Chef-prepared dishes to sample and freshly picked local produce to buy — what could be more appetizing in July when local harvests are peaking?
Mix in socializing with like-minded folks who care where their food comes from and a menu of short documentary films, and you've got the recipe for the fifth annual Howard County Film Feastival on Tuesday, an event that is free and open to the public.
The Feastival, at Clark's Elioak Farm off Route 108 near Centennial Lane, also helps launch the 2014 Farm-2-Table weeks — with a theme of "Love Local" — at 23 restaurants around the county starting Monday.
Organizers say the dishes will showcase the best of Howard County agriculture and the symbiotic relationship between farmers and restaurants. Visitors can also shop at a miniature farmers' market.
The open house-style event at Clark's is expected to attract about 250 people, said farm manager Nora Crist, daughter of owner Martha Clark.
People can grab a small plate of restaurant fare prepared with local bounty and wander over to view short documentary-style films, Crist said. These include the premiere of a film produced by Howard Community College's HCC-TV and two episodes of Maryland Public Television's "Maryland Farm & Harvest" series, which will play in a continuous loop.
"This event will preview what local restaurants will be serving and what local farmers are selling," Crist said. "It gets people excited about tomatoes and peaches and all their favorite summer foods."
Crist plans to have cherry tomatoes, squash, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers for sale, as well as packages of grass-fed beef and pasture-raised pork. Clark's also markets peaches from Larriland Farm in Woodbine.
Other farms represented include Love Dove Farms, Nutting Acres, Sharp's at Waterford Farm, and Wheeler Farm.
But the event and the restaurant weeks (through Aug. 4) focus on more than eating delicious food.
Locally grown produce is fresher because it doesn't make the average 1,500-mile trip to market, said Kathy Zimmerman, agriculture development manager at the Howard County Economic Development Authority. And if every county family spent $8 a week supporting local farmers year-round, about $15 million would be injected annually into the local economy.
"This is based on a family of four and the ripple effect that their spending would have" not only on agriculture, but on the jobs market, tax base and so forth, she said. "Instead of your money going to a middle man, it stays here and farmers put their dollars back into the community."
Similarly, a sign at Clark's produce stand says that for every $1 visitors spend at a local farm, $3 is generated in the community, compared with the 20 cents that a similar purchase at a national grocery store generates.
"A lot of customers comment on that sign," Crist said.
Zimmerman acknowledged that some people get upset that it can cost more to purchase locally grown food, but she suggests they keep in mind that county farms are smaller than national grocery or produce chains and must therefore absorb higher costs for labor and leasing land, especially in an affluent county such as Howard.
Despite higher costs, Maryland farmers are working hard to protect the Chesapeake Bay by practicing nutrient management, which is not the case in every state in the watershed, Zimmerman said. In fact, she said, the state's farmers have already met the mandated 2017 Total Maximum Daily Load requirements, which stipulate the amount of pollutant a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards.
Rachelina Bonacci, CEO of the county's tourism and promotion bureau, views the partnerships between her office and local farms and restaurants as another investment in the county, helping to pull in visitors who come to enjoy local fare and end up spending for other things.
The "Love Local" event is marketed throughout the Baltimore-Washington area, Bonacci said. "Our hope is to attract diners from the surrounding counties to try out our restaurants by ordering something new."
The Howard County Library System will also play a role this year by sponsoring an event at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Miller branch in Ellicott City. "Why Buy Local: A Primer on the Benefits of Buying Local Produce" will focus on the nutritional, environmental and economic benefits of incorporating locally grown foods into everyday life.
Local farmers will talk about what they are growing and how they are working to make their products accessible to the local community, and chefs will explain how they incorporate local ingredients into their menus.
Experts from the Howard County Economic Development Authority and the University of Maryland Extension will discuss when and where to find local products, as well as offer shopping tips and recipe ideas.
But before the library event, the Feastival is an evening not to be missed, Crist said.
"It's a fun family event and a very social one," she said. "Most people tend to run into somebody they know."
If you go
What: Howard County Film Feastival
When: 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Route 108, Ellicott City.
Cost: Admission is free, but a $5 donation will help support the Howard County Food Bank's Community Garden, which is managed by the Community Action Council of Howard County.
Information: Go to hceda.org, visithowardcounty.com or hclibrary.org, or call the University of Maryland Extension's Howard County office at 410-313-2707.