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Current Posts

ACTION ALERT: Call Representatives to Support HIP Funding
April 17, 2017
Collaborative compiles legislative priorities for Ag Day at the State House
April 03, 2017
Food Access & Ending Hunger
April 01, 2017
Job Posting: Communications Specialist
March 29, 2017
Cosponsors sought for food system legislation
February 01, 2017
MA Farmers National Leaders in Local Sales
January 04, 2017
Massachusetts Food Policy Council sets priorities
December 02, 2016

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April 17, 2017

ACTION ALERT: Call Representatives to Support HIP Funding

Representative Paul Mark has introduced an amendment to the FY18 House budget that would provide necessary matching funds for operation of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP). We need as many representatives as possible to sign on to this amendment THIS WEEK.

Please:

  • Call or email your state representative this week to ask them to co-sponsor budget amendment #116, sponsored by Representative Paul Mark. If you’re not sure how to contact your representative, check https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator.
  • Explain that the amendment will provide slightly more than $1.7 million in program costs for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which provides matching funds to incentivize SNAP recipients’ purchases at farmers markets, farmstands, CSAs, and mobile markets.

If they have questions, here are a few key talking points:

  • The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) will provide $40-80 in monthly incentives to SNAP recipients, doubling the value of their purchases at farmers markets, farmstands, CSAs, and mobile markets.
  • One in 9 State residents receives SNAP and is eligible for the HIP incentives. If each of them were incentivized to eat 1 more serving per day, that would mean $11.7 million in health care savings every year for the Commonwealth. (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists)
  • This will also mean increased sales for local farmers, creating jobs and preserving farmland.
  • This funding will allow the State to leverage a $3.4 million grant from USDA.
  • Massachusetts has long been an innovator in solutions to improve health outcomes for low-income families. A pilot program in Hamden County a few years ago found that a 30% matching program helped increase participants consumption of healthy foods by 26%.
  • Only one-quarter of Massachusetts adults eat the federally recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, and the gap is significantly higher in low-income households, in households with children, among elderly residents, and among the 454,000 SNAP families in Massachusetts. Disparities in access by race and ethnicity exacerbate the problem further in many communities. This nutritional deficit contributes to increases in obesity and its related chronic preventable diseases, including diabetes and heart disease. Public interventions are needed to reverse these trends.

If they have further questions, invite them to contact Collaborative Director Winton Pitcoff: 413-634-5728, winton@mafoodsystem.org.

April 03, 2017

Collaborative compiles legislative priorities for Ag Day at the State House

April 4 is the annual Ag Day at the State House event, when advocacy and trade groups gather in Boston to educate legislators about policy priorities for farmers. The legislature is considering several dozen bills related to the food system this session, from land preservation issues to food waste, and the MA Food System Collaborative has compiled a white paper highlighting priority legislation and budget items. 28 food system organizations signed on to the white paper, representing thousands of farmers and other constituents.

April 01, 2017

Food Access & Ending Hunger

Food Banks originally started to supply food to people who were experiencing emergency situations, such as the loss of a home to fire or natural disaster, or perhaps an unexpected job loss.  These were short-term needs that the world of charity could address. What we are seeing now, however, is an on-going need for food pantries and community meal programs.  People seeking food assistance are from every walk of life – people with advanced degrees, military veterans, single parents, retired elders, working families, people living with disabilities and chronic medical conditions.  For each person who needs to seek food assistance on a regular basis, it feels like one on-going emergency, but often a forgotten one in the public eye.  We know that there is no shortage of food in our country, or in the world, but rather too many people cannot access food.  For this reason, the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB) believes that food is a fundamental right and that hunger is an issue of social justice.

Addressing a lack of access to food is more complicated than addressing short-term emergencies.  Identifying the barriers and testing solutions takes much more time, sustained effort, a variety of partners, and creativity.  People who are seeking food assistance on an on-going basis are generally struggling with insufficient income compared to the basic costs of living.  This may mean that they are working and are not earning enough to live due to low wages, or perhaps that they can no longer work due to age or a disability, yet the money they receive from Social Security is not sufficient to cover their basic costs.     

There are two ways that we can address a couple of barriers in Massachusetts through legislation, both of which are top priorities for the Worcester County Food Bank, and are goals embedded in the MA Local Food Action Plan.

