News Archive

Archived Posts

More than $2.5 Million in HIP Incentives Earned
December 01, 2017
2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum
October 19, 2017
Job posting: Outreach and Engagement Coordinator
September 11, 2017
Protecting farms by reducing the estate tax burden
September 06, 2017
Equity, race, and the food system
September 05, 2017
Healthy Incentives Program: Off to a great start
September 04, 2017
Better Access to Healthy, Local Foods for Thousands in Massachusetts
June 11, 2017
Policy solutions for protecting pollinators
May 20, 2017
ACTION ALERT: Call Senators to Support HIP Funding
May 16, 2017
May 2017 MA Food System Collaborative newsletter
May 02, 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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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.

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 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.

September 04, 2017

Healthy Incentives Program: Off to a great start

After more than two years of planning and development, the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) issued its first incentives in April, and has already far surpassed expected participation. In addition, the Massachusetts Legislature and governor, recognizing the importance of the program, made a significant investment in HIP in the State’s FY’18 budget. This statewide program offers a one-for-one match to SNAP recipients when they use their EBT cards to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables directly from participating farms at farmstands, farmers markets, mobile markets, and CSAs.

At the time of this writing, there are more than 225 participating retailers in the program, and more are coming on-line each week. More than $500,000 in benefits have been earned since April, already surpassing the amount of SNAP purchases at these retailers for all of 2016. In July alone, 15,000 households took advantage of the benefit, providing their families with healthy food and Massachusetts farmers with increased sales. More than 650 SNAP households have used HIP to purchase CSA memberships in 2017, as compared with 163 families who participated in a pilot program last year.

“HIP is an unqualified success for the Brockton Farmers Market,” said Market Manager Jon Van Kuiken. In the past two years combined the market had fewer than 30 sales of local food to SNAP recipients. On market’s first day of the season more than 80 people came to use their SNAP benefits to earn HIP benefits. “Our farmers sold most of their produce by 1:30. People loved the program! Everyone was appreciative and many were very excited,” he said. SNAP recipients have been lining up to purchase food as much as an hour before the farmers market in Boston’s Copley Square opens each week, as well.

“HIP has definitely increased my sales,” said Nicole McKinstry from McKinstry 's Market Garden in Chicopee. “We are seeing new customers regularly on a daily basis. Most are so excited about buying local fruit and vegetables that they now can afford, many of them with children who never had fresh fruits and vegetables before. The seniors are very appreciative of this program as well, and use their HIP money very wisely.”

“Now that I know what HIP is, I’m making sure to buy fruits and vegetables first each month,” said Marie Loranger of Monson, who was one of the first people to receive HIP incentives when she purchased vegetables in April. “My doctor has told me I need to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables, and my response has been that it’s too expensive. Now I have no excuse! I’m buying more vegetables and freezing them so I can use them all year.” HIP incentives can also be used to purchase vegetable plants, which Loranger has done as well, and she is looking forward to harvesting her own healthy food later in the summer.

Recognizing the value of this innovative program, and responding to a campaign led by the Collaborative and dozens of food system organizations, the legislature and governor approved a $1.35 million budget item to support HIP in FY’18. More than a million dollars still must be raised to reach the required match for the initial USDA grant that launched the program, but this investment by the state is a huge success for advocates and a significant vote of confidence for the program.

At the same time, a bill is working its way through the Legislature that would codify the program in statute, helping to ensure its sustainability past the three-year term of the USDA grant. An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program (H.2131), introduced by Representative Paul Mark, had its first hearing in front of the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee at the State House in May. Testimony and comments of support are still being accepted by the Committee.

More background about HIP can be found at at www.mass.gov/hip.

June 11, 2017

Better Access to Healthy, Local Foods for Thousands in Massachusetts

farmersmarketatforestpark.com

A new program is improving access to fresh, healthy foods for thousands of families around Massachusetts, and increasing sales for local farmers. The more than 440,000 families in Massachusetts who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are receiving mailings this month to inform them about the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) (www.mass.gov/hip), which seeks to increase food security for SNAP households, support the local agricultural economy, and improve health outcomes for participating families.

HIP is a project of the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance, in partnership with the Department of Agricultural Resources and the Department of Public Health, along with a coalition of more than 40 organizations including Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Project Bread, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers Markets, and the University of Massachusetts’ Stockbridge School of Agriculture.

