Charkoudian looks to boost local foods in state contracts
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Montgomery County lawmaker wants to create a task force to boost the amount of locally grown food purchased by the state.
Freshman Del. Lorig Charkoudian, D-Takoma Park, submitted a bill last week that would establish the Maryland Food for Maryland Institutions Task Force, a 30-person body of state officials and farming representatives that would study procurement laws to identify ways to move more local food into state contracts.
Charkoudian, elected to District 20 in November, said her experience with local food issues motivated her legislation, which she hopes will bolster Maryland farmers and better secure the state’s food system.
“I was aware of a number of challenges we have to developing a strong, healthy food system,” she said. “The issues are complex enough, and the potential is really significant, and so I felt it made sense to really have that conversation.”
The bill would require the task force to establish targets for increasing the percentage of state food budget dollars on locally grown products, including targets within different agricultural sectors. The task force would make recommendations to create opportunity for farms of all sizes as well as farmers who are beginners, women, minorities and veterans.
The task force also would report its findings to the governor by Jan. 1, 2020.
Charkoudian said she has served as board president of the Crossroads Community Food Network, a Takoma Park nonprofit that runs a farmers market and several healthy food programs for low-income residents. Healthy food access for low-income families was also a key component of her campaign platform.
While researching the issue, Charkoudian said she discovered the state doesn’t have detailed metrics for tracking the amount of locally grown food it buys. Small and medium-sized farmers often have difficulty aggregating and distributing their products for large buyers, she said.
“I’ve watched this sort of chick-and-egg conversation happening for a while,” she said. “I realized that it would be much more helpful … if I could get all those folks in the same room.”
She said she sees a good example in Maine, which recently passed a bill requiring at least 20 percent of state-purchased food to be locally grown by 2025.
Charkoudian is also supporting another bill that would allow “cottage food products” such as baked goods, natural honey and high-acid fruit jams to be sold in a retail setting, including grocery stores and food cooperatives.
She said she pursued the legislation after a constituent selling bread from a home kitchen told her a food cooperative was interested in selling her product, but it wasn’t legal.
The bill “expands the market and the income potential,” Charkoudian said.
“A lot of people in my district are concerned about the food system as a systemic issue,” she said. “I think it may be a place where there may be a lot of common ground across the political spectrum.”
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