA’s 2007 Agriculture Census, the amount of farmland in Maryland has dropped by nearly 42 percent since 1959 to slightly more than 2 million acres.
The goal of Buy Local Week, however, is to put farm-fresh products at the forefront of consumers’ minds, giving extra visibility to local farms, increasing visitation to farmers’ markets and getting people to think about where their food comes from.
“Our farmers say there is a spike in sales in the time around and after the Buy Local Challenge,” Bergmark says. “It’s our hope to get people exposed to the idea [of buying locally] and trying it.”
Not only does buying from local farmers help the U.S. meet national health goals, it also helps to boost the local economy. If households spend just $12 a week for eight weeks on local products, $10.7 billion are reinvested directly to the nation’s farms, says Bergmark, pulling from U.S. Census data. Plus, she says, local farmers are likely to reinvest that money into the local community. For example, when you buy your cheese from the local dairy farmer, he might use that money to purchase feed from a local farm store.
During this year’s Buy Local Challenge, an emphasis is being placed on the workplace. Marylanders are encouraged to take the official Buy Local Challenge pledge as an office and can enter a photo contest, showcasing how they as an office intend to fulfill the pledge. The most unique entry from a Marylander will receive a catered lunch for up to 20 people and a gift basket of Maryland farm products.
The SMADC and its partner, the Maryland Agricultural Marketing Professionals, are also encouraging participants in the challenge nationwide. Interest in the challenge has already been generated in Virginia, Washington, Florida and Washington, D.C., Bergmark says. Those outside Maryland wanting to promote buying local in their workplace can download promotional materials from the Buy Local Challenge website.
“We hope people will buy local all year round and hope people will buy local while product is abundant across the U.S.,” Bergmark says.