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Your guide to Chesaeake Country's freshest produce and more!

In Maryland Summer, It’s No Challenge to Eat Local

Local bounty is all around us, with roots in our hearts

Maryland’s Buy Local Challenge makes the typically sultry last week of July one of my favorite times of the year.
    For those of us who take eating locally to heart, it’s no challenge to eat one local delicacy each day from July 20 through 28. Peaches for breakfast, tomatoes and basil for lunch, corn and crab for dinner — plus watermelon for breakfast, lunch and dinner: What’s not to like about that menu? It’s delicious, and it’s convenient.
    So convenient that some of it grows steps from my door.
    We ate our first homegrown tomato this week, combining it with our first homegrown cucumber, some of our small early onions and basil, which is finally leafing out in abundance. A dozen other herbs are seasoning our meals, though not fennel, for it was eaten by the black swallow caterpillars that have now moved onto the parsley.
    Tea and tabouli barely dent our patches of mint and lemon balm. Early garlic and shallots from husband Bill’s fall planting are adding pungency to our cooking. Hot peppers are growing to our gratitude as we fell short on last year’s canning and have been a month without that staple of our diet. Figs big as pears ripen in ones and twos on our brown turkey fig tree, which I hope will give me more and smaller fruit now that it’s enjoying more sun.
    All that — not to mention spring salad days — from our tiny garden! Foraging adds more, from dandelions and wild garlic to mulberries, raspberries and wild blackberries.
    To fill our out the menu, farmers markets and stands are only minutes away. From them we’ve been eating our way through the seasons, from asparagus to peaches to corn, squash and beans. If we miss their open days or hours, we can find local produce at our locally owned grocery stores.
    Maryland has at least 136 Farmers Markets, and all our local ones have now opened for the season. Clip the schedule from this week’s paper for your handy guide to markets every day of the week but Monday, when I shop at Dick and Jane’s Farm Stand.
    Lucky us, we also share in the Bay Gardener’s bounty, from lettuces to cauliflower to Swiss chard to red, yellow and white onions so far this season.
    Nowadays our eggs come from chickens raised just down the road, and a short drive to either Calvert or Anne Arundel will fill our freezer with chicken, beef, pork and lamb.
    So I don’t need the impetus of Maryland’s sixth annual Buy Local Challenge to add local goodness to my meals.
    I bet you don’t, either. But if you do, registering for the challenge is easy and can win you and your local food bank a nice prize: www.buy-local-challenge.com.
    I love the Buy Local Challenge for the full spectrum of local bounty it illuminates. The Governor’s annual Buy Local Cookout brings dozens of local chefs each year to compete for a place in the cookout at Government House and in the year’s Buy Local Cookbook. Each chef partners with local harvesters of farm and Bay. So each year introduces us locavores to more local producers and performers and adds wonderful recipes to our repertories.
    You’ll find my sample of those recipes right here in Bay Weekly, plus instructions on finding the full cookbook.
    This week, you’ll meet Michele Allman, who’s making a business of renting chickens so you can test your dedication to having backyard eggs.
    For each of us, Maryland’s Buy Local Challenge is a personal journey. The challenge takes me back to my roots, reminding me that each of our connections to our food is deep and intimate.
    It wasn’t very long ago that what we didn’t raise ourselves we likely didn’t eat.
    “We were never hungry after we got a cow,” my mother said, encapsulating the struggles and success of her family, 1920 immigrants from Italy. From that cow’s milk and cheese to onions braided in the rafters and potatoes dug from the garden and roasted with coal stolen from passing trains, food was the bond that linked me — and the family I would raise — to the family and culture we never knew.
    I’m not likely to turn farmer or raise backyard chickens. But a cow has me thinking. Not my own cow but a cow share that, if the Maryland General Assembly agrees, would give me raw milk to regain some of my forgotten skills. Connecting my future to that past doesn’t seem so unlikely in a week when Maryland’s Buy Local Challenge reminds me how far we’ve come and how far we can each of us go.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com