Grant to boost Future Harvest

Associate Editor

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (Nov. 3, 2015) — Tucked inside a long list of USDA grants awarded across the country early last month was $100,000 earmarked for a Baltimore County-based nonprofit, Future Harvest, which dedicates itself to developing a sustainable “Chesapeake foodshed,” as the group says on its website.
The two-year grant was awarded to help the group continue to build new market opportunities for local farm and ranch operations while the nonprofit continues its patchwork effort to build the region’s local food movement, a tough and slow process indeed.
“Even though it seems like there’s a surge of interest in local food, nonetheless, if you look at the percentage of produce that is bought that is local versus something else, it’s minute,” said Sarah Sohn, Future Harvest’s communications and program manager as she sat last week at a picnic table on Clagett Farm in southern Prince George’s County, one of the nonprofit’s member farms.
The grant will allow the group to continue and expand its educational offerings to consumers and farmers as well as recruiting and training farmers interested in joining the local food movement.
Future Harvest offers classes and field days for farmers that range from beginner to advanced, including the Beginning Farmer Training Program, which offers young farmers the opportunity to work with seasoned farmers and connect with the local food scene.
Young farmers learn everything from business planning, agricultural regulations, crop planning and production techniques including crop rotation, soil management and pest control. The nonprofit also offers “field school” events such as an upcoming “farm-to-menu” mixer in Thomas, W. Va., that will bring together farmers and chefs interested in boosting the amount of local food they cook with.
Also important on that list, particularly in the local food scene: marketing.
It’s something farmers aren’t generally known for mastering.
“Obviously, you have to know how to grow things well, and you have to know how to be a good steward of your land,” Sohn said. “But you’re farm’s not going to stick around if you don’t know how to sell [to local consumers].”
Future Harvest also has a yearly conference, one of the region’s largest farm and food gatherings. At the most recent conference, roughly 30 percent of attendees were consumers, Sohn said, and it’s a good place for producers, consumers and other players in the local food movement — such as local restaurant chefs committed to local food and ingredients — to mingle. Future Harvest also holds mixers were producers can learn what local buyers, like restaurants really require to buy local such as a consistency in available product.
Future Harvest is also working through regional groups such as the Maryland Farmers Market Association to reach customers. The grant will allow the nonprofit to improve its social media presence online with new infographics about the local food movement, Sohn said.
But, ultimately, the goal is to get more consumers eating nutritious local food while creating a sustainable future for local farming, both of which would be a boon for the regional economy, she said.
“You’re not just benefitting your local farm,” Sohn said.