Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More residents want to purchase local produce

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A growing number of upcounty residents appreciate locally grown produce because it tastes better, does not require major fuel consumption to get it to market and circulates money throughout the community, local farmers and agriculture officials say.

The challenge, however, is having enough producers to meet the demand.

‘‘It ensures freshness to have something grown locally,” said John Zawitoski, the director of promotion for the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. ‘‘It also supports the local farmer.”

But farming is labor intensive, and the number of local farmers has not increased to keep up with demand, he said.

Another challenge is that locally produced goods are hard to find at large supermarkets, so residents unable to go directly to the farm or orchard may have trouble finding it.

However, the opening of the Green Earth Goods organic store in the Clarksburg Historic District may help make local goods more available in the upcounty.

Green Earth Goods, as well as similar purveyors of locally grown or organic foods in the county, attempt to shine the spotlight on local products, such as goat cheese from Cherry Glen Farm in Boyds.

A recent spike in the goat population at Cherry Glen Farm convinced owner Diane Kirsch to start producing goat cheese in December.

Kirsch has been breeding hundreds of goats on her farm for decades, but she began to feel bad about throwing out the extra milk they produced after the population spike.

‘‘It is going to taste better than food shipped a long way,” Kirsch said, adding, ‘‘It supports your local community.”

The 400 goats on Cherry Glen Farm produce 700 pounds of goat cheese every week. The public cannot buy the goat cheese at the farm.

Niki Lewis, owner of Green Earth Goods, said that as many as 100 residents have come to her store in recent weeks looking for local cheeses and produce.

Residents can buy locally produced meat, lettuce, mozzarella cheese, honey and soap at Green Earth Goods.

‘‘More money goes to the farmers so that they can actually make a living,” Lewis said.

She said that a higher percentage of the profit from the sale of local goods goes to the farmer because the profits are not tied into a distribution channel.

Green Earth Goods opened in December on Frederick Road at the site of Clarksburg founder John Clarke’s 1780 trading post, which Lewis restored. About 20 percent of all the products sold in the store are grown or produced locally, she said.

On a day in May, Clarksburg resident Fabiana Sivila bought onions, yams, lettuce, soy milk and yogurt from Green Earth Goods. Buying produce that was produced locally is very important, Sivila said.

‘‘If you are buy local food you are making small businesses grow,” she said. ‘‘When they have to import things from far [away] places, the supply sometimes cannot be as good as when you have something right here.”

Producing foods locally also takes on greater importance because of recent food security disasters, Zawitoski said. A mad cow disease outbreak in Canada temporarily stifled the importation of meat from that country last summer. An outbreak of E. Coli disease was found in California last fall, pushing people to buy their spinach locally.

Eating locally produced food gives the community some security because they will not have to depend on unknown food suppliers from across the country or overseas, he said.

Generally, consumers pay a little bit more for locally produced food as opposed to food bought in a supermarket, Zawitoski said.

‘‘People that demand quality are willing to pay a little bit more for that,” he said.

Many traditional orchards, such as Butlers Orchard in Germantown, Rock Hill Orchard in Damascus, Homestead Farm in Poolesville and Lewis Orchard in Dickerson, also grow vegetables. Their produce is available at farm market stores on the farms and through pick-your-own operations.

Woody Woodroof, executive director of Red Wiggler Community Farm in Germantown, sells his produce through seasonal subscriptions and at Green Earth Goods.

Red Wiggler teaches farming skills to developmentally disabled adults. It grows more than 40 different types of vegetables. The climate in Montgomery County is great for producing vegetables for a long period of time and Red Wiggler grows vegetables from May to November, Woodroof said.

Although Red Wiggler does not use chemical pesticides to grow vegetables, the farm does not have organic certification.

Selling vegetables locally allows Red Wiggler to grow a wider variety of produce because the produce does not have to be limited to varieties that can withstand long-distance travel.

‘‘We can chose varieties that are more tender,” Woodroof said. ‘‘They taste better and their nutritional value is greater if food is allowed to ripen on the vine.”

The local farming community is very close and farmers are not in competition with each other, he said. Farmers generally sell as much as they can grow and there is always room for more local farmers.

The Red Wiggler Community Farm sells most of its crops through the Community Supported Agriculture program. Customers register in the winter to receive a weekly box of vegetables, which are delivered to several area locations for pick up. This year’s registration is full.

‘‘I believe we need more vegetable growers in Montgomery County,” Woodroof said. ‘‘There is a tremendous demand for fresh local produce in Montgomery County.”