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.
In lieu of our annual in-person forum, the MA Food System Collaborative hosted a series of discussions this winter to examine the challenges COVID-19 has presented our local food system with, and what policy solutions might be needed to address them. Building off what we’ve learned from the Massachusetts’ Local Food System: Perspective on Resilience and Recovery report, these discussion sessions are the next step to take action collectively.
Each of the four sessions featured presentations from practitioners and policy experts who shared how they’ve adapted during COVID, how racial justice weaves through their work, and how policy can play a role in the response. Thank you to everyone who participated. If you would like to watch the discussions, the video recordings are linked below.
Keynote Panel: Furthering racial equity through local food system work and policy development
Our food system, like our country, was constructed within a systemically racist framework. As healthy food relies on healthy soil, a healthy food system relies on practices based on an understanding of this framework and a commitment to dismantling it. The speakers will discuss their organizations’ efforts to embed racial equity into their work. We will explore ways to develop racially just practices and policies in local food system work, and consider opportunities to further this work through policy change.
Moderator: Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, MFSC Steering Committee member and Chair of the Springfield Food Policy Council
Maria Moreira, World Farmers
Jen Faigel, CommonWealth Kitchen
John Waite, Franklin County Community Development Corporation
Panel 1: Challenges facing Massachusetts farms: land, education, regulation, and economic and financial sustainability
Farmers in Massachusetts struggle to compete in larger markets, due in part to higher costs of land, energy and other inputs. Programs that address farmland protection and access are not proving sufficient to meet the need, educational and technical assistance resources are limited, and regulations often challenge farmers’ ability to function sustainably. Join farmers, other practitioners, and policy experts to discuss these challenges and the need for policies and investments to address them.
Jeff Cole, MA Food System Collaborative
Joy Gary, Greater Ashmont Main Streets & Effloresce Culture & Design
Andre Tougas, Tougas Farm
Panel 2: Local food system supply chain: balancing safety, efficiency, and sustainability
Food supply chains were interrupted this spring as stay at home orders took effect, but local supply chains proved more resilient and adaptable than national and global ones. That adaptation was costly, though, requiring expensive infrastructure, labor-intensive practices, and navigating through complex regulatory systems. Policy experts and practitioners will discuss how they’ve adapted their practices to ensure food can be safely produced and consumed in their communities, and will consider possible policy solutions to overcome the obstacles to sustainability.
Rae Dick, Massachusetts Health Officers Association
Julia Coffey, Mass Food Delivery & Sunderland Farm Collaborative
Chuck Currie, Freedom Food Farm
Cheryl Straughter, Soleil Boston
Panel 3: Strengthening food security and increasing local food access for all
Hunger has increased dramatically in Massachusetts this year as a result of job losses due to the COVID-19 state of emergency - currently around one million people do not have adequate access to food. Emergency food services are stretched thin and access to public benefits programs has been challenging for many who need help affording basic needs for themselves and their families. Policy experts and practitioners will discuss advocacy and on-the-ground work being done to make sure our neighbors are fed, and we will strategize together on potential new equitable solutions.
Leran Minc, Project Bread
Laura Sylvester, Food Bank of Western Mass
Casey Burns, Coalition for Healthy Greater Worcester & Worcester Food Policy Council
Norris Guscott, Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance