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During the last full week in July, farmers across the state are showing citizens how to support their local economy in a tasty way.

The Buy Local Challenge was developed in 2007 as a way to encourage Maryland residents to do a portion of their shopping at local farmers markets rather than grocery stores as a way to benefit both the economy and the environment, according to its website. Participants take the pledge, and this year, from July 21 through 29, vow to eat at least one item a day from local farms.

Since beginning the Buy Local Challenge, it has expanded to include a Hospital and Health Care Provider Buy Local Challenge, which also operates in Virginia and Washington, D.C. As of press time, 4,415 people had pledged their support for this year’s challenge, according to a counter on the website.

This year’s challenge offers a new feature, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission Executive Director Christine Bergmark said. Those who take the pledge are encouraged to join with a friend, which enters both into a contest that offers a $200 gift basket as a prize.

The benefits of buying local go far beyond the health benefits, Bergmark said.

“It’s so good and so healthy,” Bergmark said. “The food comes right off the vine, and has a high nutritional value. But even without that, if every household in Southern Maryland committed to buying $12 worth of local produce for eight weeks, that would put $54 million back into the pockets of our farmers. With the multiplier there, they’d in turn go out and bring back $92 million into our local economy. That’s a pretty big impact for such a small change.”

Even though the challenge goes for one week every summer, Tina Eaton, the market master for the Waldorf Farmers Market, said she has not seen an increase or decrease in business since the market moved from its former location in Festival Plaza in Waldorf to the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn, also in Waldorf.

On Saturday morning, business seemed to hold steady at the market.

“Even when it was 104 degrees out, it was slow but we did well,” Eaton said. “The rain is good though; we’ll take it anytime we can get it.”

Eaton said that the booth had information available on the Buy Local Challenge, along with tokens for those who chose to participate in it.

“We’re really grateful for our loyal customers here, but we could always use more,” Eaton said. “It doesn’t seem like people know we’ve moved yet, and those same faces we see every week help keep it going.”

At the La Plata Farmers Market, former market master Joe Harrison of La Plata said that during his 27 years at the helm, the market’s business held fairly steady.

“We never really needed a gimmick to get folks to come,” Harrison said. “Occasionally, sure, we’d have giveaways like umbrellas, but I think people always wanted to come and give back to the community.”

lrenner@somdnews.com

Fresh from the farm

Three farmers markets operate in Charles County.

- Waldorf Farmers Market 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, 10385 O’Donnell Place, Waldorf.

- St. Charles Farmers Market 4-7 p.m. Fridays, 10400 O’Donnell Place, Waldorf.

- La Plata Farmers Market 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 200 Charles St., La Plata.

All three markets accept cash, along with WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and Fruit and Vegetable checks.

Participate in the Buy Local Challenge week by signing the pledge at http://bit.ly/sVaGp.