Rep. McGovern Tours Area’s Agribusinesses

Aug 24 2015

The Recorder, August 24th, 2015, by Richie Davis.

Congressman Jim McGovern, flanked by a dozen federal and state agricultural officials, including representatives from UMass Extension Service and the Stockbridge School of Agriculture, rolled into Deerfield and Greenfield Monday as part of a two-day tour of farms around the Congressional district, where more than 1,000 farms are located.

At the Atlas Farm stand on Routes 5 and 10, where owner Gideon Porth said he sells about 20 percent of his organic produce, the second-ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee got a firsthand look at a 45-acre field behind the store that Porth bought about 2½ years ago to add to the 40-acre farm he started a dozen years ago off River Road.

With more than half a dozen workers in the field behind him — part of an overall field crew of 22 and about 40 employees overall, Porth told McGovern that his biggest challenge, after controlling weeds, is finding experienced managers and workers skilled in keeping farm equipment running.

“We have a great crew, but to find technically skilled (people) who know how to run equipment or fix things is really hard to come by, and management skills,” Porth said. The college students who come who are serious about staying in farming decide they want to start their own farms, he added. Another challenge is access to good, affordable farmland, said Porth, adding that without his land being under Agricultural Preservation Restriction protection and the availability of federal farm loans, he wouldn’t be able to afford it.

The growth in demand for organic produce, he said, has been great, and it’s mostly a matter of trying to find the land base to keep up with it.
Porth sells at farmers markets in eastern Massachusetts, including Boston’s Copley Square, and wholesales to Whole Foods and other supermarkets, co-ops, and natural food stores, largely in eastern Massachusetts.

McGovern, who had also visited three Worcester County farms earlier in the day as well as the Boisvert Farm in Hadley and Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst, said what he’d learned so far from the tour, which continued at the Just Roots Greenfield Town Farm, is how innovative and hard-working farmers in the district are.

“The Pioneer Valley is clearly a trailblazer on this issue” of sustainable farming, McGovern said. “The people who do this really love it. They work really hard, and at the end of the day they get to point to something they’ve produced. In Congress, we can work a whole week and I sometimes can’t point to anything we’ve accomplished. I’m kind of envious …”

He called for creating sustainable agricultural economies in all 50 states, and encouraging support of local, independent farms.

“It’s good for our health, it’s good for food safety, it’s good for our economy, it’s good for everything,” said McGovern, adding that he believes federal initiatives like the Food Safety and Modernization Act need to take into account the realities of small and medium-size farmers, who should not the main focus of efforts to guard food safety. “Their whole livelihood depends on the quality of food they produce. … They already are following all the rules.”

Scott Soares, the new state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural development, said he was interested in seeing how programs like the funding for the photovoltaic panels at Atlas Farm, or the “high tunnel” funded by USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service also help boost production and make farming more economically viable

“It’s proof positive that the collaboration between state and federal agencies and the ingenuity of our local farmers works to create rural development and economic development opportunities,” Soares said.

Deputy State Agriculture Commissioner Jason Wentworth, on his first day on the job, was also part of the farm tour, which will continue today in West Brookfield, Spencer, Northbridge and Sutton.

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