Key Partners Join Forces to Create a More Resilient Food System Across Maryland

Strength to Love 2, an Urban Farm in Baltimore City

Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg

February 7, 2022 Graham Binder

There are a number of critical issues that threaten the food security of Marylanders. Climate change, supply and demand, food deserts, and a rapidly growing population are on the shortlist. However, the past two years have been particularly challenging due to the negative impacts of COVID-19, which have further complicated food access and availability. This new reality now exists in tandem with pre-existing inequities that contribute to a high percentage of food-insecure households across the state.

To help find solutions for some of these systemic issues that have been exacerbated by COVID, and to work towards a more resilient food system in Maryland, the state legislature recently established the Maryland Food System Resiliency Council, featuring several representatives from the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR). Members of the council include AGNR’s Stephanie Lansing, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Technology who serves as the council’s Co-Vice Chair, Lisa Lachenmayr, director of Maryland SNAP-Ed for University of Maryland Extension, and Nancy Nunn, assistant director of the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. These council members agree that the food system, nationally and locally, was not built to respond to something like COVID-19, which acutely raised demand in a very compressed time frame. 

“This legislation charged us with the formation of a council, and asked that we look at food system resilience in a different way given everything happening in the world. Throughout the pandemic, individual interest groups were doing very important work but we realized that we could be more productive by working together in a coordinated way,” said Lansing. “Now, our strategy is to get everyone working together on this grand challenge, with the stated collective goals to move Maryland forward in a manner that brings everyone to the table. We aimed to tackle this from a broad systems perspective and focus intently on the makeup of the council to bring the experts on food distribution, local food production, environmental impacts, food deserts, and racial equity.” 

In addition to individuals from AGNR, the council is composed of representatives from the Maryland State Senate, Maryland House of Delegates, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland Farm Bureau, farmers, business owners, local food councils, and more. Members recently submitted an interim strategic plan to the Maryland General Assembly which detailed four goals and 16 subsequent recommendations to achieve success. The goals are as follows:

Goal 1: To address the food insecurity crisis in the state resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis

Goal 2: To develop equity and sustainability policy recommendations to increase the long-term resiliency of the food system

Goal 3: To expand the impact of existing food organizations by:

  • Providing coordination and facilitation of knowledge exchange at the state level
  • Supporting identification and application of grants to operating funds to support existing and new food council organizations as needed

Goal 4: To develop a strategic plan to increase the production and procurement of Maryland certified food, including:

  • Increasing the quality and quantity of production as well as aggregation, marketing, and distribution of local food in urban, suburban, and rural settings
  • Increasing procurement of local food through schools, universities and other institutions
  • Creating additional market opportunities for Maryland food businesses
  • Expanding access to small scale manufacturing and food production infrastructure

“These are ‘shovel ready’ improvements, which we feel can take immediate advantage of funding in place due to COVID-19,” said Lansing. “Moving forward, the council will work to implement the 16 recommendations associated with the goals and work with relevant groups to establish impact.” 

The council plans to develop a final report tracking their recommendations and expects to add new recommendations each year. 

As the university’s principal steward of the land-grant mission, it is critical to have a strong presence from AGNR on this council. Working across the state, bridging different groups together, and providing information and data to legislators are fundamental strengths of the college. 

“It’s really important for the university to have a seat at the table, to help foster teams and build important partnerships. Our goal is to bring the key players together to tackle challenging problems of our time and to take Maryland to the next level from an equity and environmental justice standpoint,” said Lansing. “We need to create a system for Maryland where all children, farmers and adults have access to food. We are so happy to be doing this work and to be part of this team.”

The Maryland Food System Resiliency Council’s Interim Report to the Maryland General Assembly can be found here.