Currently, no Howard County farms are part of their network, but that could change, Hosking said.

"We have similarities [to community-supported agriculture and a farmers market,] but we also have significant differences by design," said Hosking, 53, who lives in Baltimore but travels frequently to New York, where his wife and daughter reside in the family's home.

"We're offering a week's worth of food that covers the full range [of food groups] and is the right amount of food" in the proper ratio of protein to produce, Hosking said. "Our reason for doing this is to effect change in the food market and to create a sense of community."

Hosking, a Seattle native, said he first experienced that community feeling when he moved to Greenwich Village in 1981 to attend law school, and he's never looked back from that model of urban interaction.


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"I was shocked that there was a better sense of community in my segment of the city than what I'd experience growing up in the suburbs," he said. "I didn't have a car, so I was often on foot and got to know the people" living and working there.

Now, farm tours sponsored by the company connect farmers with buyers, who get to hear firsthand what goes on at the farms where the food they're purchasing is raised, reared or made.

Kathy Zimmerman, agricultural development manager for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said a main key to Friends and Farms' success is convenience.

"That's what most of us want," she said.

"By bringing farmers and consumers together, they are providing an opportunity to eat what is locally grown within this region, while still cutting down on food miles and reducing the carbon footprint."

Item-by-item comparisons to grocery-store chains show the company's baskets' contents frequently cost less than their national counterparts, Hosking said. While they have yet to raise their prices, the partners say that making sure farmers are paid fairly is a priority, and membership costs will increase to reflect farmers' expenses.

Gottwals said growth has been good in Howard, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, but the company's goal is to reach 2,000 members throughout Central Maryland in the next three years, making Friends and Farms a considerable consumer force.

"Our food system is broken," he said. "Our desire is to have enough heft to actually change it."

jholzberg76@msn.com