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Legally Local

It’s easier to say that popular word than to define it

Buying local is all the rage. But what is local? Until now, there has been no way to guarantee that what you’re buying is grown locally — whatever that is — or even grown in Maryland.
    Now, thanks to a new law taking effect June 27, foods sold in Maryland as “locally grown or produced” must be identified by state of origin. Raw meat, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, shellfish and processed dairy products all fall under the law.
    “These new agricultural laws and regulations will protect the best interests of both the consumer and Maryland producers,” Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said of the new law.
    The legislation was pushed by citizen demand. Seventy-eight percent of Marylanders say they are more likely to buy produce identified as grown by a Maryland farmer.
    Citizens — including farmers and merchants — also helped write the law. A study group convened by Hance considered three alternatives:
    1. Defining local as produced in Maryland plus counties in surrounding states;
    2. Defining local within a defined radius — and defining that radius;
    3. Simply requiring merchants advertising a product as local to clearly post the state of origin.
    Local was too hard to define, so state of origin won by default.
    “These regulations support Maryland farmers but let consumers determine for themselves whether or not they consider a product local,” says Mark Powell, Maryland Department of Agriculture marketing chief.
    Not to confuse matters, but how about a bin of apples grown in both Maryland and Pennsylvania?
    “The sign must say that the apples were grown in Maryland and Pennsylvania,” Powell says. “The apples from Maryland wouldn’t have to be separated from the apples from Pennsylvania, as long as both states are listed.”
    So a watermelon grown in Georgia can still be advertised as local as long as Georgia is clearly posted. Does a melon trucked from that far away really qualify as locally grown? Maryland says that’s for you to decide.
    At least two major chain stores are taking locally grown signage to the next level. Whole Foods posts not only the state of origin but also the location and name of the farm, and sometimes it even introduces the farmer.
    Maryland’s 10 BJ’s Wholesale Clubs have joined the chain’s Farm to Club program, selling zucchini, cucumbers and yellow squash grown on three Maryland farms: Arnold Farms in Chestertown (Kent County); Butler Farms in Marion Station (Somerset County); and Miller Farms in Clinton (Prince George’s County). As the season progress, locally grown tomatoes, green peppers and corn will join the line-up.
    With Maryland Farm Bureau reporting an all-time high membership of 36,000 farms, there should be plenty of food needing these new Maryland Grown signs.