The Western Maryland RC&D Council and The Western Maryland Food Council (WMFC) have been awarded $26,300 in FY2022 MAERDAF grant funding from the Rural Maryland Council in order to implement the Western Maryland Food Resiliency Project. WMFC serves Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties by assisting organizations with planning and implementing food system projects. At the WMFC’s 2021 Food System Conference, the following topics were identified as areas of need in the region: communication between farmers and restaurants, greater information about community gardens, a better understanding of agriculture education in the region, an understanding of the needs of food pantries and more coordination of the food system in western Maryland.
In response, The Western Maryland Food Resiliency Project is creating several resources aimed at bolstering the local food system in western Maryland which will be made available on the WMFC website:
Creating a farmer to restaurant forum – A forum will be established to facilitate education and communication between farmers and restaurant employees. The forum will encourage restaurant employees to become familiar with the farmers and farming methods used to produce local fresh fruits and vegetables, while increasing farmers’ knowledge of the needs of restaurants. Interacting with chefs will allow farmers to share their stories and learn more about the products, volumes and storage concerns of the restaurants. The forum will lead to the greater integration of locally produced meats, produce, and valued added products into our local restaurants. This in turn will increase farmer sales, improve food system resilience, and raise public awareness of the importance of buying and eating locally produced and prepared foods.
Creating a directory of agriculture education resources – Several organizations provide agriculture education across the three-county area. The education takes the form of formal and non-formal education and happens from elementary age children to college age young adults. Many organizations target specific groups of children based on age and economic factors. No directory of these resources exists. A directory will provide a way for individuals and organizations looking to provide agriculture education to be able to find the needed resources.
Creating a directory of community gardens and resources – Multiple organizations provide space, coordination and resources for community gardens. Community gardens facilitate healthier living through increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, greater self-reliance and food security, connection to community, stress relief, opportunity for intergenerational bonding, and increased physical activity. Important life lessons can be learned in the garden including the value of hard work, patience, and perseverance. Often community gardens set the stage for parents and grandparents to pass on their values as well as general gardening knowledge. A directory of community gardens and resources will allow organizations to better assist communities and individuals interested in participating in or developing community gardens.
Surveying food pantries to identify needed infrastructure for handling local foods – It has been reported that local food pantries would like to utilize more local fresh produce, however they often cite a lack of storage as a factor preventing them from doing so. Greater food pantry utilization of local produce would allow farmers to provide fresh product to those in need and to reduce potential food waste. The survey will define what the specific needs of food pantries are for handling local fresh produce. Once the survey is completed, organizations can start to assist food pantries with obtaining the needed infrastructure.