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More than $2.5 Million in HIP Incentives Earned
December 01, 2017
More than 200 people attend 2017 MA Food System Forum
November 30, 2017
2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum
October 19, 2017
Job posting: Outreach and Engagement Coordinator
September 11, 2017
Addressing farmland challenges in Massachusetts
September 07, 2017
Protecting farms by reducing the estate tax burden
September 06, 2017
Equity, race, and the food system
September 05, 2017

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December 01, 2017

More than $2.5 Million in HIP Incentives Earned

The Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) has far outpaced expectations, with SNAP recipients purchasing more than $2.5 million of fresh produce from local farmers between April and November, and earning an equal amount of incentives in the process. In the first seven months of HIP, 58,000 SNAP clients benefited from the program, exceeding redemption expectations by more than 470%. Nearly 50% of the 33,000 households that have benefited include a senior, and more than 30% include a child. 

The program provides a one-for-one match, adding money back onto a SNAP recipient’s EBT card whenever they use the card to purchase fresh fruits or vegetables at a participating farmstand, farmers market, CSA, or mobile market, up to a monthly limit depending upon household size. The program improves health outcomes in some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable communities, and helps keep local farms sustainable. 

“The success of this program has demonstrated the pent-up demand. There is a myth out there that low-income people don’t care about healthy food,” said Christina Maxwell of the Western Mass Food Bank, which enrolls people in SNAP and provides outreach about HIP, at a November 1 MA Food Policy Council meeting.

Grace Sliwoski, Food Justice Program Coordinator at the Worcester Regional Environmental Council, which operates mobile farmers markets that accept HIP, reported that when customers first used the HIP program, “people were crying and embracing the market managers because they were so excited. The program enables them to eat well and eat enough.”

Justin Chase, a 13th generation farmer in Newburyport, was one of several farmers who spoke about how HIP has impacted their farms. Changing markets nearly put his family’s farm out of business in the 1990’s, he said. “We were working on a dying farm.” Justin took over the farm from his father a few years ago and began selling produce at the local farmers market, but was still struggling to keep the farm alive. This year, he signed up to accept SNAP and HIP and the effects were immediate; on the first day, Arrowhead Farm’s sales were double the previous year’s. Over the course of the season sales continued to increase, and people started to come from other towns for the produce and to utilize HIP. At the end of the season, they were earning ten times as much as they had before HIP. “We were relevant again,” he said. He put the increased revenue back into the farm, repairing the farm’s broken machinery and bringing a field back into production that had been abandoned for years. More than 200 farmers participate in HIP.

Because use of the program has exceeded expectations, additional funding must be secured to ensure that the program can be sustained. DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue expressed his commitment to securing additional resources to maintain the program and asked for support from individuals, organizations, and philanthropies.

The success of HIP was identified as a priority in the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. The Collaborative has been working to educate legislators about the Plan, through events in Lynn,  Great Barrington, and elsewhere. We are also developing a campaign to secure funding for HIP in the FY’19 budget. If you or your organization would like to participate, or would like more information, contact Director Winton Pitcoff.

For more information about HIP go to www.mass.gov/hip or email DTA.HIP@state.ma.us.

November 30, 2017

More than 200 people attend 2017 MA Food System Forum

The MA Food System Collaborative hosted the 2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum in Leominster on November 17. More than 200 people, from farmers to funders, elected officials to nonprofit leaders, looked back at how the food system has become stronger in the two years since the completion of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan and generated ideas on how to work together to continue to move toward the goals of the Plan. 

Speakers highlighted projects that demonstrate the importance of connectivity in the food system and shared stories of successful advocacy efforts. Breakout discussions focused on topics from food waste to school food to farmland access, and elicited suggestions for working collectively going forward. 

The Forum began with an update on the work of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, which promotes, monitors, and facilitates implementation of the MA Local Food Action Plan. Currently, the Collaborative is working with state agencies, farmers, farmers market managers, and other key players to implement, increase outreach, advocate for, and fund the Healthy Incentives Program. The group is also working on policy recommendations to keep edible food out of the waste stream, and working on other issues ranging from developing recommendations for changes to the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, to developing metrics to monitor progress toward Plan goals. 

