ESLC conference tackles resiliency in local food systems

AFP Correspondent

STEVENSVILLE, Md. (Dec. 20, 2016) — Josh Hastings remembers when small farms dotted the landscape of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, producing rich-tasting watermelons for roadside stands among a diversity of crops.
But, as the policy manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, he wants to ensure the landscapes his organization helps preserve have something to grow well into the future.
That’s one of the reasons the conservancy’s 17th annual conference focused on food this year, taking a closer look at what “healthy, sustainable and realistic” approaches are the right fit for farming and food systems on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
The agenda for the conference on Nov. 10 at the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club focused on how renewed local food systems could provide new economic opportunities for Maryland’s rural communities.
As the director of the Mid-Shore Food System Coalition, Neoma Rohman is tasked with improving that food system by promoting better access, better nutrition and more resilient farms and farmers in the region. During her presentation, she posed some key questions to the audience: “How is it that 50 percent of the state’s in farmland and 1 in 10 is food insecure? Can the community be resilient if 90 percent of the market is tied to a single (farmed) product? How do we do sustainability if the average age of our Maryland farmers is over 60?”
These are the questions Rohman’s organization tries to tackle, and she said robust local food systems as a potential solution. About 30 percent of residents on the Eastern Shore live on less than $44,000 for a family of four or in a food desert with limited access to healthful foods. But just 7 percent of the state’s population inhabits the area, making it less of a priority for government programs than densely populated urban areas where a dollar goes farther.
That’s one of the reasons Rohman thinks the solutions need to come from within, where a community investing in its own infrastructure and people can make a big difference.
Some of the solutions could also come from history, a pair of professors pointed out during their presentations. Garrett Graddy Lovelace, a professor at American University in Washington, D.C., revealed “how we got here” from farming’s roots in colonialism, which helps explain why Americans still don’t value the farm labor that was long assigned to slaves.
Solomon Katz, professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, charted a different course through history by following humans’ anthropological tendencies and tastes to modern day.
“When we eat our lunch today and talk over food, we are stimulating a whole system that makes us trust one another,” he said.
Attendees also got the chance to hear diverse perspectives on food access, the environment and food production from key stakeholders during a lightning round. Beth McGee, director of science and agricultural policy at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, shared about a new calculator her organization has released to help people determine their bay “food-print,” or how what they eat effects water quality.
Trey Hill, owner of Harborview Farm on the Eastern Shore, talked about the successes of large-scale agriculture and its ability to feed a lot of people on less land.
“If the average person eats 110 pounds of poultry annually, that’s 33 million people fed just from the Delmarva Peninsula,” Hill said.
Hill also dabbles in new types of farming by leasing some of his land to a community supported agriculture program that grows produce for local residents.
“The CSA is actually a complement to what I do,” Hill said. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount from it, and (the farmer) has learned from us, too, how we grow corn better. I think there’s a really good opportunity to have both.”