Every year, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay recognizes Chesapeake Bay Awareness Week and celebrates the many connections we have to the bay.
First championed by the Chesapeake Bay Commission in 2016, the week is intended to raise awareness about the bay as a valuable economic and environmental resource. Normally, the Alliance would be very busy right now partnering with local restaurants to promote one delicious bounty: the Chesapeake Bay blue crab and crab cake. Last year, the Alliance hosted our first Crab Cake Week in Richmond and Williamsburg, Va., to increase awareness about the importance of a healthy Chesapeake to the food we love to eat.
This year, though, partnering with local restaurants has taken on an entirely different meaning. And need. In the wake of COVID-19, our region’s food industries are struggling and need our help.
If you live in the bay watershed, you’ve undoubtedly enjoyed some of the amazing food that is grown and harvested in our region. Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of just how abundant and diverse our regional food supply is. Approximately 64,000 square miles of land and 150 rivers, with all their tributaries, ultimately flow into the Chesapeake.
In just a few hours’ drive, you can catch blue crabs or rockfish in the bay itself or in the wide rivers that flow into it, or you can forage for ramps, or morels and other mushrooms in the watershed’s headwaters in the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains. And the land in between, the fertile Piedmont soil, is home to more than 87,000 farms producing meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables and grains. Given this close proximity to such a bounty of fresh, local ingredients, it’s no surprise that the Chesapeake region is home to some of the country’s best restaurants, chefs and food scenes.
In normal times, it is easy to take all of this for granted. But, as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by physically distancing ourselves from each other, we’re ironically reminded how interconnected we all really are. As it becomes more difficult to find the food and necessities we rely on daily, it’s obvious that we’ve become very dependent on restaurants, farmers, fishermen and the many people responsible for providing us with amazing local food. Restaurants have been hit especially hard at this time, and so have small-scale producers who sell to local markets.
The Chesapeake Bay seafood industry is struggling more than ever. With restaurants permanently or temporarily closing, or offering limited menus, watermen and oyster farmers are struggling for business and increasingly worried as the blue crab season hits its stride. What can we all do to help?
Four things you can do
1. Order delivery or takeout from local restaurants. Many restaurants have adapted to delivery or takeout — their only safe and legal option for staying in business. Support them, if possible, and be sure to tip. Wait staff generally rely on tips as an important part of their income, so tip for the delivery or pickup what you normally would for a sit-down meal. Consider purchasing gift cards now that you can use after the threat has passed.
2. Connect with local farmers or fishermen/women. Many local farms and fishermen/women rely on restaurants to buy their catch. Now that restaurants’ dining rooms are closed, they are adapting by selling directly to consumers through online orders and community-supported agriculture.
3. Eat local produce and seafood. Whether you buy your food from a restaurant or at a grocery store, try to focus on what’s local. This not only helps the restaurants, groceries, growers and suppliers, but it also helps the environment. Buying local cuts down on the distance food has to travel to get to your plate, and it results in better air and water quality.
4. Shop small. The larger farms, grocery stores and chain restaurants will weather COVID-19 much more easily than smaller grocers, restaurants and farms. If you have the option in your area, shop the smaller outlets to support your local economy, build community and lessen the environmental impact of your purchases.
For more information on the subject, visit allianceforthebay.org/food.