Current Posts

2018 Budget Signed: Good news for HIP, other food system priorities
July 26, 2018
Farm to School Policy Project
June 12, 2018
HIP Advocacy Works! State Adds Funding for Program
June 12, 2018
Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report
June 12, 2018
Environmental bond, APR legislation under consideration
June 12, 2018
Protecting the tools for land protection
March 26, 2018
Commercial Food Waste Ban Working: Food Waste Diversion Doubles in Two Years, Creates Jobs and Economic Activity
March 26, 2018
Ongoing Support for the Healthy Incentives Program
March 26, 2018
More than 200 people attend 2017 MA Food System Forum
November 30, 2017
Addressing farmland challenges in Massachusetts
September 07, 2017

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July 26, 2018

2018 Budget Signed: Good news for HIP, other food system priorities

Governor Baker has signed the FY2019 budget.

The budget includes $4 million for the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which doubles SNAP households’ purchases of fresh produce when they buy it directly from farmers. This program launched in April 2017 and has already generated more than $5 million in sales for MA farmers and provided tens of thousands of families with fresh, healthy, local food that they would otherwise have been able to afford. Hundreds of farmers and organizations participated in the Campaign for HIP funding which led to this success.

Another victory for the local food system comes in the form of an allocation of $500,000 for Massachusetts’ nine Buy Local organizations. That item had been $300,000 for the past several years, and was increased in recognition of the valuable education, outreach, and technical assistance that the nine organizations provide to farmers and consumers across the state.

The budget also contains:

  • $120,000 for the Massachusetts Farm to School Project;
  • $100,000 for the Massachusetts Food Trust Program;
  • $350,000 for Project Bread’s summer food service outreach program and school breakfast outreach program;
  • $250,000 for Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools program;
  • $50,000 for a pilot project operated by Grow Food Northampton to connect organic gardening, outdoor exercise, healthy food, food preparation and elementary school aged children in the greater Northampton area; 
  • $18,385,000 for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Program (MEFAP); and
  • An increase in the Dairy Farm Tax Credit by $2 million to a total of $6 million.

Also included in the budget are changes to the law that governs the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program, beginning the long overdue process of rewriting APR regulations. The new language requires greater transparency in the process and makes some transfers simpler. The changes also give greater oversight authority to the Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee (ALPC), and requires more input from the Board of Agriculture and farmers.

The budget also contains language giving the Department of agricultural resources inspection and other authority to enforce the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.

June 12, 2018

Farm to School Policy Project

The MA Food System Collaborative is working with Massachusetts Farm to School and other partners to develop and advocate for a set of policy changes that would increase schools’ ability to purchase more local food and incorporate more agricultural and nutrition education into their curricula.

When schools purchase foods from local producers, they introduce students to healthy, local foods and support local farmers, processors, and fishermen. Agricultural and nutrition education can be tied to school gardens and other STEM topics, and makes students aware of the food system and the importance of eating nutritious food. However, schools face many barriers to purchasing more local food and incorporating these topics into their curriculum.

The project is gathering input on potential state policy strategies through informational interviews and meetings, and will then draft strategies and gather additional feedback. By the Fall, we hope to develop a multi-year advocacy campaign to promote the chosen policy proposals, complete with outreach materials and trainings for advocates.

There are recommendations throughout the MA Local Food Action Plan related to school food, and the Collaborative sees this issue as an excellent example of how building connections between sectors can lead to a more equitable and sustainable food system. Mass Farm to School has been working to connect schools and farmers since 2004, and their leadership has made the state a national model for effective farm to school programs.

To learn more, please see Mass Farm to School’s website, or contact Winton Pitcoff.

June 12, 2018

HIP Advocacy Works! State Adds Funding for Program

The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) re-launched in May after a suspension of slightly more than a month. As the growing season begins, SNAP recipients are once again able to earn a one-to-one match for their purchases directly from farmers at participating farmers markets, mobile markets, farmstands, and CSAs.

The program’s suspension on April 15 happened because all funds budgeted for three years of HIP operations and incentives were exhausted after just over a year of operating. From April 1, 2017 through April 15, 2018 program participants earned more than $4.2 million in incentives, when the projected amount budgeted for had been approximately one-tenth of that.

Thanks to advocacy efforts from farmers, families, and food system organizations, the Massachusetts legislature proposed, and Governor Baker signed, a supplemental budget that provided $2.15 million for HIP through the end of the current fiscal year (June 30). The program re-launched on May 23.

