A comprehensive approach to farm sustainability
Founded in 1986, Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust is not working just on farm conservation, but also on other challenges that local farmers face. As Jamie Pottern, Farm Conservation Specialist at Mount Grace, explains, “Conservation easements alone do not keep farms as farms.” She counts off other challenges: farmland access and affordability; housing availability and affordability, farm business viability, access to markets, and farmland transfer to non-farm buyers.
To help address these challenges, Mount Grace facilitates the Greater Quabbin Food Alliance, which serves as a venue for organizations to network and collaborate on projects that strengthen the local food and farm economy. The Alliance is composed of town and regional planners, educators, farmers, land trust staff, and advocates from around Franklin and Worcester counties, with working groups focused on projects such as Farm to Institution; Farm and Food Business Viability; Food Waste Recovery and Composting; and Food Access and Health.
When the Athol and Orange Farmers Markets were struggling with low attendance and low profits for vendors, the Alliance “convened a group of farmers, townspeople and the local food co-op, Quabbin Harvest, to see how we could raise all boats,” says Jamie. The group raised money to conduct an outreach campaign – using the “Lots More Local” tagline – and hired a seasonal market manager. Attendance at the Orange Farmers Market has increased as a result, leading to improved farmer profits, more local food choices for residents, and a vibrant community gathering place. The group hopes to see similar successes in Athol this year, with increased outreach and a new market manager.
Alliance working groups are bringing together diverse constituents through the lens of local food, health, and economy. The Farm to Institution Working Group has provided local food procurement training to more than 80 school food-service directors over the past two years. The Farm and Food Business Viability group has come together to increase local food procurement at area retailers. And the Food Access and Health group has been working to increase access to local, healthy food and support successful policies and programs, such as the Healthy Incentives Program.