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Panel Discussion: Navigating the Local Food Marketplace

By Sarah Everhart and Mayhah Suri

The Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), in conjunction with the Maryland Farm Bureau, hosted “Navigating the ‘Local Food’ Marketplace” in July. Scheduled in conjunction with the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) Buy Local challenge week, the event was designed to help connect local food buyers with local producers in an effort to create more opportunities for local sellers beyond farmers’ markets and community-supported agriculture ventures

After a networking reception featuring local wine, pulled pork, and other locally-sourced snacks, ALEI’s Sarah Everhart opened with a discussion on the popularity of the local food movement and the legal standards for labelling food as local. Everhart described the variety of ALEI legal resources available to the agriculture community, found primarily on the ALEI website.

Stone Slade of MDA followed with a description of the Maryland’s Best program, a marketing program aimed at promoting the sale of locally-grown Maryland products. Slade explained the program’s past success and future goals.

The evening continued with a panel discussion of buyers, including: Chef Jordan Lloyd of the Bartlett Pear Inn; institutional buyer for public schools Beth Brewster of Caroline County Public School; local food distributor Ed Bush of Teddy Bear Fresh; and on-farm market owner Kelly Jackson of Emily’s Produce. All the buyers told attendees why they buy local foods, the types of products they are looking for, and why their customers want to buy locally-sourced foods. Jackson explained that her customers are seeking locally grown foods because they want a relationship or connection with how the foods they eat are grown.

Following the buyers’ panel, a panel of three producers of locally grown foods—Tim Devine of Barren Island Oysters; Kristen Nickerson of Langenfelder Pork; and Judy Crow of Crow Vineyards—shared their experiences breaking into the local food market. The producers agreed that a successful marketing strategy for local foods should include an explanation of the operation. “You have to have a great story. People want to hear why you do what you do,” noted Devine.

The evening ended with a question and answer session with both panels. The conversations brought to light many issues in the local food marketplace. Given the popularity of the event and the interest expressed by several attendees, ALEI is considering repeating this event next year.

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