July 23, 2015

Where and Why to Buy Local in Maryland

Kathlee Freeman

Kathlee Freeman

Research Assistant

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

buylocal-logoBuy Local Week is upon us! Kicking off with Governor Larry Hogan’s Buy Local Cookout on July 16, the challenge to “eat at least one thing from a local farm every day” has been lauded by farmers market organizations, civic groups, and locavores who view eating locally as a way to protect the environment, boost local businesses, and build community. After all, the typical American meal travels an astounding 1,500 miles before it winds up on someone’s plate.

With an estimated 12,000 farms throughout Maryland, and over 1,100 of those selling locally, the Buy Local campaign is a boon to thousands of farming families throughout the state.

So, how do local-loving consumers find farms near them and how do farms reach their audience?

It’s a good question, and one that I recently investigated while updating farm information for CLF’s Maryland Food System Map Project’s “Farms Selling Locally” list. Locating accurate information about each farm involved a juggling act between a multitude of individual farmer-run sites, county lists, and database websites like Maryland’s Best or Local Harvest.

The lack of widespread online marketing initiatives by local family farms is easy to understand when we take into account that, according to the EPA, only 45 percent of farmers classify farming as their main occupation, indicating that they work another job in addition to farming. Maryland farmers, as of 2012, had an average net income of $38,920 per year.  With the majority of farmers spending some of their time in a non-farm industry, combined with limited resources in terms of time and money, it’s easy to see how marketing falls to the bottom of the to-do list.

The world of marketing has also changed dramatically with the advent of social media and the need for an online presence. While maintaining a website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram might be ideal for businesses operating on a shoestring marketing budget, they can also be a time suck for a busy farmer trying to build a digital following while also managing crops and harvesting out in the field.

Despite the difficulties that marketing can present, it’s very necessary if farmers want to tap into local markets. Luckily, there are tons of resources available to farmers to market more efficiently.

 

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