The keynote panel of the MA Food System Collaborative’s discussion series demonstrated the ways that Massachusetts organizations are working to address racial equity in their local food system work. Systemic racism is like bad soil, said facilitator Liz Wills O’Gilvie. Until we improve the soil, we won’t be able to grow good food or do good work.
This has been a turbulent year for Massachusetts’ local food system. Organizations and businesses have had to adapt their programs, address changing needs, and continue to operate safely in response to COVID-19. There has been a resurgence of energy in the Movement for Black Lives, as the pandemic disproportionately impacted communities of color.
Disruption caused by the COVID pandemic, and Massachusetts’ state and local responses to that disruption, highlight the impact and benefit our food system has on all of us. COVID’s acute impact on our food system also exposed systemic issues that, if not addressed, will become more problematic through the unrelenting pressures caused by climate change.
"Every bite each of us takes has been shaped by a complex range of forces, some in our control and others well outside of our control. By endeavoring to understand those forces better, and to play a more active role in influencing them, Massachusetts residents are working toward a food system that better meets the needs of everyone in the state."
The Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs’ (EEA) Resilient Land Initiative (RLI) is an effort to solicit input from Massachusetts nonprofit organizations, municipalities, state agencies, landowners, and residents to draft and implement a new Statewide Land Conservation Initiative.
The food system and climate change are deeply entwined issues. From farming and fishing, to processing and distribution, to food waste and public health, every part of the food chain relies upon and impacts natural resources that, in turn, are related to climate change. The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan highlights these connections, and calls for the state to consider the local food system when developing laws and regulations related to climate change. Support for local food can help mitigate negative impacts on the environment, and carefully crafted climate change policy can help protect the local food economy, and public health as well.
Since the 1940’s farmland in MA has been steadily converted to other uses. From 1940 to 2017, 1,446,300 acres, 74.6% of our farmland has been lost to development, resulting in a patchwork of noncontiguous farmland and parcels of farmland and former farmland that are fewer than five acres in size.
The Collaborative has been working with Mill City Grows and the Springfield Food Policy Council to facilitate the MA Urban Ag Coalition. During regular Zoom calls, urban ag organizations from around the Commonwealth are discussing how they are changing their operations to respond to safety concerns and the increased need for healthy food in their communities, sharing resources, and identifying other opportunities for collective work and resource sharing. Calls thus far have focused on community garden and school garden changes, employing youth during the summer, and funding challenges and opportunities.
As the COVID 19 pandemic expanded, local boards of health and other municipal bodies, along with market managers, vendors, and shoppers, understandably became concerned about how to operate farmers markets safely. Most winter markets were cancelled and some summer market openings were put on hold.
As we work to respond to and recover from the public health crisis, the Collaborative is launching a process to help develop recommendations for the local food system and shape our priorities for the future.