Maryland State Lawmakers Look For Ways to Invest in Local Farms
Maryland state lawmakers are looking to invest more money into their food system, with their new Certified Local Farm Enterprise Program.
Delegate Lorig Charkoudian says the legislation is aimed at state agencies like schools and prisons that make large food purchases.
“It became clear that we needed to restructure the way that procurement was happening, that the lip service to, the promotion of we want our agencies to buy local wasn’t working with the systems in place. The second thing we found was that to the extent local purchasing was happening we often saw it happening to neighboring states.”
She says farms are eligible if they meet Maryland’s nutrient management requirements, so even neighboring states can participate if they choose to match the rigorous standards that Maryland farmers have in place to protect the Chesapeake Bay.
“Once that standard is in place, we have the ability to direct all of our procurement processes to require every subcontractor, every contractor applying to be a food provider to a Maryland state agency has to demonstrate that they have attempted to purchase 20%, and it’s a stretch goal, but 20% from certified local farmers.”
But before they can reach that goal, they need to get farmers onboard with the program, run by the state department of agriculture.
“It’s the chicken or egg kind of scenario, how do you get the buyers interested saying look what we have available in Maryland, when they say well what do you have available or what is the seasonality that’s often what we hear.”
Charkoudian says they plan to address other challenges as they arise…
“So part of what we decided as imperfect as this might be is let’s start doing it, let’s force the conversation and we expect in the short term that there will be at least some additional local procurement and over time we will learn more and more about what the other barriers are and we can respond to those with structural investments.”
The bill also established a grant fund to help small and medium sized farmers aggregate product for the purpose of selling to institutions that need to buy in bulk.