Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Local Food Hub - One More Reason to Love Howard County

There is a general misconception about farming and local produce: Just because you live near a farm doesn't mean supermarket produce can be more locally sourced.  In fact, most of largest farms almost exclusively produce soy, which is then used as a component part for processed food, food for livestock, and textiles.  As far as I know, we don't have any farms in Howard County that produce tomatoes, broccoli, string beans, or onions for regional distribution (but am open to correction).

Nevertheless, as discussed earlier, there is a market for local produce with premium pricing for those looking to buy it.  If a supermarket tomato is 40 cents, a local grower may be able to sell it for 60-70 cents.  That's not just feel-good nostalgia.  The food tastes different.  I will always remember the first "Jersey Tomato" I had from my father-in-law's garden.  I thought to myself "so this is what it's supposed to taste like?"  But in spite of living in an agricultural and having the desire to eat more locally grown food, many of us belong to CSA's from outside of the County, getting food from as far away as Pennsylvania.

Credit: David Nitkin
As noted by Luke Lavoie with the Patuxent Media Group, on Monday, County Executive Ken Ulman announced a new initiative that will establish a local "food hub" that will "collect, store, and distribute" locally grown food for local buyers.  This will be paired with legislation to "hire of a full-time food policy director for the county and the creation of a 24-person Howard County Food Policy Task Force, which is first charged with will implementing the food hub."

 This will be a joint project with the Horizon Foundation, which has already dedicated itself to creating healthier eating alternatives for Howard County residents.

The benefits of this program are well described in Luke's piece.  Bringing local sellers together decreases overhead and makes the food more affordable.  Local produce can be sourced back to anti-poverty efforts like the Howard County food bank.  And ultimately, local dollars stay in Howard County.

According to the article, planners expect this hub to be operational in May or June of next year, which seems a bit ambitious to me, but I welcome an early launch.  Interestingly enough, this hub is slated to open around the same time Whole Foods opens its doors, which may prevent some synergistic opportunities as well.

This initiative comes with a $300,000 price tag to launch, which will likely be a source of criticism.  I expect that the Ulman Administration will look to make the Hub self-sustaining, using funds from the sale of produce to keep the operation going.  Overall, I think this is another boost to the quality (if not quantity) of life in Howard County.  Residents should have an alternative to Big Ag (and I say that without casting judgments on the industry).  As I've said before, we may want to pay more attention to what we're eating, how it was made, and how it got to our plate.  The fact that we don't is a perverse commentary on reliance, unearned trust, and community health.

I am very excited about this project and will be following its progress.  The County Executive didn't have to take this on, particularly in the midst of a campaign for Lt. Governor, but I'm glad he did.  This will change the way Howard County eats.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!