Montgomery County’s strong ag sector makes it easy for residents to enjoy locally produced food and drink
Agriculture remains a major industry in Montgomery County, benefiting the local economy as well as residents who enjoy fresh foods from the 560 farms and more than 350 horticultural businesses in the area.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve, created in 1980 and encompassing 93,000 acres along the county’s northern, western and eastern borders, ensures the abundant farmland isn’t going anywhere, while local organizations are doing their part to support and sustain the ever-growing local food and beverage movement.
Montgomery County Food Council
Working to cultivate a sustainable, robust, equitable local food system, the Montgomery County Food Council (MCFC) launched in February 2012 to serve as the community’s central connection point for all stakeholders who are also committed to that mission.
For example, the council – which includes 25 members who represent all aspects of the food system – participates in urban and rural policy and process change and engages constituents with the local food system through job opportunities, volunteer projects and purchasing practices. Additionally, the council educates Montgomery County residents and institutions to promote a greater awareness of the food cycle: where food comes from; where it ends up; and its social, environmental and economic impacts.
Heather Bruskin, the MCFC’s executive director, says the council is also focused on ensuring Montgomery County residents have access to foods and beverages produced in the community. The MCFC recently put together a food and beverage guide that highlights the more than 60 businesses that either have production facilities or business headquarters in the county. The council is working with the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. to create unique branding for local products.
“The appetite for local food in Montgomery County is significant,” Bruskin says. “The more hyper-locally people are eating, the stronger our local economy is and the more jobs we can bring to our neighbors.”
Thriving Food Sector
With the support of the MCFC and other organizations in the area, along with Montgomery County residents, the community’s local food scene continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down.
The county’s 24 farmers markets connect producers and consumers, including Crossroads Farmers Market in Takoma Park, which is where Rosanne Skirble began selling her Seedy Nutty products in 2015 after perfecting a recipe that includes a mix of peanuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brown sugar and egg whites.
Before selling her products, Skirble enrolled in a 12-week microenterprise training course with the Crossroads Community Food Network, designed to support aspiring food entrepreneurs in the area. Seedy Nutty products are now available in businesses across the county and beyond, and Skirble says she largely has the CCFN to thank.
“I had no intention of starting a business,” she says. “But this training was available, and I took advantage of it. Crossroads Community Food Network has offered me opportunity after opportunity, and they have helped me connect with major retailers.”
Tsiona Bellete is another Montgomery County success story, first establishing Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant in Rockville in 2012, then launching Tsiona Foods – small-batch gourmet Ethiopian food products – in 2014.
“I cannot think of a better place for Tsiona Foods,” Bellete says. “The Montgomery County community is well-informed and educated about foods from different cultures.”
Craft breweries are also finding success in Montgomery County, with establishments such as Denizens Brewing Co. in downtown Silver Spring and Waredaca Brewing Co. in Gaithersburg opening in Laytonsville.
Local wineries are thriving, too, including Urban Winery in Silver Spring, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in Dickerson and Olney Winery, which operates an additional tasting room in Hagerstown.
Another beverage company doing well in Montgomery County is Honest Tea, founded in 1998 in Bethesda and currently the nation’s top-selling organic bottled tea company.
“Our location in Bethesda is wonderful,” says Seth Goldman, co-founder and CEO of Honest Tea. “We’re connected to nature but also close to major cities, and the people here are fantastic. This is a diverse, highly educated community – a huge benefit for me as an employer – plus, it’s easy to attract people as we hire new leaders and managers because Montgomery County is so appealing.”