When SNAP recipients use their EBT cards to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs, HIP automatically credits their account with a one-to-one match of up to $80 per month, depending upon household size. Earned HIP incentives can then be used towards any future SNAP purchase.

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. 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.

Massachusetts has long been a leader in direct-to-consumer sales from farms, with the number of these retailers growing dramatically in recent years. Shopping at these outlets is often seen as a luxury for the one in nine Massachusetts residents who rely on SNAP, though, since it is already a challenge to stretch their limited monthly food budget in a state with some of the highest food prices in the nation. Dozens of local programs around the state have offered similar matching programs in recent years – Boston Bounty Bucks matched more than $200,000 in purchases in 2015, and SNAP & Save, a program of CISA, provided more than $40,000 in matching purchases at 21 farmers markets in the Pioneer Valley – but HIP is the first statewide program of its kind in the U.S. While other programs relied on coupons or tokens for SNAP recipients to make their purchases, HIP is also the first to apply  the customer’s incentive directly to their EBT card, thereby eliminating the stigma often felt by low-income consumers when their transactions have to be handled differently than others, and improving efficiency in the management of the benefit.

“Now that I know what HIP is, I’m making sure to buy fruits and vegetables first each month,” said Marie Loranger of Monson, who was one of the first people to receive HIP incentives when she purchased vegetables in April. “My doctor has told me I need to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables, and my response has been that it’s too expensive. Now I have no excuse! I’m buying more vegetables and freezing them so I can use them all year. I can’t wait for strawberries and blueberries and corn!” HIP incentives can also be used to purchase vegetable plants, which Loranger has done as well, and she is looking forward to harvesting her own healthy food later in the summer.  

Massachusetts farmers are beneficiaries of HIP as well, seeing increased sales and attracting new customers. Those sales benefit the local economy: according to CISA, if every household in Massachusetts spent $20 more on local food and $20 less on non-local food each month, $334,055,520 more local income would be generated per year and 4,272 local jobs would be created in the state. Increased farm viability thanks to increased sales helps farmers steward more than 500,000 acres of farmland, protecting soil, air, and water resources.  

“HIP has diversified and increased participation in our CSA, providing huge incentives, and giving people the push to sign up,” said Bethany Bellingham of Farmer Dave's CSA in Dracut, MA, where SNAP recipients can sign up for a farmshare and receive HIP benefits along with their weekly share of fresh vegetables. “Now they don't have to choose between shopping at a farm or going to the grocery store. They have more options to purchase healthy, local food.”  

The launch of HIP follows the success of the Healthy Incentives Pilot, a program run by DTA in Hampden County in 2011-12, which provided SNAP recipients an incentive of 30 cents per dollar spent on fruits and vegetables. During the course of that program participants consumed 26% more fruits and vegetables, demonstrating that such incentives can have a significant impact on healthy eating.  

As a result of that success, USDA awarded Massachusetts a grant of $3.4 million to launch HIP, the only statewide program of its kind in the nation. Additional financial contributions to the program have come from the City of Boston, Project Bread, the John Merck Fund, and others, and efforts to raise other funds to meet the required match are ongoing.  

The success of HIP was identified as a priority in the 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan (mafoodsystem.org/plan/), a comprehensive food system plan developed for the State. The Massachusetts Food System Collaborative (mafoodsystem.org) is a network of Massachusetts food system stakeholder organizations, working to promote, monitor, and facilitate implementation of the Plan. 

May 20, 2017

Policy solutions for protecting pollinators

Bumble bee on cranberry flower. Credit: UMass

Pollinators and their habitats are in danger, and their critical role in our food system requires careful consideration and deliberate action. Honeybees alone are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat. Without healthy pollinator populations, our food system would struggle to provide enough food, experience decreased diversity of local foods, and face significant economic and employment loss. In Massachusetts, pollinators contribute to major agricultural crops that, if threatened, would negatively impact our local economy. For instance, cranberries are the state’s most valuable agricultural commodity, cultivated on about 13,500 acres and generating $1.43 billion in local economic activity, according to the Massachusetts Cranberry Revitalization Task Force. A threat to the health of pollinators jeopardizes this industry – the healthy food it produces, the income it earns, and the livelihoods of its 6,900 workers. And cranberries are not alone – the sustainability of much of the Commonwealth’s fruit and vegetable crops rely upon the health of our pollinators.