Stakeholders shared highlights of their programmatic and policy work in the food system. The Worcester Food Policy Council is advocating for healthcare providers to screen for hunger, and for schools to serve breakfast after the bell. The Springfield Food Policy Council has enabled all schools in the city to offer a salad bar and has helped develop gardens at 24 schools. The Western MA Food Processing Center, which helps food producers effectively scale their operations, is upgrading their infrastructure with the construction of more freezer space to better serve entrepreneurs, thanks in part to a Food Ventures grant from MDAR; they estimate that 350 individuals will use the facility. Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux, who is also Chair of the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, provided an update on the Council’s work.

After lunch, a legislator and former legislative staffer answered questions about the legislative process and how to best engage in policy advocacy. Representatives from a number of food system organizations spoke about several recent and ongoing advocacy campaigns, and the strategies and techniques that have been successful.

During the breakout discussions, attendees spoke about barriers that prevent the food system from achieving the goals set out in the Plan and how to work collectively toward the goals. Some preliminary notes from these sessions:

  • The Farmland Access group saw the need for more collaboration and prioritization, and the need for more attention and funds focused on preserving farmland. 
  • The Food Access group brainstormed various sectors that should be involved in this work, such as healthcare, as well as how to raise funds for the HIP program. 
  • The Food Waste group discussed the food waste ban and whether enforcement or implementation could be expanded, as well as the infrastructure and networking needed to improve food recovery. 
  • The Local Food Marketing group noted the need for more market data, as well as the need for collaboration between various branding efforts. 
  • A lack of communication between training programs, employers, and job seekers was noted as a place for improvement by the Workforce Development group. 
  • Finally, the School Food group noted the importance of understanding the procurement process, and sharing best practices.

Throughout the day, attendees added notes to a bulletin board delineating the four main goals of the Plan, indicating what they are doing toward those goals and what they’d like to see happen to further develop a sustainable, equitable food system.

Thank you to everyone who joined us, and to all of the speakers who shared their stories and knowledge at the Forum:

Stakeholder highlights

Panel discussion: Legislative and administrative advocacy

  • Representative Paul Mark
  • Courtney Feeley Karp, Senior Counsel, Klavens Law Group, P.C.

Advocacy campaigns: Lessons from the field

October 19, 2017

2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum

Friday, November 17, 2017  •  9:30 - 3:30
Doubletree Hotel, 99 Erdman Way, Leominster

The Massachusetts Food System is full of activity, energy, and innovation – from the growth in urban agriculture, to increased access to healthy foods, to innovative education and supports for food system entrepreneurs, to efforts to reduce food waste, to schools integrating nutrition and farming into their curricula, and much more. Much has been accomplished, and there is an abundance of work underway and more challenges to address. Join Massachusetts food system leaders, organizers, activists, advocates, and mobilizers as we check in on progress toward a more sustainable and equitable food system, and discuss opportunities for collective action.

It has been two years since the completion of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan. The 2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum is an opportunity to learn about what has been accomplished since then toward the goals of the Plan, and to have discussions to develop plans and strategies for future collaborative work.

Registration is only $15 and includes lunch. Register has closed, but you can email Director Winton Pitcoff with questions.


Agenda

Welcome and updates

A look back at the Plan, and at the work of the MA Food System Collaborative’s first two years.

Highlighting successes

Presentations from food system organizations around the state about their work toward the goals of the Plan. Scheduled presenters will discuss their work in urban agriculture, marketing, business assistance, food access, policy advocacy, and more.

Discussions

Roundtable discussions about food system issues and topics, with opportunities to make connections and find opportunities for further collective action.

Lunch

Legislation and advocacy 

Panel discussions about pending food system legislation, and perspectives from legislators, legislative staff, and advocates about how to effectively  advocate for legislative, regulatory and budgetary change at the state level.


The Forum and the Collaborative are supported by the Sudbury Foundation, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, the Island Foundation, the Wild Geese Foundation, the John Merck Fund, and the UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment.

September 11, 2017

Job posting: Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

The Collaborative is hiring!

