Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment

How to Strengthen the Regional Chesapeake Food System

The Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment was commissioned by the Center to better understand the complexities and opportunities provided by the changing nature of the region’s food system.

Phil Gottwals with Agricultural and Community Development Services, LLC provides an in-depth study of the current state of the sectors that compose the food system including producers, processors, distributors, and consumers. Phil was joined by former Center board member Dr. Christine Bergmark and Joe Tassone, principal investigator for the Center’s earlier research projects on local foods.

Data as well as Information gathered through interviews and community listening sessions provided the team with a clear understanding of factors that are currently working well and areas that need improvement and provide opportunities.

The study examines a subdivision of the Chesapeake Watershed that serves as a proxy for assessing the demographic, human capital, agricultural and supply chain dynamics for the larger geography.

The study area consists of 82 counties and independent cities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware. It represents about 40 percent of the 206 counties and independent cities, 78 percent of the population, and 63 percent of the 11.2 million acres of agricultural land in the entire foodshed. In addition to covering a diversity of soil types, hardiness zones and production types, it includes key production and infrastructure clusters for livestock, poultry, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops.

The report’s findings revealed that stakeholders within each of the Chesapeake Bay food system’s sectors shared common values that could be built upon to improve the system to better serve communities and address specific socioeconomic objectives.

Preliminary areas of opportunity include suggestions to:

  • Strengthen community and culture around food;
  • Promote networked solutions to regional food system develop;
  • Create a Chesapeake Regional Food System “brand” and unified certification system;
  • Tailor agricultural education, workforce development, and farm transition programs to the future;
  • Support an entrepreneurial and innovation culture in the supply chain; and
  • Identify or create an entity to serve as a regional coordinator of local food system development projects.

Read the Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment here

Strengthen the Community and Culture Around Food

One recommendation of the 2019 Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment focuses on consumers’ relationships with their food purchases. Phil Gottwals and his research team explain the importance of individuals‘ relationships with families, communities and others and the impact those connections have on their consumer behavior.

According to another Hughes Center report, Growing for Good: Farming and Forestry in Maryland, more than half of Maryland consumers surveyed indicated that they had a relationship with a Maryland farmer. Half of those surveyed also indicated that they shop at a farmers market or visit a farm stand.

An essential first step to improve the regional food system is to promote ways to strengthen the ties between the area’s consumers and those producing food. Increasing opportunities for education and understanding can broaden markets, strengthen communities, and develop regional pride. Importantly, we should positively highlight the story of the Chesapeake Foodshed, from the farmers who produce food to the chefs who prepare it to ultimately the consumers who eat it.

Want to hear more about the Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment, or do you have opinions on how to get more local food into the supply chain? If so, see the information listed below about upcoming foodshed events.

Collaboration is Key

While consumer demand for local food is large, consumer choices for local food are limited in mainstream markets like grocery stores. Collaboration and coordinated actions among regional food hubs can help increase the capacity and reach of local products. Food hubs have a great potential to increase local foods’ share of the market by aggregating services like packing, grading, distribution, processing, marketing and more.

Support for a consumer-driven model is also key. The project team for the Chesapeake Foodshed Assessment interviewed numerous start-ups with the goal of improving access to healthy and nutritious foods at a value. However, many of these start-ups have stalled due to various reasons, like needs in services for market analysis, site location support, product development, floor planning, food safety, personnel development, and capital access.

In order for the food to get from the farmer to your table, it is transported there within the existing network. But, the existing network can have gaps, meaning local food is not being as efficiently delivered to consumers as it can be. Continued development and adaptation to technologies to allow transportation companies, farmers and fleet managers to share trucking resources and limit the number of miles a truck is on the road without a load can help advance this area.

Finally, in an ideal situation to further increase the efficiency of the system, a data interchange system could be created that publishes local food pricing and availability data weekly through an internet-based application. As a collaboration between industry associations, food hubs, auction markets and related marketing agencies, the system would report local purchasing preferences, along with contact information for the purchasing officers and foodservice providers.