GREENBELT

Leaders Set Business Priorities

More than 100 Prince George's County lawmakers and business owners met at a "leadership breakfast" last week to discuss fiscal responsibility, economic development, the legalization of slot machines and other business issues facing the county this legislative session.

At the breakfast, held in Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt and sponsored by the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce, the county's legislators talked about their priorities for the session that convened last week. Most matched the chamber's goals of cutting spending to balance the state budget while granting additional funding to Prince George's schools, legalizing slot machines to support funding for education, maintaining transportation funding and finding a way to make health care more affordable.

"There seems to be some consistency now having heard from [lawmakers]," said Wendi Williams, chamber president and chief executive. "Now the chamber will really be looking at how we advance these policies in the most effective way."

-- Krissah Williams

LEESBURG

Taking the Farms to the Web

Tom Pfotzer moved from McLean to 40 acres in Loudoun County in 1992, hoping to become a farmer.

He is not a farmer yet, but he has launched a Web site he hopes will help local farmers sell more produce locally.

At freshnlocal.com, Pfotzer is seeking to line up hundreds of local farmers and producers to list their fresh crops, products and events online; retailers will post information about local products they sell; and shoppers can find local products and the nearest place to buy them. This, Pfotzer said, will help turn farms into viable businesses and expand the rural economy, also a goal of some Loudoun County officials. Pfotzer piqued the interest of about 100 people who attended a meeting Monday night at the Loudoun County Government Center in Leesburg.

"I think it's fabulous," said Betsy Crenshaw, who has raised Black Angus cattle in Upperville since moving there 18 years ago from Illinois. She said she would sign up immediately.

For a subscription fee of $40 to $100, depending on revenue, growers can log on to the site and enter their freshest crops and products, and retailers can access the information.

Shoppers, drawn to the site by local newspaper advertisements paid for by subscriptions, will be able to log on, type in a product and see a list of local retailers that have it in stock, Pfotzer said. This not only gives farmers a better way to market their product but also gives small shops a bit of competition over big box stores, he said.

Pfotzer said he expects to sign up 400 to 500 members. But some people doubt that the venture will succeed. The idea has been tried, with the Web site localfarm.net.

"People are not ready to buy fresh produce this way," said Robert Farr, who is better known as the Chile Man and produces chile products, including salsas, marinades and hot sauces from his Loudoun farm. "Until they come up with a model that includes a wide range of packaged food, we're not going to see a lot" of business from the site, he said.

Farr said he was also concerned that there may not be enough farmers and produce in Loudoun to sustain such a business. "Until we actually get some of the new farms up and running, there may be some lag in product," he said.

Pfotzer's dream is to bring $100 million back to local farmers through the site, out of $500 million that he says county residents spend on food annually. Pfotzer said farmers receive a fraction of that amount.

But first, he needs subscribers. He said he thinks that it won't be a problem, but Lou Nichols, the county's agricultural development officer, said it could be an obstacle. "What will determine the success of this is how many people will sign up to take advantage of it," he said.

-- Amy Joyce