Editorial: A New Map Arrives on Ways to Increase Massachusetts Food Production

Jan 15 2016

FRESHWATER(1)The Daily Hampshire Gazette, January 15th, 2016.

The Midwest may be the nation’s breadbasket, but Massachusetts seems ready to earn at least the nickname of picnic basket, with many Pioneer Valley treats inside.

A comprehensive food system plan for the state, the first revision in more than 40 years, will get legislative attention this year. This blueprint addresses nearly every aspect of food production in Massachusetts.

The other day, the work of the 17-member Massachusetts Food Policy Council was saluted at the Western Massachusetts Food Processing Center in Greenfield, the place that state Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, called “ground zero … where so many great ideas in agriculture and (in the) food circuit have started.”

The Greenfield food processing center opened in 2001 to address a need identified in the state’s last food plan, and it benefited from an initial investment of $450,000. John Waite, executive director of the Franklin County Development Corp., which oversees the center, notes that it has been used by more than 300 food and farm businesses to produce hundreds of products and generate millions of dollars in sales.

The first goal of the revised plan is simple. It calls to increase production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown food, including the state’s fishing industry. But it recognizes that many steps must be taken to achieve that goal. And these steps must be coordinated, bringing together action on environmental protections for land and water, for instance, and job and wage growth. The plan also looks to address the plight of Massachusetts residents who face food insecurity, chronic doubts about where the next healthy meal will come from.

The ambitious plan will require more than words of support from the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker. A financial commitment is needed to successfully implement it — and that won’t be easy to achieve.images (8)

Still, Kulik, co-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, plans to go to bat for the plan and aspects of it are incorporated into legislative efforts. “I believe MDAR (Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources) needs more financial resources. That’s one of my key responsibilities,” Kulik has said.

With added funding, the plan notes, the UMass Extension service can better provide education and technical assistance to the state’s food industry. That is an age-old mission of the land grant university and it holds real promise.

Kulik believes investment in our state’s food system is essential. We agree. The Pioneer Valley, with its farms, the university, groups like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture and the food processing center in Greenfield, can serve as a model for other parts of the state.

We all have a stake in this success. As Massachusetts Food Policy Council puts it: “The goals and action items in this plan focus on how to support the people, government agencies, organizations, businesses, institutions, and activities that make up Massachusetts’ food system, with an eye toward making that system more resilient, more responsive to the needs of all residents of the Commonwealth, and better able to engage with the broader systems that shape what we eat every day.” (Getting hungry? On Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., supporters of local agriculture can find local produce and products at the Northampton Winter Farmers’ Market held at the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School.)

Massachusetts residents should support this plan and urge lawmakers to press to see it implemented in meaningful ways through specific bills. The plan offers a map that can guide us toward seeing that fresh, locally grown food and food products are available for Massachusetts kitchens — and picnic baskets.

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