This summer I was honored to be selected by Senate President Karen Spilka to serve as the Senate Chair of the Massachusetts Commission on Agriculture in the 21st century. Below, please find my opening remarks from the Commission’s fourth hearing on October 19. At this hearing we heard from invited speakers and issue area experts on topics related to economic and community development in agriculture. You can find a recording of the hearing here: https://malegislature.gov/Events/Hearings/Detail/4758.
I am so appreciative of the candid and striking testimony provided at this hearing, particularly by our farmer participants and the farmers who joined from my district, Carmen Mouzon of the Farm School in Athol and Angie Facey of Bree-Z-Knoll Farm. I am grateful for their pressing calls to action, and I look forward to including and addressing their testimony in the work of this commission and in my team’s continued work to support farms and farmers in Massachusets.
Thank you, Chair Hogan. And thank you to the members of this Commission, to our invited testifiers, and to members of the public for joining us today. We see and appreciate your work and participation.
As folks in this room know, and as you’ll hear shortly from our speakers, agriculture is an integral sector of the MA economy. Today’s session will focus on economic and community development within farms and our local food system, but the importance of local agriculture to our economy as a whole cannot be overstated.
Food is essential to our survival. As climate change intensifies and climate disasters around the world increase, relying on other regions of the country and the world to feed our state’s population becomes increasingly risky, and transporting this food and produce leads to increased CO2 emissions.
491,000 acres of land are already engaged in food production in MA, and the agricultural industry provides employment to over 25,000 individuals. Yet, recent research from the New England Food System Planning partnership shows that New England must bring 400,000 acres of existing underutilized cropland and 590,000 acres of new cropland into production in order to feed a greater and more sustainable percent of our population with locally grown food. Massachusetts-specific numbers will be released soon.
Growing our cropland will require a continued and focused investment in economic development for our farms and farmers. This hearing will just scratch the surface of the myriad of ways farms operate and how farmers create additional revenue streams such as micro-businesses, agritourism, and diversifying their customer bases to sustain and grow their businesses. I’m looking forward to this conversation and this Commission’s work on how the state can do more to facilitate economic development for farms — we know this will be essential for our food system’s stability and our Commonwealth’s stability in a rapidly changing world.