Column: Supporting Massachusetts agriculture

MIKE SPRINGERphoto Mike Raymond of First Light Farm in Hamilton arranges fresh vegetables at his stand Thursday on the opening day of the Cape Ann Farmers Market at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester.

The purpose of this op-ed is to share core information and principle relevant to the goal of supporting Massachusetts farms. I have written 10 numbered points because it’s easier for readers or farmers to reference and share with each other. Summer is coming and it seems the time is ripe to create a user-friendly article with core information and tactics on how to support the farms that can support our health and economy, right here at home.

1. According to the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, there are 28,000 Massachusetts residents employed on 7,755 farms in the state. The goal of this article is how we might get that number to 38,000 and beyond while boosting our local economies.

2. When talking about the importance of creating 10,000 new jobs on Massachusetts farms, it’s good to understand that our official rate of 150,000 unemployed only represents those unemployed who are actively looking for a job. If you include “discouraged workers” or part-time workers, that number is much higher. So, a surge in farm employment from 28,000 to 38,000 would be a boost to many unemployed and local economies throughout the state.

3. While U.S. agriculture declined from 2007 to 2012, Massachusetts was one of the few states that experienced a 1 percent growth in both the number of farms and acres in farmland.  The average Masssachusetts farm produces $63,470 of agricultural products on farms that average about 68 acres, which tells me that even $5, $10 or $15 investments in local products by many of us can have a significant positive impact.

4. Five areas that can boost local farms; support of “Community Supported Agriculture,” continued expansion of farmers markets, greater use of farmstand apps and restaurant “farm of origin” participation. A fifth and powerful boost would be if area universities supported Massachusetts agriculture through buying fresh farm products for campus consumption.

5. Community Supported Agriculture or CSAs are important because they guarantee farmer’s revenue from those that buy shares. Second, farmers can get paid earlier in the season, which reduces risk and allows them to invest in needed capital investment for the season. The good news is Massachusetts Community Supported Agriculture has experienced a 95 percent increase since 2007. Progress will be to help farms get another 95 percent increase. And then another one. Some choose to buy “shares” with others or as a part of a group. A search with my zip code on the web tells me there are four CSAs near me; Farmer Dave’s, the Farm Direct Co-op, First Light Farm and Green Meadows Farm. 

7. The continued growth of farmers markets in Massachusetts connects residents with local farmers and contributes to direct market sales, which accounts for 10 percent of the state’s total sales of agricultural products. Another way to show support for “direct sales” farm marketing (farmer to customer) is by picking up the “agricultural” ornamental plates at the RMV, decorated with tomato, corn and pumpkin.

8. Families relaxing at home or on the road can support Massachusetts farming. Using the Mass Grown Map online, you can use your computer or smart phone to find farms and farm stands. Locating and going to these places can also be a part of a fun, healthy family outing.

9. It bears emphasizing that Massachusetts colleges can play a big role through using their purchasing power to support local farms. The 1 percent growth that Massachusetts farms experienced between 2007 and 2012 is a good start, but colleges that commit to supporting farms in their communities can help spike that growth. The next level of support is that of Greenfield Community College, which integrates coursework with “community efforts to support regional food security, local economies, and planning for resiliency.”

10. Through sharing and utilizing these points, I believe we might increase Massachusetts farm employment from 28,000 to 38,000 in the time to come. However, even better would be for people who know much more than I do about the farm business to correct and expand upon on what has been my best effort on this subject.

Matthew J. Fraser is a resident of Salem

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