November 22, 2017
Roadmap Aims to Revolutionize Maryland’s Food System
By: Katie Miller, Fair Farms Intern
Years in the works, the new Maryland Food Charter explores and quantifies the state of food in the Old Line State. It was created in the hopes of building a more healthy, equitable, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable food system in Maryland. The charter offers recommendations on how multiple entities, from policy makers to food banks and farmers to college professors, can break down silos and work together to achieve this ambitious vision. It looks at production, distribution, access, consumption, and recovery initiatives in the state to guide the conversation moving forward.
Here are five recommendations from the Charter to build a new food system in Maryland:
1. Support Local Producers
Maryland needs to find ways to encourage and support local producers and processors. Unfortunately, there are many hurdles farmers and food processors face in Maryland to achieve success. These challenges include lack of access to land and infrastructure and complicated regulations and zoning rules.
The Baltimore Food Policy Initiative has developed a few programs that take into account ways to support local producers. One initiative leases out city-owned property to urban farmers at a reasonable cost. Since the cost of land for a farmer is growing, access to affordable land leasing is invaluable.
2. Improve Food Distribution
Maryland needs to encourage a thriving infrastructure for delivering food from farm to table. There are multiple avenues that Maryland is utilizing right now to bring healthy, local foods to restaurants and grocers, as well as underserved communities. We need to promote increased investment in these programs.
Chesapeake Farm to Table is a farmer owned and operated food hub that includes over 20 producers and 20 retailers and delivers product right from the hub to the customers. Another Baltimore program is a virtual supermarket that allows senior citizens to order their groceries online while still using their federal food benefits. In a state where 13.6% of senior citizens are threatened by hunger, a tool like this might likely find widespread success if expanded outside of the Baltimore region.
3. Increase Food Access
Maryland needs to continue to support policies that provide healthy, sustainable food in all communities. The charter states that 11.4% of Maryland residents are food insecure. Food insecurity refers to a household’s lack of access to adequate food for an active and healthy life. Improving and increasing food access needs to be approached in a collaborative way that includes local government, small businesses, individuals, and nonprofit organizations.
The Maryland Market Money initiative is a program that generates added revenue for farmers while simultaneously addressing food access and healthy eating in the community. The program provides a double dollar match for customers using federal nutrition benefits, while the farmer receives the amount in full. The state of Maryland created a grant program to transition this to a public-private partnership, but funding for the program still requires Gov. Hogan’s approval.
4. Eat More Healthy Food
Maryland needs to encourage the public to consume healthy foods by making them an easy option. A lot of this is based in education and must be done through collaboration between schools, government, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations. The charter states that 29.6% of Maryland Residents are obese, while nearly 1 in 10 suffer from diabetes. Reaching students in school is an ideal opportunity for encouraging healthy eating early and ensuring that children from all socio-economic backgrounds have access to healthy food at least once a day.
Fair Farms partner Community Foodworks has an Early Learners Market Share Program aimed at getting healthy foods into schools while still supporting local growers. The program takes advantage of Local5, which provides an additional $.05 per child reimbursement for meals containing a local component.
5. Reduce Food Waste
Maryland needs to reduce food waste. According to the charter, the quantity of food wasted every day in Maryland would fill an entire football stadium. We must continue to assess the Maryland Waste Reduction Resource Recovery Plan, and encourage the overall reduction of waste from both individuals and businesses.
In an effort to solve multiple problems simultaneously, the Food Donation Tax Credit Pilot Program was passed to incentivize farmers to donate food that might not otherwise make it out of the field, such as“blemished” produce, or leftovers from farmers markets.The program is economically beneficial to the farmers, and helps bring healthy, wholesome foods to those who are food insecure, all while stopping food waste in its tracks.
Food is central to Maryland. It’s big business — employing tens of thousands across the state — and geographically covers a significant part of our acreage. It impacts our neighbors in Baltimore’s urban core, the remote mountains out West, and along the Bay on the Eastern Shore. The Maryland Food Charter can be used as a guide for encouraging a healthier and more sustainable food system that benefits multiple parts of the system across the state.