If there is another county in the United States that takes a greater interest in the nutritional needs of its citizens than Howard County, we haven't heard about it. This has led to snarky comments by many, including occasionally ourselves, about the nanny notions of many in county office.
Among the initiatives launched here is one, however, that is not only beneficial, but has proven successful in ways that may not have been anticipated at the beginning. That is the Roving Radish, a fresh food subscription service now in its second season of delivering the goods for families to cook themselves.
Launched in May 2014 by former County Executive Ken Ulman, the program has a truck emblazoned with a radish on wheels that delivers kits of pre-chopped produce, meat and other ingredients to five locations around the county once a week from the beginning of June to late November. The price of a kit is $28 ($12 for a family on assistance).
Initially, inmates at the county detention facility assembled the kits. As demand grew, more space was needed and food prep was relocated to the kitchen of the old Bushy Park Elementary School. That necessitated a new labor force and volunteers have stepped up to scrub, chop and pack the peppers, zucchini, carrots and more.
The growing demand also opened the door to local farmers. The Roving Radish relied heavily at first on Philadelphia's Common Market to fill supply gaps, but now Howard County growers are, more and more, the food source. The collective payout to all local farmers has increased from $2,500 last year to $10,000 this year, according to James Zoller, Roving Radish market manager. Having a new market open up close to home can make a different to small farms struggling to turn a profit.
With Roving Radish, we have Howard County folks, including indigent families, eating cheaper and healthier. We have volunteers exercising their community spirit. And, we have farmers finding a new market for their seasonal fruit and vegetables. That's not small potatoes.
Roving Radish has become an element of the locavore movement, which incudes "food from here" restaurants, community-supported agriculture and, now, cook-it-yourself meal kits. Howard County's modest contribution to this effort may not change the way the world eats. But it's an effort in the right direction.