  • For people that are working and are able to work, having wages that can provide for a basic standard of living is crucial to a person’s dignity and to the fabric of our society.  For this reason, the first goal of the Food Access, Security, and Health section of the MA Local Food Action Plan is for workers in Massachusetts to earn a living wage, aka a wage that accurately reflects the true cost of living. 
  • For both people who earning low wages and for those who cannot work, federal nutrition programs such as SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), school meals, and WIC (Women Infants Children), are crucial to ensure that people are able to access enough nutrition.  Programs are often very under-utilized, and reducing barriers to enrollment is crucial.  Ensuring streamlined application processes and creating a common application portal for a variety of benefits is an important step in supporting people who need to access nutrition programs.    

The WCFB is advocating for legislation related to both of these barriers, and we are doing so with broad coalitions that also understand their importance in supporting our local food systems.  In order for people to be able and willing to support a local food system, they must have purchasing power.   To learn more about these and other advocacy efforts the WCFB is engaged in, visit https://foodbank.org/learn-more/advocacy/ or contact Liz Sheehan Castro at lsheehancastro@feedingamerica.org.

  -- Liz Sheehan Castro, Director of Advocacy, Worcester County Food Bank


March 29, 2017

Job Posting: Communications Specialist

The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative is hiring!

Position: Communications Specialist

Reports to: Director

Hours: 20 weekly

Term: 1 year, with potential for continuation depending upon funding availability.

Wage: $20/hour, (IRS-1099, no benefits)

Location: Remote

Start date: ASAP

About the MA Food System Collaborative:

The MA Food System Collaborative was established in 2016 to promote, monitor, and facilitate implementation of the MA Local Food Action Plan. The Plan is a comprehensive set of recommendations toward a sustainable, equitable food system for the Commonwealth. The Collaborative works to encourage progress toward the goals of the Plan through education, networking, and advocacy. Learn more about the Collaborative at www.mafoodsystem.org.

Position description:

The Communications Specialist will work with the Director to plan and execute a communications strategy that amplifies the work of the Collaborative and its allies, encourages broad engagement in projects the Collaborative supports, and educates the general public about the value of a sustainable, equitable food system. This is a new position, and is critical to the success of the Collaborative.

Job functions:

  • Help develop and refine organization’s messaging.
  • Develop, manage, and edit e-newsletter.
  • Maintain and promote social media accounts.
  • Maintain website.
  • Support Collaborative’s projects with earned media strategies, where appropriate.
  • Coordinate and support regional and statewide meetings and events.
  • Attend regular project and governance meetings, in person and on the phone.
  • Other editorial duties, as needed.

Qualifications:

  • Minimum of 3 years professional public communications work, or substantial experience in policy, advocacy, or organizing setting with some communications expertise
  • Ability to distill complex issues into accessible language that prompts action.
  • Ability to write clearly, concisely, and quickly.
  • Experience working with reporters.
  • Flexible schedule (occasional evening meetings may be required).
  • Ability to travel throughout state, as needed. (Travel costs reimbursed.)
  • Interest in food, agriculture, and systemic change.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft office and social media platforms.
  • Knowledge of MA food system a plus.
  • Experience/comfort with CMS systems a plus.
  • Ability to work independently, as well as collaboratively.
  • Must have excellent organizational skills and attention to detail.
  • Flexibility, maturity, and a sense of humor.

Send cover letter, resume, and 2-3 writing samples (links OK) to Winton Pitcoff, Director: winton@mafoodsystem.org.


 Applications accepted until April 7, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.

February 01, 2017

Cosponsors sought for food system legislation

Members of the MA State Legislature have introduced more than 5,000 bills for the 2017-18 session, many of them related to the Commonwealth’s food system. A number of these bills would take action toward the goals of the MA Local Food Action Plan.

Legislators are being asked to co-sponsor bills right now. This is an opportunity for citizens to reach out to their senators and representatives, let them know about bills that are important to them and their communities, and ask for their support. Below are some bills that directly relate to the Collaborative’s priorities.

Please contact your senators and representatives by Friday, February 3, and ask them to co-sponsor any of the bills below that are important to you or your organization. To find your legislators, visit: https://malegislature.gov/Search/FindMyLegislator. Call or email them, and tell them:

  • your name and town, so they understand that you’re their constituent;
  • the name of the bill and the name of the legislator introducing it; and
  • a little bit about what the bill’s enactment would mean for you or your community.

Many of the bills below include links to the full text of the legislation – where there is no link, the language has not yet been posted.

Note that getting co-sponsors for these bills is just a first step – throughout the two-year legislative session there will be hearings, opportunities to advocate for language that strengthens the bills, and votes. But now is a great opportunity to make legislators aware of the bills and issues that you care about, and to build support for key pieces of legislation so that they are more likely to make their way through the legislative process this session.


