Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

Working Group on Farming and Public Health

Throughout the process of developing the food plan, many discussions focused on the balance between protecting public safety through health regulations, and supporting the growth and sustainability of farms and food businesses at all scales. Because of the complexity of this topic, the Plan did not attempt to resolve it, but rather offered a set of recommendations for how to address it. Given the amount of interest in finding solutions to this challenge, the Collaborative chose it as one of its first projects, establishing the Working Group on Farming and Public Health.

The Collaborative engaged Patrick Field, a mediator and facilitator at the Consensus Building Institute, to lead the project. Several months of research, meetings, and interviews resulted in a final report, which centered around eight recommendations:

Report recommendations:

  1. Through new legislation, align procedures for adopting local health regulations related to farming with procedural requirements required of other municipal entities and similar to Title V procedures already in place. A bill was subsequently introduced, and a new law enacted in January 2021.
  2. Partners will develop Model Regulations, Variances, and Guidance for various farming activities and disseminate them widely across the Commonwealth. A model ordinance for the keeping of livestock has been developed by the MA Association of Health Boards and the Massachusetts Farm Bureau.
  3. The Guidebook for Massachusetts Boards of Health will be updated to include a specific and separate chapter on agriculture.
  4. Partners will create, maintain, and help municipalities and farmers utilize a “resource pool” of expertise in farming, farmers markets, and food safety to informally assist all parties in addressing issues, proposed regulations, and implementation of various regulations and programs.  
  5. The Commonwealth should fund “circuit rider” positions to assist municipalities in addressing farm and public health issues.
  6. Partners will explore a third-party certification program for farmers market vendors. 
  7. DPH, DEP and DAR should provide, with assistance from the Partners, quality, affordable, available, and widely utilized training in food safety, farming practices, composting, and direct sales for Boards of Health, public health agents, farmers, farmers market managers, vendors, and others.
  8. Partners should engage annually to monitor implementation and address new issues as they arise.

The full report, with detailed recommendations, is available for download here

The Working Group’s efforts were based on recommendations from the Plan.

Massachusetts Food System Collaborative