At the same time, the Campaign for HIP Funding resulted in both the senate and the house including $4 million for HIP in their respective budget proposals for fiscal year 2019 (FY19: July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019). While this is less than the $6.2 million requested, it represents a significant increase from the $1.35 million in last year’s budget, and shows that efforts to educate legislators about the importance of HIP to farmers, families, and communities were successful.

The FY19 budget is currently being reviewed by a conference committee to reconcile differences between those introduced by the two chambers, and will be sent to Governor Baker in June for his consideration.

Unfortunately, funds for community partners that provided critical support for the program – Buy Local organizations, food banks, Project Bread, Mass Farmers Markets, and UMass – have been deobligated, so those organizations will not have resources to continue to support the program after June 30. Efforts to include amendments to restore this funding in both the house and senate budgets were unsuccessful.

Based on estimates from the Department of Transitional Assistance, which operates HIP, $4 million will not be enough funding to operate HIP through all of FY19. Efforts are ongoing to consider how to address this gap, including outreach to other potential funding sources. The Collaborative is participating in these discussions, and will continue to coordinate advocacy efforts for additional funding in future years’ budgets.

Along with the funding bills, the Collaborative has been advocating for H2131: An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program. This bill would codify the HIP program in statute, helping to ensure its long term sustainability. The bill was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing on May 29, and is now under consideration by the House Committee on Ways and Means.

June 12, 2018

Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report

The MA Food System Collaborative has released “Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report.” This report showcases organizations, businesses and networks working toward the goals in the MA Local Food Action Plan, which was completed at the end of 2015.

Each organization highlighted in the report is working toward a sustainable, equitable food system in creative and collaborative ways. A task force is enabling urban agriculture, while an island-based organization is running a program to turn food scraps into compost. Farms are improving their economic and environmental sustainability, and fishermen are working collectively to find a local market for underappreciated fish species. Groups are creating spaces for local butchering and local processing. Institutions are prioritizing purchasing local food, and businesses are connecting farmers to chefs. Advocates are promoting state policies to improve access to grocery stores and school breakfast, while farmers are participating in the Healthy Incentives Program to help more customers be able to purchase their produce. Many organizations are working to prepare children, adults, and people who are incarcerated to successfully fill jobs on farms or in restaurants, or even run their own food businesses.

Collectively, along with hundreds of other examples around the state, these efforts illustrate the breadth of the food system as well as the many ways issues like fair access to jobs, land, and food are being addressed.

The report is available here.

June 12, 2018

Environmental bond, APR legislation under consideration

The governor has introduced, and the legislature is considering, the quadrennial environmental bond bill. The 2018 version of this spending authorization (H.4599, An Act promoting climate change adaptation, environmental and natural resource protection, and investment in recreational assets and opportunity) proposes funding for many programs supported by Plan recommendations. The Collaborative has been working with allies to ensure that this bill provides appropriate resources for programs critical to the local food system. This includes advocating for:

  • $20 million for the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) program in a dedicated account;
  • $26.5 million for the Farm Viability Enhancement Program and other programs that support energy conservation, urban agriculture, and food safety; and
  • $20 million to support the UMass Center for Urban Sustainability in Waltham.

Also critical is that the State carry forward unexpended funds from the 2014 bond bill, so that those resources can still be invested in their respective programs. The Collaborative is particularly concerned with the fact that much of this authorization is never spent, so that the impression is given that the state is making significant capital investments in agriculture, but the spending never actually happens.

Some sections of the bill and proposed amendments are not funding-related, but still address issues cited in the Plan, such as:

  • alleviating the burden of the estate tax on farm sustainability;
  • establishing of a task force to develop a statewide farmland action plan; and
  • establishing of a revolving fund for transfers of development rights (TDRs).

To see the Collaborative’s full testimony on this bill, click here.

At the same time, the Baker administration has released its capital spending plan for fiscal year 2019, based on funds authorized by the 2014 bond bill. That plan includes:

  • $10.2 million for all land protection programs under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, which includes the APR program;
  • $350,000 for the Agricultural Environmental Enhancement Program;
  • $950,000 for the Farm Viability Enhancement Program;
  • $200,000 for the Agricultural Food Safety Improvement Program;
  • $500,000 for grants to support urban agriculture;
  • $1 million for the Massachusetts Food Trust;
  • $1 million for the Massachusetts Food Venture Program; and
  • $1 million for Agricultural Climate Resilience Enhancement.

The full spending plan is available here.

Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program

As reported in our last newsletter, concerns about how land protected through the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program may be transferred, and to whom, led to the introduction this session of legislation (S.2175) which would address these concerns, but also make a significant change to the definition of an APR. This raised a new set of concerns among some APR Program advocates, and the Collaborative joined them in several meetings with legislators to discuss ways that APR legislation might best address program challenges and improve transparency and administration, which maintaining the program's commitment to farmland affordability.

A much-modified version of the bill was included in the Senate's recently-passed budget. As House and Senate conferees meet to reconcile the differences between their respective budgets, the Collaborative continues to work with allied organizations to advocate for language that will improve transparency and communications between the Department of Agricultural Resources and buyers and sellers of APR properties, and provide for greater stakeholder input into APR Program regulations and policies.

March 26, 2018

Protecting the tools for land protection

Massachusetts’ Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program is one of the oldest state  farmland protection programs in the country. Enacted in 1977, the program targets the most productive soils and purchases perpetual easements that assure the land will be available for farming for generations to come. 

Since the program’s inception, provisions have been added that work to keep farmland affordable. These first took the form of a “Right of First Refusal” (ROFR) and have shifted over time to be “Options to Purchase at Agricultural Value” (OPAV). These provisions require that landowners first offer the property for sale to the Commonwealth at its agricultural value, prior to selling a restricted property on the open market. 

Several recent incidents surrounding the administration of ROFRs and OPAVs and a number of other administrative decisions have caused concern among landowners, farm and conservation organizations, and policymakers. As a consequence, the Department of Agricultural Resources, the agency that oversees the APR Program, has undertaken an extensive review of the program’s policies and administration through a series of stakeholder listening sessions. Three sessions have already occurred, and a fourth is planned for April 4.

Several legislators have filed bills to reform the program. One such bill, S.2175, has garnered significant attention and seeks to make significant changes to the APR program in a number of ways. Many organizations, including the MA Food System Collaborative, support fixing the underlying issues that led to this legislation, but fear that S.2175 as written could jeopardize the integrity of the APR Program. We have suggested changes that would require more public involvement in the development of rules and regulations for the program, clarify currently ambiguous language, and ensure that landowners would not be forced to sell property without their consent.

The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan states that: “Farmland is the foundational infrastructure for the State’s Agricultural Industry. It is a natural resource critical to the State’s air and water quality, and vital to our community character and heritage. For most farm families, it is the source of their income and their primary retirement asset.”  We continue to work with legislators and other stakeholders to assure the success of the Commonwealth’s farmland protection tools as prioritized in the Plan.

March 26, 2018

Commercial Food Waste Ban Working: Food Waste Diversion Doubles in Two Years, Creates Jobs and Economic Activity

On October 1, 2014 the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) began enforcing the Commercial Food Waste Ban, an effort to divert food waste from landfills. MassDEP targeted food waste and other organics in part because it was the largest segment of the municipal solid waste stream. Food and other organics account for well over a million tons a year of the approximately 5.5 million tons of waste Massachusetts disposes of in landfills and incinerators every year.

In 2014, MassDEP estimated that about 100,000 tons of food waste was already being diverted each year. MassDEP’s goal, stated in the 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, was to divert an additional 350,000 tons a year of food waste by 2020.

The ban requires any entity disposing of at least one ton of organic material per week to either donate or re-purpose any useable food. The remaining food would then be sent to an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility or to composting and animal feed operations. 1,700 businesses and institutions are impacted by the Ban. To help support these producers adhere to the Ban, MassDEP and the Center for EcoTechnology (CET) created guidelines and best practices, educated stakeholders, and promoted the program.

The total reported diversion of food waste in 2016 was 260,000 tons – an increase of 150,000 tons over 2014. This number includes food waste that was composted (166,000 tons), processed in an anaerobic digester (57,000 tons), donated (22,000 tons), fed to animals (4,000), and processed with wastewater (13,000). MassDEP estimates that the organics being fed to animals, which is difficult to measure, is actually higher, and that about 50,000 more tons a year end up in the sewer systems via onsite disposal systems. In 2017 MassDEP released an economic impact analysis on the commercial food waste ban which found that in two years the commercial food waste ban created more than 900 new jobs, and $175 million in economic activity.

The proliferation of organics infrastructure is key to the success of this effort, and the Commonwealth has made loans and grants to promote the development of new composting and AD facilities. In 2014 there were about 30 composting and AD operations with the capacity to accept about 150,000 tons of organic material a year.  Currently there are more than 45 sites, with compost capacity for 150,000 tons a year and AD capacity for 315,000 tons a year. Even more importantly, there is additional capacity under development for about 570,000 more tons a year.