Food Production

An Act Relative to Agricultural Commission Input on Board of Health Regulations
HD.2574
Representative Stephen Kulik
Would require municipal boards of health to seek input from their local agricultural commission before implementing changes to existing regulations or new regulations that impact farms or farmers markets.

An Act promoting agriculture in the Commonwealth
SD.1796
Senator Anne M. Gobi
HD.3144
Representative Paul Schmid
Also known as the “Ag Omnibus bill,” this bill contains provisions that would, among other things: allow non-contiguous land to be considered for the 5-acre minimum for enrollment in Chapter 61A; allow raw milk dairies to deliver milk to customers; allow for land held by the Department of Conservation and Recreation to be used for community gardens and farmers markets; and establish a committee to develop a farmland protection and viability plan.

An Act relative to updating the plumbing code in order to accommodate agricultural uses
HD.340
Representative Leonard Mirra
Would create a committee to make recommendations on possible changes to the State Plumbing Code, with the intent of creating provisions for agricultural projects, to alleviate the burden of the commercial plumbing code that farms must currently follow. 

An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms
HD.3032
Representative Kate Hogan
SD.1299
Senator Kathleen O'Connor Ives
Would exempt farmland from the Massachusetts estate tax as long as it remains in agriculture for at least 10 years, in order to keep more land in farming by reducing the likelihood of heirs needing to remove agricultural land from production in order to sell it to pay the tax burden.

An Act to Promote Urban Agriculture and Horticulture
SD.2030
Senator Linda Dorcena Forry
HD.3673
Representative Elizabeth A. Malia
Would allow cities with population over 50,000 to adopt an optional property tax break for land used for urban agriculture, as a way of promoting the health, economic, and environmental benefits of growing crops in cities.

Food Access

An Act Relative to an Agricultural Healthy Incentives Program
HD.2825
Representative Paul Mark
Would lay the groundwork for the long-term sustainability of the Healthy Incentives program, which matches, dollar-for-dollar, SNAP households’ purchases of fresh, healthy, local foods.

An Act improving public health through a common application for core food, health and safety-net programs
SD.247
Senator Sal N. DiDomenico
Would streamline the application process to multiple supportive programs, as a way of ensuring that families that receive benefits from one program are better able to take advantage of all of the benefits they are entitled to.

School Food

An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias
HD.1488
Representative Jennifer E. Benson
Would establish pilot programs to support schools in upgrading their kitchens to do more scratch cooking and give mini-grants for farm to school programming, and set parameters for a Farm to School Interagency Task Force that would bring together stakeholders to strategize ways to support and spread farm to school programs across the Commonwealth.

An Act to Promote Breakfast in the Classroom
SD.1986
Senator Sal DiDominico
HD.1046
Representative Aaron Vega
Would require that all public K-12 schools that are required to serve breakfast (where at least 60% or more students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the federal National School Lunch Program) offer all students a school breakfast after the bell.

Food Waste

An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need
SD.1043
Senator Eileen M. Donoghue
Would relieve individual and business food donors from liability for injury arising out of the condition of donated food, and allow farms to claim a tax deduction for the value of donated crops.

An Act decreasing food waste by standardizing the date labeling of food
SD.1041
Senator Eileen M. Donoghue
Would establish standard language for food date labels, reducing confusion and the often unnecessary disposal of food that is still safe to eat.

An Act relative to direct food donations
SD.1520
Senator Ryan C. Fattman
Would relieve individual and business food donors from liability for injury arising out of the condition of donated food, often cited as a barrier to donations and resulting in wasted food.

An Act authorizing school districts to donate excess food to local voluntary assistance programs
SD.1313
Senator Barbara A. L'Italien
Would direct the state board of elementary and secondary education to develop voluntary guidelines for school districts to encourage and facilitate donation of excess food from school cafeterias to groups that distribute food to underserved communities.

January 04, 2017

MA Farmers National Leaders in Local Sales

Data from the first extensive survey of local food sales in the U.S. shows that Massachusetts farmers are national leaders in sales of food products directly to consumers.

Massachusetts ranks fifth nationally in direct to consumer sales from farms, with $136 million in sales in 2015 from farmers markets, farmstands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations, and other farmer-run retail outlets, according to the USDA’s 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. This number is made even more significant when noted that the other high-ranking states include California, New York, and other large agricultural states, while Massachusetts ranks only 47th among all states in total cash receipts for farms, according to 2015 data from USDA. In fact, when direct-to-consumer sales are measured against total farm sales, Massachusetts leads the nation.

The survey also ranked Massachusetts eighth among states based on total direct farm sales, with $229 million in sales from farms directly to institutions, retailers, and local distributors, as well as consumers. A total of 2,426 Massachusetts farms combined for these sales. $75 million of these sales are value-added products like meats, eggs, preserved fruits and vegetables, and dairy products, such as cheese and butter.