JOB POSTING

Monday, September 11, 2017

Position: Outreach and Engagement Coordinator

Reports to: Director

Hours: 30 weekly

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

Wage: $25/hour

Location: Remote, in Massachusetts

Start date: October 1, 2017

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 Outreach and Engagement Coordinator will work with the Director to engage community organizations around the state in efforts toward the goals of the Plan, will document progress being made by public and private stakeholders, and will provide communications and logistics support where needed.

Job functions

Community engagement

  • Identify and build relationships with community organizations and other stakeholders (CDCs, local food policy councils, business associations, etc.) throughout Massachusetts.
  • Engage organizations in activities and actions related to the Collaborative’s projects.
  • Educate organizations about the food system and the MA Local Food Action Plan.
  • With Director, develop strategies and related written and online materials as needed for this engagement.

Communications

  • Identify and research examples of organizations, individuals, projects, and programs working toward the goals of the Plan.
  • Document progress being made toward the goals of the Plan through compelling narratives for newsletter, social media and other publications.
  • Work with director on developing written and online materials for specific campaign strategies and for general outreach.

Other

  • Assist in organizing and coordinating regional and statewide meetings and events.
  • Attend regular project and governance meetings, in person and on the phone.
  • Other duties, as needed.

Qualifications

  • At least two years of work experience in policy, advocacy, or organizing setting.
  • Ability to write clearly, concisely, and quickly.
  • Experience working in diverse communities.
  • Flexible schedule (occasional evening meetings may be required).
  • Ability to travel throughout state, as needed.
  • Interest in food, agriculture, and systemic change.
  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and social media platforms.
  • Experience in/comfort with CMS systems a plus.
  • Publication design experience a plus.
  • Photography experience a plus.
  • Ability to work independently.
  • Excellent organizational skills and attention to detail.
  • Flexibility, maturity, and a sense of humor.

Please submit a resume, cover letter, and two writing samples, to winton@mafoodsystem.org by September 22, 2017.

September 07, 2017

Addressing farmland challenges in Massachusetts

by Cris Coffin, Chair, MA Food System Collaborative, and Policy Director, Land For Good

The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan notes that farmland is the foundational infrastructure for the Commonwealth’s agricultural industry, and specifically recognizes the need to address   two challenges: protect our most productive farmland for the future, and find ways to keep farms in farming as the $1.8 billion in land and other agricultural assets that our senior farmers own change hands over the next two decades. As demand for Massachusetts-grown foods grows, and efforts to keep those foods affordable for all communities increase, the need for these solutions has never been more urgent.

Despite Massachusetts’ pioneering land conservation efforts, just 14% of the Commonwealth’s 523,500 acres of land in farms is permanently protected and can never be developed. In addition, more than one-third of the Commonwealth’s farmland is owned or managed by farmers age 65 and older, and 90% of these seniors have no next generation poised to take over the operation.

These are not small challenges. To keep land in farming, to bring more land into production (as the Plan recommends), to help older farmers plan for their future, and to provide affordable land tenure options for the next generation of Massachusetts farmers will take a combination of new policy tools, more funding for proven established programs, and increased and better coordinated services among NGOs, farm lenders, and federal and state agencies.

One of the Plan’s land-related goals that the MA Food System Collaborative, Land For Good, American Farmland Trust, and others have been working on is the Plan’s call for a formal statewide Farmland Action Plan to compile data on land use trends and use that data to guide state investments and policies related to farmland access, protection, and use. The Legislature passed a bill last year which would have established a task force to develop this plan, but unfortunately this was vetoed by Governor Baker. In lieu of the task force, Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux established an advisory panel to review the state’s policies related to farmland protection and access, identify challenges, and recommend new policy tools or changes to current state programs, policies and regulations.

On May 31 I joined a group of about 20 other stakeholders – including representatives from the Board of Agriculture, the Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee, and farm, commodity and conservation organizations, as well as legislators and farmers – for the first meeting of this Farmland Advisory Panel. We had a productive, wide-ranging discussion led by Commissioner Lebeaux, and identified several issues the group felt were among the most important to address. Two smaller subgroups were created to start digging in to these issues in earnest, and these subgroups have begun their work.

The breadth of expertise and diversity of perspectives that the Commissioner assembled for this advisory panel is commendable. I am hopeful that this process will lead to a thoughtful analysis of existing state-level tools and data which, in turn, will inform discrete recommendations to the administration on expanding and improving the state’s farmland protection and access toolbox. Some potential improvements have already been flagged in the Plan. This Panel gives us an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get moving on making these improvements happen.

