LEICESTER – Rep. James P. McGovern said farms in Massachusetts that accept benefit programs are an important part of tackling food insecurity during his tour of a Leicester farm Thursday.
The Worcester Democrat visited Cotyledon Farm in Leicester as part of its two-day farm tour in its district, its 11th annual farm tour. McGovern also visited Growing Places in Leominster and Global Village in Grafton on Thursday. On Wednesday McGovern toured farms in the western part of his district, which includes around 1,800 farms.
McGovern said the farms he toured were taking Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to pay to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and participating in the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), the money in EBT cards backs away when the recipient buys healthy food.
“Good food shouldn’t be available only to people in need. Good food should be available to everyone. It’s a basic human right,” said McGovern. “I love coming to these farms because I admire the skills it takes to be a farmer – I would probably last a minute and a half on this farm before I said ‘enough’.”
Programs like SNAP and HIP help both residents in need of nutritious food and farmers who get more business from the programs, McGovern said. Winton Pitcoff, director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, said July was the first month that HIP sales exceeded $ 1 million.
Amanda Barker, owner and operator of Cotyledon Farm, said food banks or food pantries often buy bulk foods that may offer producers less money than a direct purchase or a community-backed farming agreement.
“Direct-to-sales is the best possible relationship for both the consumer and the manufacturer,” said Barker.
Cotyledon Farm is a 60 acre farm that specializes in mixed vegetables and perennial herbs and mainly uses a CSA model.
The recognition of agriculture in New England and Massachusetts in DC has grown over time, McGovern said. As a member of the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee, McGovern said he needed to speak about farming opportunities in the state, and he wants to bring Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to Massachusetts to hear from farmers about areas where they feel the federal programs need more flexibility and potential new ones Programs that are better suited to New England.
McGovern has also campaigned for a new White House conference on food, nutrition, hunger and health, which he believes should include agriculture and farming. While McGovern said the original 1969 conference made progress on food insecurity and launched initiatives such as the Women, Infants and Children program, he said it had shortcomings due to lack of different voices, that should be addressed in a future conference.
McGovern also spoke of wanting to include not just the US Department of Agriculture in a conference, but all federal agencies such as the US Department of Transportation and Energy, as well as private sector farmers and nonprofit organizations.
“We want there to be a more holistic view. We have to connect the dots. Because honestly the status quo is not good enough and there are too many people in this country who are starving,” said McGovern. “It wasn’t just the pandemic. Before the pandemic, 37 million people in this country were hungry. We should all be ashamed of it and we could do something about it.”
Ashley Randle, assistant commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, said the state had supported funding for food insecurity grant projects. Randle said the money secured infrastructure improvements for state farmers such as refrigeration. Farmers have also received more support than ever from USDA programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, Randle said.