By Fran Johnson, publisher Harford’s Heart Magazine
Harford County’s Division of Agriculture recently received an Achievement Award at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference in Reno, Nevada, for its “Buy Local” campaign to increase awareness of the availability of local-grown food. The award was acknowledgment of the county’s efforts to support our local agriculture and the hard working farmers who continue the tradition of Harford County’s rural heritage. In addition to the “Buy Local” campaign, that effort has included preserving over 46,000 acres under permanent easement, restricting development and potential non-agricultural use, and the establishment of an Agricultural Magnet Program at North Harford High School.
To be effective, though, the “Buy Local” campaign requires more than painting a slogan on local barns and distributing informational brochures. The fulfillment of the campaign will be a conscious shift in the way that residents of the county think about the food they eat, including how and where they shop for it. We’ve become accustomed to being able to purchase fresh produce all year round. And with that increased availability, we’ve lost touch with the seasonality of crops. The natural rhythm of the growing season dictates a different diet. Every fruit and vegetable has a prime time when it’s at its best: a crisp salad when it’s hot and sunny, a wholesome stew when it’s cold. Spring is the time to focus on the tender, leafy vegetables that flourish in the cool weather including swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, fresh herbs and tender new peas. As the weather heats up, the bright taste of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and plums are a cool counterpoint to the heavy humidity; summer squash, broccoli, cauliflower, corn and tomatoes make for quick meals that keep us out of the kitchen. Autumn is the time to consume the more warming foods, including apples, pears, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, onions, and garlic. Preserving the harvest for the winter months is a seasonal activity that marks the end of summer. Shopping at the local farmers’ markets or local farm stands, or joining a CSA, provides an opportunity not only to enjoy produce at its freshest and tastiest, but also connects us with the people who grow our food.
In addition to the nutritional benefits of food at its peak, there is the unseen environmental benefit that comes from eliminating fuel-consuming transportation. The average food item may travel as much as 2,000 miles to our table, using fuel and losing flavor. Farmers who sell direct to local consumers don’t have to give priority to packing, shipping and shelf life issues and can instead grow crops that offer peak qualities of freshness, nutrition and taste.
Harford County’s “Buy Local” campaign is more than a slogan on a barn, or a bumper sticker. For the farmers who spend long hours planting, tending and harvesting fruits, vegetables, diary products and meats, it’s essential to their economic stability. For the residents who embrace the concept of eating locally and seasonally, it can be a healthier and more natural diet, as well as an increased awareness and appreciation for Harford County’s agricultural traditions.