The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan refers to pollinators in 10 action items that would promote pollinator health, protect and preserve pollinator habitat, and support native pollinators. Recommendations include the need for more research, education, and technical assistance, as well as consideration of policies and regulations that would protect and enhance pollinator habitat. Increased land conservation, and the formation of an advisory committee on pollinator issues are also recommended.

Four bills related to pollinators have been introduced in the Massachusetts legislature this session:

Bill H.2113 An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators, filed by filed by Representative Carolyn Dykema, requires development of and compliance with training for those who use neonicotinoids in agriculture and horticulture. It also requires labeling seeds and plants grown with neonicotinoids, and the evaluation of potential pollinator habitat installation at solar energy sites.

Bills S.451 and H.2926, introduced by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Mary Keefe are nearly identical. They both create commissions tasked with studying statewide opportunities to increase and enhance native pollinator habitat. They also both enhance and expand pollinator habitat in diverse areas for pollinator populations, call for research to identify best practices for promoting pollinator health, call for evaluating the adequacy of funding for pollinator protection efforts, and expand public education programs to address pollinator habitat loss.

Bill H.457 An Act to promote pollinator forage, filed by Representative Keiko Orrall, creates a list of plant species that are suitable forage for pollinators in Massachusetts, and promotes the planting of these species.

The collective impact of these bills would create protections and favorable conditions for pollinators to thrive in Massachusetts. They would also represent significant steps toward several of the Plan’s action items. Specifically, the Plan calls for increased education and technical assistance to ensure the health of pollinators, including education for beekeepers, pesticide applicators, farmers, landowners, municipalities, and regulators (Inputs 4.3.1), and for the development of a committee to review and address policies around pollinator issues (Farming 2.2.7). The Collaborative supports a science-based approach to these recommendations, that balances the needs of production and protection of the environment.

Most food system stakeholders agree that action must be taken to protect pollinators, but some disagree on exactly how to implement those protections. An Act to protect Massachusetts pollinators has both supporters and opponents, due to its proposed restriction of neonicotinoid use and distribution to certified applicants. Currently neonicotinoids are classified as general-use and sold without restriction, including at hardware and garden stores to the general public. While this restriction could serve to protect pollinators, it is not without cost to the agricultural and horticultural businesses that would need to comply with the law. These businesses would bear the upfront and ongoing costs associated with training and certifying applicators. Additionally, if growers were required to label plants grown with neonicotinoids, that could negatively affect the market for their product, given the negative campaigns around neonicotinoids. And of course, growers would need to seek out alternative pest management techniques if they chose not to become certified. It takes time and resources to adjust crop management plans. Growers work tirelessly each year to produce food and plants that support our local food system, and want to have access to all available effective tools.

Supporters of this bill point to research around the role of insecticides in pollinator die-off, and the connectivity of our ecosystems. Neonicotinoids can spread by environmental means, like many insecticides and pesticides, reaching beyond their target area, impacting pollinators and other species. Bees are the most active insect pollinators, and have quickly become the face of pollinator campaigns. Both managed honeybee hives and native bee species have gained strong public support as researchers continue working to concretely identify the significant decline in population in recent years. Several theories exist, many suggesting a collection of factors at work, to explain why this phenomenon wipes out so many hives each year. Studies have yet to find conclusive evidence implicating neonicotinoids as the main cause of pollinator die-off, but these insecticides are far from being absolved of affecting pollinator populations. Several states, including Connecticut, have already taken action to limit the use and sale of neonicotinoids in order to protect pollinators.

To keep up with progress on these bills, connect with local conservation and agricultural groups to learn more about their work around pollinators, like Conservation Law Foundation and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau.

May 16, 2017

ACTION ALERT: Call Senators to Support HIP Funding

Senator Anne Gobi 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 senators as possible to sign on to this amendment by 5:00 this Thursday, May 18.

Please:

  • Call or email your state senator this week to ask them to co-sponsor the budget amendment sponsored by Senator Anne Gobi to provide funding for the Healthy Incentives Program. 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.

May 02, 2017

May 2017 MA Food System Collaborative newsletter

To read the May 2017 issue of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative's newsletter, click here

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