September 06, 2017

Protecting farms by reducing the estate tax burden

by Nathan L’Etoile, Collaborative Steering Committee

While speaking at Agriculture Day at the Massachusetts State House in April, Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation President Ed Davidian raised the idea of reducing the impact of the Massachusetts estate tax on our family farms. The idea apparently resonated with Governor Charlie Barker who interrupted, shouting “that’s a great idea!”

There are two bills working their way through the legislature that would address this issue. As an advocate for family farmers and forest landowners pushing for a change to our estate taxes, I’m often asked for the numbers behind this issue. How many farming families in Massachusetts face the estate tax? How large does a farm need to be before this issue matters? How much farmland is affected? And the most important for many policy makers: what is this going to cost the State? There are no simple or exact answers to these questions, but the following offers a sense of the scale, impact, and cost of this issue.

For background, all estates valued at over $1,000,000 are subject to the Massachusetts estate tax. As a stepped-rate tax, estates of $1,000,001 in value are taxed at 3.32%, and the rate goes up over the course of 12 steps, topping out with estates over $5,340,000 being taxed at 8.08%. In order to determine the impacts, we must consider how many farms in Massachusetts fall into the taxable categories, and how many of them might be subject to the estate tax due to the owners passing away in any given year.

If we assume that farmers die at the same rates as the general population, and analyze the numbers of farmers in various age groups, based on the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, and the death rates of those groups, based on Social Security Administrations data, the death rate for farmers in Massachusetts is, on average, 1.71%. This number might be a little be a little low given that younger farmers own less land on average than older farmers, and the death rate among those older farmers is considerably higher than this average, but it’s a functional estimate. Given this death rate, how many of our farms are big enough to be affected?

It is worth noting that there is little good data available on farm debt, making it very hard to determine the cash value of an estate, but we do have data on the land and hard asset values for farms. Of the more than 7,700 farms in Massachusetts about an estimated 1,263, are large enough to make an estate taxable1 assuming there is no debt on the farm. Those farmers steward roughly 335,000 acres and the farmland and associated structures are worth an estimated $3.5 billion. Note that some smaller estates may have other, non-farm assets that raise the total value of the estate to the level where the estate tax kicks in.

So how large are the taxes that these farms might face? Land values vary dramatically across the state: 5 acres in Suffolk County; 40 acres in Norfolk county; 60 acres in Plymouth or Middlesex; and about 100 acres in Worcester county and to its west are all enough to cause a farmer on “average” land in that county to have a farm that makes their estate taxable. A 125-acre vegetable farm in Norfolk County or a 400-acre dairy farm in Berkshire County would have a value of over $3 million. Unless extensive estate planning has been done to transfer most of the value out of the ownership of the deceased, these estates would owe $182,000 on the value of the farm assets alone. For many families, often the only solution is to sell all or part of the farmland in order to pay this tax, and in many of these cases the purchase is a developer and the farmland will be lost to agricultural production forever.

Given all of this data, there are approximately 22 farmers who pass away each year with farms large enough to cause the estate to be taxed under the Massachusetts Estate Tax. On average, these 22 farms represent roughly 5,700 acres of land, which is then at high risk for development and fragmentation after the principal operator passes away. If we can reduce the risk to this land by helping families to avoid the estate tax in exchange for a commitment to keep the land in agriculture for a period of time, we can greatly reduce the loss of farmland in the Commonwealth. Both proposals working their way through the legislature would have the effect of reducing or eliminating the estate tax, one by simply exempting the first $5 million in value (H.2618), the other by reducing the valuation of the farmland itself to values used for property taxation under chapter 61A (H.3323/S.1584).

The burden of estate taxes has a significant negative impact on farms and farmland in Massachusetts. The more we can do to protect farms as they transition through generations, the stronger our Commonwealth’s food system will be. The MA Local Food Action Plan calls for “enacting legislation to modify state estate tax to allow farmland to be valued according to its current use,” and the pending bills do just that. Please keep up with this legislation through the Collaborative or Farm Bureau as it makes its way through the legislative process.

