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"Massachusetts Grown and Growing"

It's a good time for New England agriculture. While the number of farms declines nationally—95,000 fewer farms exist in the U.S. in 2013 than in 2007—New England farms have seen a 5 percent growth over that same time period, according to USDA census data described by the Associated Press. Many of these new farms are less than 50 acres large.

The number of undergraduate students studying agriculture in the Northeast has seen more dramatic growth, which has the Associated Press proclaiming that the new go-to career for young people in New England is farming. Meanwhile, the ranks of female farmers in Massachusetts are also on the rise according to The Boston Globe Magazine. Already the state with the most female farmers in New England, with 2,507 female principal farm operators in 2012 operating a total of 4,598 acres of agriculture, The Boston Globe predicts continued growth among the female ranks in Massachusetts.

Local food distribution has also come a long way in the past 35 years, according to Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Greg Watson, who spoke at the Food Day event at the Massachusetts State House on October 24. When Watson helped organize the first farmers markets in Dorchester and the South End in 1979, there were only 20 farmers markets statewide. Now, there are over 250.  Massachusetts leads the country in percentage of farms that host CSA programs, according to Watson.

But we can't stop there. Food insecurity and lack of access to fresh, healthy food is still a huge (and growing) issue in Massachusetts. Project Bread, in The Status Report on Hunger in Massachusetts, reports that the rate of food insecurity in Massachusetts is now almost 80 percent higher than it was in 2000 and 40 percent higher since the recession. "In 2012, 11.4 percent of Massachusetts households, over 700,000 adults and children, were food insecure," Project Bread reports.

And that's why we need a statewide food system plan., "The Massachusetts Food System Plan is an ongoing statewide initiative to support increased consumption for Massachusetts agriculture, while preserving water and land resources, to support a strong, robust system where local and healthy foods are accessible to all residents," said Governor Deval Patrick at the State House Food Day event.

The Massachusetts Food System Plan aims to "strengthen the way we harvest, process, and obtain our food." The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources has contracted the Massachusetts Food Policy Council and its partners—the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, the Franklin Region Council of Government, and the Massachusetts Workforce Alliance—to facilitate the planning process, including gathering community input. For more information about the process, click here.

"It’s astonishing how little we know about our food system and also quite remarkable how easy it is to grow your own food and access local food which is delicious," Governor Patrick said. "Knowing what is being done and done well, what the challenges are and what your suggestions are to improve our food system is critical to our shared work," he continued.

At the Food Day event, representatives from each region of Massachusetts reported back on the findings of regional forums held throughout the month of October. Though each region had some different concerns, common themes emerged: production and processing, access, public health, and environmental management, among others.

Here at The Food Project, we know how important it is to bring people to the same table to share experiences and ideas from the community a food system aims to serve. As part of the Real Food Hub, we have embarked on a food system planning process for the Dudley neighborhood with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE). We couldn't be more inspired to see the start of a similar, larger-scale food system planning process for the state of Massachusetts. 

Have something you want to add to the conversation? You can email massfoodplan@mapc.org with your input or sign up for the Massachusetts Food Plan newsletter to learn more about how to get involved.

Good Food matters with Rose Arruda (center), State Coordinator for #FoodDay2014 and Urban Agriculture Coordinator for MA Dept. of Agriculture Resources. The Food Project staff and alumni attended the Food Day event at the State House on October 24.
Good Food matters with Rose Arruda (center), State Coordinator for #FoodDay2014 and Urban Agriculture Coordinator for MA Dept. of Agriculture Resources. The Food Project staff and alumni attended the Food Day event at the State House on October 24.
The phrase "Massachusetts Grown and Growing" attributed to Massachusetts Commissioner of Agriculture Greg Watson at the Food Day event at the Massachusetts State House on October 24.

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