Lack of access to affordable land is routinely cited by aspiring and established farmers alike as a primary challenge to entry and expansion. Since the 1940’s farmland has been steadily converted to other uses and regrown into New England forest, creating a patchwork of separate small parcels of farmland and former farmland. Many of these parcels are less than five acres, and so cannot benefit from Chapter 61A tax reduction as currently written. At the same time, economic and social forces have generated significantly more small and urban farming operations, many taking place on parcels under five acres, and many struggling with economic viability. Thousands of people, many of them immigrants and low-income, tend parcels that are less than one acre.
The Collaborative continues to work with our Ag Network and other groups and organizations on climate change and its impact on farmers and fishermen. We were fortunate to be able to participate in the recent workgroup on climate change and resiliency organized to provide input and recommendations to the Rural Policy Advisory Commission’s draft Rural Policy Plan.
As a follow up to the Collaborative’s March gathering to discuss how to support farmers in climate change mitigation and remediation, we asked meeting attendees to rank the importance of the 30 land and farming recommendation summaries from the MA Local Food Action Plan related to helping farmers and fishermen cope with climate change. These recommendations ranged from better government support, to increased monitoring of conditions, to expanded sales support for fisheries.
The Campaign for HIP Funding has started off the 2019 budget cycle in full force, with tremendous support from legislators, a great lobby day, and the development of some new tools for advocates. The campaign steering committee has developed a $8.5 million ask for HIP in FY20. This will be enough funding to operate the program year-round, allow for moderate continued growth, and allow a few new farms to become vendors in underserved areas.
More than 200 advocates and practitioners from all sectors of the food system attended the 2nd annual Massachusetts Food System Forum on December 12 in Leominster. The day was spent highlighting food system stakeholders’ work over the past year, and planning for collaborative action to come.