Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

What HIP means to Chris

Chris Kurth farms fifty acres in Sudbury, sells direct to consumers at farmers’ markets in greater Boston, and participates in the Healthy Incentives Program. When asked about his experience with the program, he credits it as the “single, best change that has happened to Siena Farms, in the last half-decade. My farm business is only successful to the extent my customers cook. HIP customers are cooking. And they are buying our vegetables by the cart-full.”

Farming is no easy business to make work, at any scale, for any crop, for any region, in any country. Chris, now twenty years into his career as a farmer, still feels he is trying to “crack the code” on how to run a profitable vegetable farm. Although fresh, locally grown produce is still very much in demand, costs of production keep rising, and the marketplace as a whole is trending toward convenience. Chris notes that he and many farmers he knows in the region have been seeing sales slow in recent years.

But after Siena Farms became a HIP vendor, sales increased dramatically. During the last two winters, Siena Farms’ average daily sales at the Boston Public Market grew by over 300% due to HIP sales, compared with comparable dates pre-HIP. “Our average daily sales at BPM this winter included between $500 and $5,000 of HIP sales – day after day. On many days HIP sales represented over 90% of my income overall.” Chris has drafted annual financial projections based on the growth seen over the last two years, with an expectation that HIP sales will comprise at least a quarter, and possibly up to 50%, of his total annual sales.

HIP has also inspired a significant overhaul to the annual crop planning process at Siena Farms. The majority of Chris’ new HIP customers have been from the Chinese-American community, so the farm has started growing more Asian vegetables that are familiar to and in demand by these customers.

Chris is grateful for the state funding that has brought the HIP program this far, but the program suspensions are very difficult for him to work around.  As a farmer growing crops that take months to mature from seed to harvest, there’s a limit to how light on his feet Chris can be in responding to changes in market demand. “The best example of this is the two acres of white daikon radish we planted last summer to harvest in the late fall to hold in our root cellar and sell all winter and spring,” he explains. “Last winter we were selling about 10 bushels or 500 lbs of daikon per day at the BPM to our HIP customers – so that’s why we ramped our planting acreage way up in 2018.  The crop did great. We brought about 50,000 pounds into the root cellar in November, and sold about half in December, January, and February, all through HIP. Now with no HIP for March, April, and most of May, I have the other 25,000 pounds sitting down there in beautiful condition, and I’m on the phone calling wholesalers trying to sell it for pennies on the dollar for what I would get retail.”

The program needs year-round, stable, and permanent funding for the program to work at its best for Chris and his customers, he says. Consistency is key for Siena Farms and for every farm in the state that participates in this program.

Separate from the all challenges of making farming work as a business and the success of HIP relative to those challenges, there has been an important cultural impact of HIP for Chris. HIP has made immigrant communities and SNAP recipients his best customers. Chris couldn’t figure out how to effectively serve these folks and keep his business operating profitably until HIP started. Chris hopes that HIP becomes a model that inspires other communities and states across the country to crack the code of affordable local produce in similar ways.

For more information about HIP, and the Campaign for HIP Funding, click here.

Massachusetts Food System Collaborative