Whether it’s blackberries that were picked fresh, succulent ears of sweet corn or juicy, home-grown tomatoes from a farm stand along a county road, nothing tastes quite like local food that didn’t have to travel far to reach your taste buds.

All of that local bounty and more is what the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission is hoping you’ll have a hankering for as it prepares to kick off its annual Buy Local Challenge, in conjunction with a statewide celebration sponsored by the state department of agriculture. The SMADC encourages everyone to enjoy something from a local farm, waterman or producer every day from July 17 to July 25.

Individuals, businesses and organizations can take the challenge, which is a voluntary pledge to eat Maryland farm products (like produce, dairy, seafood, meats and fruit) for one week. Locally produced beverages like wines, beers and spirits count, too.

While this year mirror’s last year’s event with no in-person celebration, there are a wide variety of contests and virtual opportunities, and all 31 farmer’s markets in Southern Maryland will be participating.

There will also be an opportunity for folks to pick up a free insulated SMADC tote bag when they visit one of these markets.

SMADC started the Buy Local Challenge week in 2007 as a regional initiative to stimulate area businesses and to improve our own health at the same time.

So why is it important to buy and eat locally grown foods? Think about this:

• You get the freshest foods, and help protect the environment. Buying from local farms helps you get products that are fresher. This promotes cleaner air and water by reducing the carbon footprint, since it takes less energy to transport products over shorter distances.

• You’re supporting independent and family farms and strengthening the local economy. Buying local food keeps dollars circulating in our own community. When you buy local, you help to ensure that the benefits of our farms survive for many years to come. In Maryland, if every household purchased just $12 worth of farm products for eight weeks, that would put about $200 million back into the pockets of our local farmers, according to the MDA.

This is the perfect time of year for the Buy Local Challenge. Besides the wide variety of fruits and vegetables currently in season, we’re also soon coming into the time of year for county fairs promoting local farmers.

We often hear that farming is a disappearing way of life, that future generations do not want to continue in the fields as their parents and ancestors did. But stop by one of these roadside stands and see farming families display their wares. The business of feeding yourself by feeding others is still in good shape.

Need more resources? No problem. Visit the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s comprehensive website — mda.maryland.gov — promoting local farms. Not sure what to do with Swiss chard or kohlrabi? Download the latest version of the annual Buy Local cookbook. Back issues also are available.

To participate in the virtual challenges, go to buylocalchallenge.com. Other information can be found by visiting smadc.com.

Take the Buy Local Challenge and enjoy. Hopefully, you will decide to keep it up for the rest of the year, and feel healthier for it.