Last Thursday, Gov. Larry Hogan and first lady Yumi Hogan hosted a special cookout in Annapolis featuring chefs and producers from around the state. The 12th Annual Buy Local Cookout served as the official launch of this year’s Maryland Buy Local Week, running now through July 28.

“The Buy Local Cookout and Maryland Buy Local Week allow our citizens to celebrate our hard working farmers, watermen, and producers while showcasing our state’s vibrant culinary offerings,” Gov. Hogan said. “Each year I am amazed by the creativity of the recipes and the wide variety of ingredients grown and produced right here in Maryland. I want to encourage all Marylanders to participate in the Buy Local Challenge, to incorporate at least one local product in each of your meals throughout the week.”

The Buy Local challenge began as an initiative of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission. It has became a statewide effort under the O’Malley administration and has continued to find a champion in Gov. Hogan.

“In addition to providing fresh, nutritious products throughout the region, Maryland’s agriculture and seafood industries are the economic engine of our rural communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder, himself a farmer with family ties to the Eastern Shore. “The Buy Local Challenge is a great opportunity to support our state’s top industry and learn more about where our food comes from.”

According to a news release from the governor’s office, a Salisbury University study found that our agriculture and seafood industries account for $16 billion of Maryland’s economy, providing more than 68,000 jobs.

We urge everyone to join the Buy Local Challenge this week, enjoying at least one food item grown or caught in Maryland. In Kent County — home of farmers and watermen — it should not be difficult.

We have farm stands and fresh seafood providers. We have stores stocking local produce and meat. We have restaurants incorporating local ingredients. And every Saturday morning is that favorite community event, the Chestertown Farmers Market.

With so much talk of sustainable agriculture and a focus on farm-to-table eating, the Buy Local Challenge serves as a great reminder of what we here in Kent County and on the Shore may take for granted. We have so much great food produced right here in our own backyards — literally for many of us.

The governor’s office issued a fact sheet for the Buy Local Cookout, listing benefits of buying locally. Here’s the rundown of the benefits as reported by the governor’s office, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and likely most locals:

Local food is better for the environment, tastes better, is healthier, supports local economies and farm families, is safer, provides community gatherings at farmers markets and preserves our rural landscape and heritage.

This is food that has not been shipped to the East Coast from California. It was driven into town by your friends and neighbors. That is a lower carbon footprint. That is less processing and fewer preservatives. That is fresher, better tasting food.

“Buying local food keeps your dollars circulating in your own community. When you buy local, you help to ensure that the benefits of our farms survive for many years to come. In Maryland, if every household purchased just $12 worth of farm products for eight weeks (basically the summer season), over $200 million would be put back into the pockets of our local farmers,” the Buy Local Challenge website states.

If you have not joined the Buy Local Challenge already this week, it’s not too late to start. But don’t let it end. Keep it up year round. Add local produce, meat and seafood into your weekly meal planning. We hope to see you at the farmers market!

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