Connecting farms and consumers
Massachusetts has long been a leader in connecting consumers with local farms, helping to shorten the food chain and sustain growers by allowing them to command fair prices for their crops. The Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP) is one of nine Buy Local organizations in the state that lead these efforts. The nonprofit serves 75 towns from the Cape Cod Canal, to the Rhode Island border, to just south of Boston. “This is a very suburban area with historic farms and new farms and a high demand for local food,” says Karen Schwalbe, executive director of SEMAP.
SEMAP does significant outreach to consumers about the benefits of buying locally. The organization features the stories of the people behind the food through spotlight articles in their newsletter and at ‘meet the farmer’ events, and they offer classes about how to cook with local ingredients. For those interested in buying locally, the organization creates an annual Local Food Guide, which lists all farmers in the area and includes information about where to buy local seafood, alcohol, and fibers. SEMAP also maintains a list of summer and winter farmers markets.
SEMAP also works one-on-one with farmers, offering a ‘twilight series’ of education events in the evenings and a day-long Ag and Food Conference every February. SEMAP has also been critical to the implementation of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), hosting farmer sign-up events at farmers markets and conferences, and individual visits with farmers about HIP.
Through their education, outreach, and advocacy work, SEMAP and the other Buy Local groups are key players in efforts to strengthen the food system. “When you take the elements of the Plan and parse it out about what Buy Locals do, there is a huge intersection. We support preserving land, helping local farms and processors to be viable, and marketing to consumers, as well as some workforce development,” says Karen.