Massachusetts developing its first comprehensive food system plan since 1974.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Berkshire Athenaeum will host a forum Tuesday, Feb. 24 that will, in part, determine the future of food across the Commonwealth. As part of a series of events that began in June of 2014 the event will focus on the local food production and distribution systems that affect food security levels for individuals, families, and communities.
Berkshires Regional Forum
Time: 3:00 – 6:00PM
Location: Berkshire Athaneaum; 1 Wendell Street, Pittsfield, MA
Heidi Stucker, Food System Planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, explained via e-mail that the Massachusetts Food System Plan is being developed by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), the Massachusetts Food Policy Council, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, in collaboration with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Franklin Regional Council of Governments, and Massachusetts Workforce Alliance.
The plan will identify goals and strategies to:
- Increase production, sales and consumption of Massachusetts-grown foods
- Create jobs and economic opportunity in food and farming, and improve the wages and skills of food system workers
- Protect the land and water needed to produce food, minimize the environmental impact of agriculture, and ensure food safety
- Reduce hunger and food insecurity, increase the availability of fresh, healthy food to all residents, and reduce food waste.
Various working groups, forums, and “listening groups” have been held across Central and Eastern Massachusetts since the summer of 2014. Western Massachusetts, with its high proportion of farmland and forest, has been included at the tail end of the scheduled public discussions across the commonwealth. Interestingly, regional, and even local initiatives in Western Mass are likely to influence the direction of food system policy going forward. In 2009, the Conway School of Landscape Design participated in producing the Shelburne Falls Food Security Plan. Five years later, the Pioneer Valley Food Security Plan. was released by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission with the support of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Initiative Regional Planning Grant Program.
The concepts of food security and “food sovereignty” may not have been at the forefront of the public’s mind as early as 2009, but various local organization, including the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, were already studying the impacts and causes of “food insecurity” in the region.
The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts reports on its website that:
- 1 in 5 children in Western Massachusetts live in food insecure households.
- More than 200,000 people in Western Massachusetts (that’s one in every eight residents) face hunger.
- Each week, 15,000 of our neighbors seek food assistance from The Food Bank and our 250 member agencies.
- More than 200,000 people in the four counties seek food assistance at Food Bank member agencies
- In some towns in our region, hunger rates are more than six times higher than the statewide average
- Poverty rates in the four counties are: 10.5% (Berkshire), 9.2% (Franklin), 15.1% (Hampden), and 9.7% (Hampshire)
- 27% of the people The Food Bank serves are children and 12% are elderly
In both the Shelburne Falls and the Pioneer Valley plans, evidence is presented that demonstrates the ability of local food systems to alleviate considerable misery from hunger and food insecurity.
Absent from much of the official literature on the subject are growing concerns about rapidly changing climate norms on highly productive agricultural regions across the United States. While the South, Midwest, and West have all been farming powerhouses during the last century, New England has long had a climate that creates more consistently wetter, if shorter, growing seasons. Persistent drought across the U.S. may require that land available in the Northeast be preserved and pressed into service for food production. As described in a November, 2014 Boston Globe article, “How New England could become Farmville again,” the roar and destruction of developers’ bulldozers could be profitably replaced by the chug-chug-chug of the farmers’ tractors.