Does this solve Massachusetts’ food and organic waste problem? No, there is still a long way to go. There are still about a million tons a year of organics going to landfills and incinerators. MassDEP needs to lower the threshold for the organics ban to require those institutions that are producing less than a ton a week of food to divert their food waste. At the same time, more resources need to be dedicated to the challenging task of enforcing the ban.

The work done so far is a great example to other states, and could be a model for how other waste streams are handled in the future. Food system stakeholders from all sectors have a role to play in ensuring that this success continues, by helping to educate producers and processors about the ban, and advocating for strengthened regulations and more resources for enforcement and education.

- Kirstie Pecci, Zero Waste Project, Conservation Law Foundation

March 26, 2018

Ongoing Support for the Healthy Incentives Program

More than 80 advocates, farmers, and SNAP recipients participated in HIP Lobby Day at the Massachusetts State House on March 1, meeting with legislators and staff to educate them about the Healthy Incentives Program and the need for ongoing funding to support it. The Program provides a dollar-for-dollar match for SNAP dollars spent on fruits and vegetables purchased at participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs statewide. Every dollar allocated to this program is a direct investment in the health of Massachusetts residents and communities, our local economy, and our natural resources.

The day, organized by the Collaborative, began with a well-attended briefing held for legislators and staff, with speakers including Liz O’Gilvie, Chair of the Springfield Food Policy Council; farmer Dave Dumaresq from Dracut; and Collaborative Director Winton Pitcoff. Advocates were then tasked with visiting each of the 200 senators’ and representatives’ offices to tell the story of the tremendous impact HIP has had on families, farms, and communities, and to ask for support for the program.

Advocates’ primary message was to ask legislators to support $6.2 million for HIP in the fiscal year 2019 (7/1/18-6/30/19) budget, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Officials recognize the value of the program to low-income families, farmers, the economy, and the environment. A number of key lawmakers are championing the program in budget discussions, stressing the great return on investment HIP can provide, and the important values it represents. Governor Baker’s budget proposal included $1.35 million for HIP, the same amount that the Collaborative and our allies successfully advocated for last year, but since demand has proven to be so much greater than anticipated, more is needed.

Even with support in the legislature, HIP is scheduled to be suspended on April 15 due to a lack of funds. Demand for the program has been so high, with more than $3.8 million in incentives earned in just the first 11 months, that resources budgeted for three years have been exhausted in less than one. Efforts are underway to attach an amendment providing $1.5 million to a supplemental budget currently under consideration, so that the program would not have to be suspended.

The Collaborative’s Campaign for HIP Funding is ongoing. More than 120 organizations and 150 farms and markets have signed on to letters in support of the program, and advocates are still encouraged to urge their networks and members to call legislators. Even lawmakers who know about HIP and don’t need to be convinced of the importance of funding it should hear from their constituents, to reinforce the amount of support for the program. Follow our Facebook page to see updates on when action is needed. For more details about the Campaign, and information about how to get involved, click here.

November 30, 2017

More than 200 people attend 2017 MA Food System Forum

The MA Food System Collaborative hosted the 2017 Massachusetts Food System Forum in Leominster on November 17. More than 200 people, from farmers to funders, elected officials to nonprofit leaders, looked back at how the food system has become stronger in the two years since the completion of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan and generated ideas on how to work together to continue to move toward the goals of the Plan. 

Speakers highlighted projects that demonstrate the importance of connectivity in the food system and shared stories of successful advocacy efforts. Breakout discussions focused on topics from food waste to school food to farmland access, and elicited suggestions for working collectively going forward. 

The Forum began with an update on the work of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, which promotes, monitors, and facilitates implementation of the MA Local Food Action Plan. Currently, the Collaborative is working with state agencies, farmers, farmers market managers, and other key players to implement, increase outreach, advocate for, and fund the Healthy Incentives Program. The group is also working on policy recommendations to keep edible food out of the waste stream, and working on other issues ranging from developing recommendations for changes to the Massachusetts Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, to developing metrics to monitor progress toward Plan goals. 

Stakeholders shared highlights of their programmatic and policy work in the food system. The Worcester Food Policy Council is advocating for healthcare providers to screen for hunger, and for schools to serve breakfast after the bell. The Springfield Food Policy Council has enabled all schools in the city to offer a salad bar and has helped develop gardens at 24 schools. The Western MA Food Processing Center, which helps food producers effectively scale their operations, is upgrading their infrastructure with the construction of more freezer space to better serve entrepreneurs, thanks in part to a Food Ventures grant from MDAR; they estimate that 350 individuals will use the facility. Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux, who is also Chair of the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, provided an update on the Council’s work.

