The following was originally posted on the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition’s blog.
All month long, Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (MCAC) has been focusing on why we need a more sustainable agriculture system. With perfect timing, Alicia LaPorte joined our community working to create a resilient and equitable regional food system as Fair Farms’ new campaign manager. We sat down with her to discuss Fair Farms’ vision and why it’s so important for the Chesapeake Bay region.
What is a “fair” food system?
LaPorte explains that Fair Farms is working to fundamentally transform our regional food system to be one that is fair to farmers, invests in homegrown healthy foods and restores our waterways. But what does that actually look like?
“Our vision is that one day, every Marylander will be able to enjoy healthy, delicious and affordable local food that was grown in balance with nature,” she says. “Independent family farmers and farmworkers will make a living wage through tending a diverse variety of crops and animals with minimal external inputs. This type of farming will inherently help to rebuild our soil, fight climate change, protect our health and make our water swimmable, drinkable and fishable once again.”
An ambitious vision to be sure, but LaPorte is confident that it’s possible.
Types of sustainable agriculture practices we want to see in Maryland
LaPorte says Maryland farmers have an opportunity to be recognized as national leaders in preserving our environment through a combination of innovative and traditional farming practices. That work is already underway.
“We are lucky to have some of the country’s most visionary farmers right here in our backyard and they are proving every day that growing food sustainably and building a resilient regional food system can be done,” she says.
The state is already excelling at the utilization of cover crops. LaPorte says that next on the docket is the growing movement to implement a broader array of healthy soils practices — not just for mitigating runoff, but also for developing more productive and healthier crops that work in harmony with nature and offset the growing climate change crisis.
Fair Farms is also working to increase support for Maryland’s small and mid-size family farms in growing a diverse selection of produce, grain and livestock, with an emphasis on an increase in food for people (as opposed to feed for livestock), accompanied by market incentives for local distribution.
“This would promote greater regional food security and our local agricultural economies would be less dependent on the markets of a few commodities – namely corn, soybean and chicken,” says LaPorte. “Unfortunately, agriculture across the U.S. has been increasingly shifting towards industrialized monocultures with dense fields of single crops, sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides. This trend is putting the entire region at risk.”
Sustainable agriculture and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay
“Nothing is more deeply intertwined with Maryland’s history, culture and identity than our relationship with the Bay and its rivers,” says LaPorte. “To save the Bay, we all have to work together, from urban centers to farm fields, and suburban developments to our very own homes.”
Fortunately, all the hard work is starting to pay off – the health of local waterways and the Bay is starting to improve. Still, LaPorte says we have a long way to go.
“The fact is, agriculture plays a significant role in the health of the Bay,” she says. “While other states must also take responsibility, we need reliable farm management practices in place both in Maryland and the whole region to reduce sediment, fertilizer and manure flowing into the Bay. Adopting more sustainable agriculture practices would go a long way in bringing the waterway back to life.”