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Food hub among new farm-to-table initiatives in Howard Co.

The creation of a food hub in Howard County that will connect local growers with distributors was among a trio of farm-to-table initiatives announced by County Executive Ken Ulman Monday.

Also included in the initiatives is the development of a 24-person Howard County Food Policy Task Force and the hiring of a full-time food policy director.

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"A smart and sustainable food initiative is the next step in our efforts to make Howard County a model public health community," Ulman said in a statement. "We can boost the local production of food, and get that food into the mouths of the people who need it. It's good for economic development and jobs. It's good for health. And it's a good way to preserve our agricultural heritage."

The first project for the task force is to develop the food hub, a facility that will collect, store and process locally produced healthy foods. The hub will also have an incubator kitchen for fledgling food businesses and a mobile market that will make fresh fruits and vegetables available.

According to a news release, the effort is in response, in part, to a 2012 survey that found that 35 percent of county residents eat less than one serving of fruit per day, and 61 percent eat two or fewer servings of vegetables. The release said the Center for Disease Control recommends five to eight daily servings of fruits and vegetables.

Both the task force and the food hub are joint projects with the Horizon Foundation.

"Howard County is consistently ranked the healthiest county in Maryland, but more than 85 percent of residents fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables," said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation said in a statement. "By expanding the availability of fresh, local produce, this initiative will help improve the health of our residents and our farms."

Ulman made the announcement at Bridgeway Community Church in Columbia, which runs the Community Cupboard, one of the largest food distribution efforts in the county.

Bridgeway is one of the groups the task force will be working with.

"Bridgeway has served our community and the surrounding areas through our Community Cupboard for two decades and we look forward to continuing to do so with the locally grown food from our own county," said Senior Pastor David Anderson.

County council vice-chair Courtney Watson, a Democrat who is running for County Executive in 2014, praised the effort on behalf of the council stating: "The Howard Count Council fully supports this effort. It will provide everyone access to healthful, fresh food while also supporting our local farmers."

The members of the task force are below:

Jamie Brown, owner of TLV Tree Farm and Member of the Farmers Market Board

Jack Kavanagh, director of the Howard County Detention Center

Karen Butler, director of Howard County Department of Social Services

Julie Lenzer Kirk, executive director of Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship

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Georgia Eacker, director of the Master Gardeners Program, University of Maryland Extension

Ginger Myers, director of Maryland Rural Enterprise Development Center

R.J. Caulder, owner, Breezy Willow Farm CSA

Anne Palmer, program director at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Donald J. Darnall, executive director of the Maryland Food Authority

Christopher Skaggs, director of Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority

Bita Dayhoff, president of the Howard County Community Action Council

Larry Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority

Olivia Farrow, director of the Office of Human Services, Office of the Mayor, Baltimore City

Frank Vitale, president and CEO of Maryland University of Integrative Health

Philip Gottwals, co-founder of Friends and Farms CSA

Daniel Wecker, owner and executive chef of Elkridge Furnace Inn

Kate Hetherington, president of Howard Community College

Wendy Webster, store manager Wegmans in Columbia

Cathy Hudson, vice chair of Howard County Environmental Sustainability Board

Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions

Ann Jones, director of Partners for Open Space

Ex-officio

Elizabeth Edsall Kromm, director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, Office of the County Executive

Joshua Feldmark, director, Office of Environmental Sustainability

Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of The Horizon Foundation

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