USDA grant helping to kick start Farm To Freezer effort in Maryland
MARYLAND – A new effort to make locally grown produce more accessible is underway in Maryland.
The effort is called Farm To Freezer, and the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center (ESEC) is kicking it off with a $105,000 grant from the USDA.
“Basically, it’s about helping our farmers increase the volume of specialty crops that they may grow,” said Executive Director of ESEC Mike Thielke. “Our real focus, which is a much bigger hill to climb in terms of making the economics work, is we would like to distribute more to the local, small corner store, mom and pop store, that sort of thing.”
The project is in its infancy, and the planning stages are just starting to get going. “This was specifically a planning grant provided by the FDA in order to, over the next two years, figure out the mechanics, and lay out a strategy and business plan,” said Thielke.
Thielke says the plan is to encourage farmers to expand their crops to include more specialty fruits and vegetables, freeze them, and sell them in local small stores.
“For the farmers themselves, hopefully, it will give them more options. A lot of them that are just growing just grain, whether it be soybeans or corn, maybe wanting to diversify a little bit,” he said. “A lot of people who are challenged with access to nutritious food will be able to have better options when they go to those stores.”
Another potential future part of the project is creating a recipe so that they can make fish cakes out of Blue Catfish. Thielke says that could help knock out two issues with one solution: driving down the invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay, and getting a wider variety of food to those who need it.
But for now, Thielke says the focus is on figuring out how and where they will process the product, and which stores it will be sold in. He tells 47ABC it could be a single facility in the center of Delmarva, or one facility on Upper Shore, and one on the Lower Shore. Thielke says the end game is to make sure that farmers can operate on wider margins, and people can have guaranteed access to locally grown produce.
Thilke says the importance of making sure food is accessible has only been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the future when we have situations, whether it’s a pandemic, military conflict, electrical grid goes down, whatever the catastrophe may be, we would have a more resilient and responsive food system,” he said.