Federal and state government representatives met with local farmers and entrepreneurs at Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore on Monday to discuss how the federal government can better support local agriculture.
More than three dozen urban farmers, oyster farmers, brewers, vintners and other business owners participated in an hourlong discussion with Sen. Ben Cardin, Reps. Elijah E. Cummings and John Sarbanes, and Maryland Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder.
The small-business owners advocated for less intrusive government regulations and more programs to provide incentives for farming.
Oyster farmers, for instance, asked for a training program to help them better navigate the permitting process, which they described as too slow. Urban farmers asked for government officials to set aside land for growing crops just as land is set aside for parks.
Will Morrow, a manager at Whitmore Farm in Emmitsburg, said farms need more operating money — and more federal money helps farmers secure loans from banks. He said certain types of food are eligible for federal incentives while others are not.
"The biggest challenges have been economic ones," Morrow said. "Financial incentives allow small businesses and small farms to get private funding."
The lawmakers pointed to progress in local farming. Baltimore now has nearly two dozen farmers' markets, they said. Chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen, which uses local products, said his restaurant has pumped $2 million into the local food economy.
The lawmakers pledged to advocate for locally grown food at the national level.
"One of my priorities is to help small businesses," Cardin said.