Direct farm sales are critical to farm sustainability, because by eliminating many of the steps along the wholesale supply chain, farmers are able to sell their products at a price which allows them to cover their costs of producing the food. In turn, these sales boost the local economy, create jobs and economic opportunity, and preserve farmland and natural resources.

Massachusetts has long been a pioneer in direct to consumer sales. The first CSA was established in Great Barrington in 1986, The number of farmers markets has grown dramatically in the last decade, supported by the work of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets. South Deerfield-based Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) launched one of the first buy local education campaigns in 1994, and many other regional organizations have followed suit. The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resource’s “Massachusetts grown…and fresher” initiative was one of the first statewide branding efforts in the nation.

The first goal of the 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan is “Increase production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods,” and dozens of organizations around the Commonwealth are working toward that goal. The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative works to promote, monitor, and facilitate implementation of the Plan.

The 2015 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey was designed to collect data related to the marketing of foods directly from farm producers to consumers, institutions, retailers who then sell directly to consumers, and intermediate markets who sell locally or regionally branded products. The primary purpose of the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey was to produce benchmark statistics on the number of operations that sell using direct marketing channels, the value of these foods sales, and marketing practices.

December 02, 2016

Massachusetts Food Policy Council sets priorities

On November 21, the Massachusetts Food Policy Council sent this letter to Governor Baker and legislative leaders, outlining the Council's priorities based on the 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. These are issues that the Council hopes to amplify and address, through collaboration, research, and education.


November 21, 2016 

Governor Charles Baker
Massachusetts State House, Room 280
Boston, MA 02133 

Dear Governor Baker, 

On behalf of the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, I am pleased to submit the priorities from the Council's ongoing work related to the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan (http://mafoodsystem.orglplan/). At my request, Council members have continued to review and discuss the Plan during meetings since July and have further prioritized goals from the longer list submitted at that time. Our hope is that the Administration can amplify these broad goals and supporting programs, and link to larger policies. In many cases, agency members of the Council are already undertaking programs and projects that support the core goals of the Plan, and in some situations the Plan has provided guidance about where additional resources or efforts are needed.

Priorities follow: 

  1. Support programs that facilitate access to healthy foods for underserved communities. A current focus is to provide support to leverage the Department of Transitional Assistance's USDA/FINI grant award, known as the Healthy Incentives Program, which will increase use of SNAP at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and for community supported agriculture (CSA )programs, providing fresh, healthy food for low-income families, and increasing sales for Massachusetts farmers. Additional examples include the MA Food Trust and the MA Food Ventures Program. 
  2. Reduce food waste through state programs for farmers, restaurants, processors, schools and other institutions, and consumers. A current focus is to support the Commercial Food Waste Ban by developing policies and programs to divert food waste from landfills. Support for donation programs, conversion of food waste to animal feed, composting, and the development of anaerobic digestion facilities are also priorities. 
  3. Support regulatory policies and practices that allow farms and other food system businesses to thrive. The current focus is to develop circuit rider positions at state regulatory agencies, subject to appropriation, to provide food business guidance in a non-enforcement capacity in an effort to aid in compliance.Additionally, circuit riders will provide support and guidance to local regulatory agencies. 
  4. Support and grow local food system infrastructure. The current focus is to target opportunities for growers, food processors and distributors to access capital, incentives, and technical assistance though agency partners and programs, private organizations, and universities. 
  5. Support increased purchases of Massachusetts grown and produced foods. The current focus is to support increased purchases of local foods by state institutions, public and private educational programs, and meals programs. Increased funding for state agency and institutional food procurement and standardized contract language for state and municipal purchasers, are also priorities. 
  6. Support expanded educational opportunities for farmers and other food system workers. The current focus is to support Massachusetts higher education, UMass Extension,and vocational technical schools by developing and offering appropriate curricula to meet food system needs. 

In order to better work toward the goals of the plan with representatives of all of the key agencies engaged in the food system, the Council further recommends legislative action to add a seat to the Council for the Department of Fish and Game.

The Council appreciates the Administration's leadership and commitment to the Plan's vision of a sustainable and equitable food system. Please accept this letter as the Council's annual report, pursuant to MGL Chapter 20, Section 6(e).

We ask that you give consideration to these priorities as relevant legislative and regulatory actions are developed. As always, members of the Council would be happy to meet with you or your staffs to offer further detail to these priorities, as well as review any parts of the Plan or our work to implement it.

John Lebeaux, Commissioner and Chair, MA Food Policy Council