After lunch, a legislator and former legislative staffer answered questions about the legislative process and how to best engage in policy advocacy. Representatives from a number of food system organizations spoke about several recent and ongoing advocacy campaigns, and the strategies and techniques that have been successful.

During the breakout discussions, attendees spoke about barriers that prevent the food system from achieving the goals set out in the Plan and how to work collectively toward the goals. Some preliminary notes from these sessions:

  • The Farmland Access group saw the need for more collaboration and prioritization, and the need for more attention and funds focused on preserving farmland. 
  • The Food Access group brainstormed various sectors that should be involved in this work, such as healthcare, as well as how to raise funds for the HIP program. 
  • The Food Waste group discussed the food waste ban and whether enforcement or implementation could be expanded, as well as the infrastructure and networking needed to improve food recovery. 
  • The Local Food Marketing group noted the need for more market data, as well as the need for collaboration between various branding efforts. 
  • A lack of communication between training programs, employers, and job seekers was noted as a place for improvement by the Workforce Development group. 
  • Finally, the School Food group noted the importance of understanding the procurement process, and sharing best practices.

Throughout the day, attendees added notes to a bulletin board delineating the four main goals of the Plan, indicating what they are doing toward those goals and what they’d like to see happen to further develop a sustainable, equitable food system.

Thank you to everyone who joined us, and to all of the speakers who shared their stories and knowledge at the Forum:

Stakeholder highlights

Panel discussion: Legislative and administrative advocacy

  • Representative Paul Mark
  • Courtney Feeley Karp, Senior Counsel, Klavens Law Group, P.C.

Advocacy campaigns: Lessons from the field

September 07, 2017

Addressing farmland challenges in Massachusetts

by Cris Coffin, Chair, MA Food System Collaborative, and Policy Director, Land For Good

The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan notes that farmland is the foundational infrastructure for the Commonwealth’s agricultural industry, and specifically recognizes the need to address   two challenges: protect our most productive farmland for the future, and find ways to keep farms in farming as the $1.8 billion in land and other agricultural assets that our senior farmers own change hands over the next two decades. As demand for Massachusetts-grown foods grows, and efforts to keep those foods affordable for all communities increase, the need for these solutions has never been more urgent.

Despite Massachusetts’ pioneering land conservation efforts, just 14% of the Commonwealth’s 523,500 acres of land in farms is permanently protected and can never be developed. In addition, more than one-third of the Commonwealth’s farmland is owned or managed by farmers age 65 and older, and 90% of these seniors have no next generation poised to take over the operation.

These are not small challenges. To keep land in farming, to bring more land into production (as the Plan recommends), to help older farmers plan for their future, and to provide affordable land tenure options for the next generation of Massachusetts farmers will take a combination of new policy tools, more funding for proven established programs, and increased and better coordinated services among NGOs, farm lenders, and federal and state agencies.

One of the Plan’s land-related goals that the MA Food System Collaborative, Land For Good, American Farmland Trust, and others have been working on is the Plan’s call for a formal statewide Farmland Action Plan to compile data on land use trends and use that data to guide state investments and policies related to farmland access, protection, and use. The Legislature passed a bill last year which would have established a task force to develop this plan, but unfortunately this was vetoed by Governor Baker. In lieu of the task force, Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner John Lebeaux established an advisory panel to review the state’s policies related to farmland protection and access, identify challenges, and recommend new policy tools or changes to current state programs, policies and regulations.

On May 31 I joined a group of about 20 other stakeholders – including representatives from the Board of Agriculture, the Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee, and farm, commodity and conservation organizations, as well as legislators and farmers – for the first meeting of this Farmland Advisory Panel. We had a productive, wide-ranging discussion led by Commissioner Lebeaux, and identified several issues the group felt were among the most important to address. Two smaller subgroups were created to start digging in to these issues in earnest, and these subgroups have begun their work.

The breadth of expertise and diversity of perspectives that the Commissioner assembled for this advisory panel is commendable. I am hopeful that this process will lead to a thoughtful analysis of existing state-level tools and data which, in turn, will inform discrete recommendations to the administration on expanding and improving the state’s farmland protection and access toolbox. Some potential improvements have already been flagged in the Plan. This Panel gives us an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and get moving on making these improvements happen.