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Chesapeake Farm to Fork: Stewardship in the Kitchen Begins on the Farm

Oct 12, 2016 02:00PM ● Published by Arden Haley

How Anne Arundel County is promoting environmental and culinary sustainable partnerships

By Rita Calvert // Photography by Stephen Buchanan
If you missed Anne Arundel County’s recent Farm-to-Fork event at Historic London Town and Gardens, a recap is in order because there is a movement afoot promoting local sustainability that’s beneficial for both farmer and for feasting at local restaurants. Not only did Mother Nature shine upon event attendees with a gentle breeze across the plethora of blooms as folks marveled at the sparkling glint off the river, the event was “zero-waste,” thanks to Annapolis Green’s founders and cheerleading gals, Lynne Foresman and Elvia Thompson.

Guests recently enjoyed a farm-to-fork experience at Historic London Town & Gardens of county restaurants dubbed “Environmental Stewardship Restaurants” by the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corporation.

Take a look at the photo montage to sense the festive ambiance and vibrant celebration of local food and drink from Killarney HouseLures Bar & GrilleBlackwall HitchAzureHerrington on the BaySoulSkippers PierBAROAKRutabaga Craft JuiceryGreat Frogs Winery, and Chesapeake Brewing Company. The samplings offered small bites of some of our finest: Maryland crab topping Okinawa sweet potato salad with red pepper coulis and greens; seared scallops atop cubes of crunchy bacon; beef Parmagiana sliders; Chesapeake rockfish bites with rainbow chard and shallot cream sauce; Vietnamese garden rolls with four sauces; hush puppy cups filled with fresh succotash; country ham and sweet pepper jam; fried green tomatoes with microgreens; ganache-dipped cheesecake bites; and the freshest of crafted juices with an eco-slant.

Who created such an event, where attendees received a total sensual experience of the Chesapeake’s offerings from establishments honored to achieve ranking as Environmental Stewardship Restaurants?

 

Enter the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC), devoted to creating an environment where business and investment can thrive in our county, one of the fastest growing, not only, in Maryland, but in the nation. Its mission includes:

  • Promoting Anne Arundel County as a premier location for businesses of all kinds
  • Recruiting new businesses to locate here
  • Anticipating and addressing workforce development needs in our business community
  • Advocating for county businesses undergoing regulatory and approval processes
  • Providing financing assistance to county businesses
  • Incentivizing redevelopment and revitalization along older commercial corridors
  • Promoting technology development and attracting start-up ventures through its technology incubator, the Chesapeake Innovation Center
  • Promoting agriculture development and expanding markets for agri-business

Catch that last bullet-point? They work with everyone from entrepreneurial one-person startups, such as the county’s first electric car recharge station, to Fortune 500s like Northrop Grumman,  and a wide array of agriculture-related businesses.

Of the agri-business initiatives, Lisa Barge, Agricultural Marketing and Development Manager, notes a number of creative approaches. “We foster relationships between farmers and restaurants with our Environmental Restaurant Stewardship Program, which connects farmers and chefs. Anne Arundel County and the City of Annapolis have teamed up to certify and recognize “green” restaurants—those that use locally-grown products, implement systems or processes that improve energy efficiency and conserve water, and offer instruction on sustainable practices. The certification program is based on a specific number of earned points to qualify. It is managed by the Annapolis Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs and also offers free technical assistance and resource referrals. Certified restaurants are given website recognition, an honorary decal, and a certificate to display to let their customers know about their environmental efforts.”


Barge adds, “We are working to establish what’s called a Food Hub/aggregation—a system that enables restaurants to get the ingredients they need from local farms. Demand for local ingredients is increasing among chefs and the local community. We need to be able to meet that demand. We routinely get calls from chefs looking for lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, meats. We make the connections happen, linking them to the appropriate farm. A great example—we get special requests to grow specific items and try to follow-through on finding farms that can respond. In one case, we found a farmer that would grow 200 Thai chili plants for a Thai restaurant in D.C.”


Other creative examples have included:

  • AAEDC secured a grant enabling the AAEDC to purchase nine pieces of farm equipment to lease out to farmers
  • Since Maryland Live! Casino wants to go farm-to-table in its dining establishments, AAEDC has been providing connections to assist them in making this happen
  • An agri-tourism work/study group to explore new ways of connecting consumers with farmers and food producers

The underlying philosophy for investing in and supporting local agriculture? First, it’s good business. “For the first time in a long time,” Barge says, “farms in Anne Arundel County have increased. There are 26 new small farms in Anne Arundel County based on the 2012 Census. Many of these are smaller farms [1–20 acres] find their own niche market like growing cutting flowers or produce for different ethnic groups. We are seeing producers increase production—wine, beer, produce, meats, eggs, and other food products are also increasing. This will ultimately provide more return to the farmer.”

It’s not just the farmers who benefit. We all do. AAEDC summarizes:

  • Buying local at farmers’ markets and CSAs (Consumer Supported Agriculture) allows money to go directly to farmers without a middle man. This keeps money circulating in our local economy. In Maryland, if every household purchased just $12 worth of farm products for eight weeks (basically the summer season), more than $200 million would be put back into the pockets of our farmers and this money would re-circulate through the local economy. In Anne Arundel County, more than $19 million of agricultural products were sold based on the 2012 Census.
  • Farmers markets create community and education about where our food comes from, and how it is grown—e.g., what chemicals are used
  • A local producer can focus on flavor and nutritional value without added pressure to adjust for cross-country shipping
  • Local producers—who use farm products and add value—can get creative with food products like jams or salsa, which help to provide a unique experience for the consumer
  • Local farms can also help protect the environment. Green areas that are farmed can recharge our aquifers and cleanse the air. Buying from a local farm cuts down on the distance food travels, reducing the consumption of oil and carbon emissions, which reduces our carbon footprint.
  • Local farms can help you protect your health. Getting to know local farms can give you more awareness and choice about avoiding or reducing chemicals, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or genetically modified seed in your food.

 

Just how far this movement carries into the future and throughout our economy is dependent upon the end consumer and our investment in local, local, local. Through the AAEDC and its growing roster of partnerships, it appears Anne Arundel County is certainly poised with the needed means to achieve this very beneficial end.

Hungry for more?

The AAEDC sponsors many events throughout the year, often occurring at producer locations such as Thanksgiving FarmThe Vineyards at DodonGreat Frog Winery, Farm Day at Honey’s Harvest, and Agriculture (Ag) Appreciation Day at Y Worry Farm.

Additionally, the AAEDC maintains a roster of programs and promotions dedicated to developing and maintaining a vibrant local environment and economy. They include:

  • Farmers’ Markets
  • Harvest Guide
  • Buy Local Challenge
  • Chicken Regulations
  • Agribusiness Workshops
  • Restaurant Stewardship Program
  • Certified Green Restaurants
  • Farm Equipment Program
  • Scrap Tire Disposal Program
  • Agriculture Statistics

To learn more, visit: aaedc.org or call 410-222-7410

As a food writer, blogger, food stylist, Rita Calvert has partnered in writing cookbooks and developed product lines to showcase the inspiration, art and nourishment of food. In the Chesapeake Region, she is a strong advocate of local, sustainable farms.
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