State Senator Katie Fry Hester, Howard County Farm Bureau, Howard County Food Bank Address Food Insecurity and Local Farms’ Economic Losses with ‘Grow It Forward’ Campaign 

On March 23, 2020, Governor Larry Hogan announced the closure of all non-essential businesses due to the COVID-19 outbreak, forcing many restaurants and shops to close their doors for an indefinite period of time, and urging Maryland citizens to stay home and practice social distancing.

These closures and stay-at-home orders have resulted in hundreds of thousands of Marylanders losing their jobs, leading to record numbers of families turning to food banks, schools, and nonprofits hoping to keep food on their tables. In just the past few months, the number of food-insecure individuals across Maryland has almost doubled from 665,000 to over 1 million. While dealing with this increased demand, food banks are also seeing their normal sources of food donations, grocery stores, and restaurants, disappear. In the wake of widespread restaurant closures and dwindling demand, many local farmers have lost significant income and are being forced to plow under otherwise viable crops for lack of funds to harvest, process, and store.

To help solve the problem, Senator Fry Hester worked with the Howard County Farm Bureau Howard County Food Bank, Howard Community Foundation in addition to other local partners, to develop the Grow it Forward Campaign. Their goal is to help meet the needs of food-insecure communities in the fall/winter months of 2020-2021 while simultaneously supporting the economic recovery of small, local farmers. The program will connect food pantries in Carroll and Howard counties with food produced by local farmers. Thus far, the partnership includes the Howard County Farm Bureau, Howard County Food Bank, Maryland Food Bank, and Howard County 4-H Extension, with discussions already underway to expand in Carroll County.

“The past few months have been very hard for many people. The Grow It Forward campaign brings our community together to help farmers and Marylanders struggling with food security –while giving our students a valuable experience. This idea grew out of legislation I sponsored to encourage State Institutions to buy local food. Both leverage a triple bottom line return: it’s good for our health, environment, economy – and it also makes us more resilient. It’s really is a win for everyone!” said Senator Hester.

Grow It Forward will grow, glean, process and preserve nutritious local food for Marylanders in need, while supporting local farm income and education. The anticipated outcome is an additional 80,000 pounds of local food for local food pantries, and investment in infrastructure to strengthen the economic capacity, sustainability, and resiliency of the local food supply chain. For example, through this program:

● Maryland Food Bank will work with volunteers to glean local fields of participating farms for any leftover produce.

● Local farmers with high tunnels, greenhouses, and similar infrastructure will contract with food banks to grow specific crops for harvest in the fall and winter months.

● Teams of students (such as those with 4H and Future Farmers of America) will engage in projects, raising egg-laying chickens, for instance, to support food banks.

● Local restaurants can partner with farmers to process and preserve excess food for future use.

Grow it Forward is administered by the Howard County Community Foundation, which has already pledged $25,000 in support. The program plans to pursue a partnership for subsidized energy for greenhouses supplying local food pantries. Additionally, the program will solicit ongoing funding through small donations from customers who visit farmers markets, enroll at Community Supported Agriculture systems, shop at a farm store, and who donate via the Grow It Forward website. Anyone wishing to inquire about partnership opportunities may do so by emailing GrowItForwardMD@gmail.com.

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Scott E