1 756 farms valued at $1M-$2M (with an estimated 13 deaths per year);
392 farms valued at $2M-$5M (with an estimated 6.7 deaths per year);
99 farms valued at $5M-$10M (with an estimated 1.7 deaths per year); and
16 farms valued at over $10M (with an estimated .3 deaths per year).

September 05, 2017

Equity, race, and the food system

by Jessica del Rosario, Collaborative Steering Committee member

In an effort to ensure that our work considers and engages all Massachusetts residents, particularly those who have traditionally been excluded or marginalized, the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative has been hosting discussions around the state to hear from individuals and organizations about their perspectives on equity, race, and the food system. These discussions are intended to help us learn about the work being done at the nexus of equity, race and the food system, identify how the Collaborative might support this work through its policy efforts and network approach, and expand our thinking about race and its impact on the food system to better inform our activities.

During the planning process that led to the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, equity was one of the three cross-cutting topics (environment and economy were the other two) that work groups considered as they identified recommendations for their specific sector.  The Food Access, Security and Health (FASH) work group defined an equitable food system as “one in which everyone has fair access to a nutritious diet that was grown, raised and processed in a way that supports the health and dignity of those throughout the supply chain.” We then further defined some of those terms for clarity:

Everyone means all residents regardless of race, gender, income, sexual preference, or other demographics or identifiers.

Fair means that each individual and community has access to what they need. This is different from equality, which means giving everyone the same thing, which can only be fair if everyone starts from the same place. Whether making policy changes, running programs, or providing resources, it is important to consider whether there are negative consequences for a vulnerable population, and whether the benefits of a policy or program can be reaped by those who need it most.

Access includes: physical accessibility; affordability; cultural appropriateness; and knowledge, skills, and resources to prepare food.

A nutritious diet refers to food products necessary to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low fat dairy, and provides an allowance for a small portion of sweet or fatty treats.

Support for health and dignity refers to the conditions for farm workers, processors, and others in the supply chain, from production through sales through waste management. Under an equitable system the work environment should not cause health hazards, employment should be available to all, and workers should be treated fairly. Furthermore, work in the food system should be valued through a living wage.

While this line of discussion allowed us to address equity in a broad context, there was little time during the planning process to explore the deeper and harder topics of race and racism and get clarity about its impact. With the Collaborative facilitating implementation of the Plan, we have moved from planning to doing – advocating for policy, participating in coalitions, building networks, and informing the dialogue.  This has made it imperative that we understand and are able to speak to the effects race and racism have had on our food system.  We are committed to ensuring the policies we advocate for benefit those intended by the Plan, that we avoid unintended consequences for vulnerable communities, and that a diverse set of actors is empowered with information and data to advocate for needed policies that are carefully crafted to ensure they benefit the intended people.

The recent conversations generated some ideas for projects, themes, and considerations for the Collaborative’s work. Examples include the potential supports people need as they enter the food economy as workers or business or land owners, and the re-introduction of a 21st century home economics curriculum into our schools to build upon the inspiring connections youth are making to the food system through some local, innovative programs.

I already knew that racial disparities in people’s health outcomes related to their ability to eat healthy foods. For example, in Massachusetts 1 in 4 adults is obese, but Black and Hispanic adults are 1.5 times more likely to be obese due to unequal access to healthy food and health care. Through this process I have learned that similar disparities exist in other areas of the food system, affecting who has or doesn’t have the opportunity to purchase land for farming, gain a loan to start a new food business, or access the market to sell products, for example. Economic barriers are only part of these equations – language barriers, issues of time and location, access to and understanding of the internet, even the complexity of application processes all have an impact on who gets to fully participate in and benefit from the food system.

Racism is part of our food system and institutions, and eradicating it requires our getting educated about how we got here. It also includes taking personal responsibility to acknowledge our own bias and to call it out when we see it in our systems and institutions.  One is never done in their learning and these conversations are not enough, but they have been a start on the Collaborative’s journey as we move from learning to doing. As we continue to identify policy opportunities and strengthen the network of actors working to better our food system, it is incumbent on all of us to engage those who are most vulnerable, and who historically have been left out of accessing opportunities for employment, education, financial security, food, and the other necessities that provide security for themselves and their families.