GILL – U.S. Representative Jim McGovern visited Upinngil Farm on Wednesday morning, where he highlighted the link between nutrition and food security during his 11th annual farm tour in western and central Massachusetts.
Upinngil Farm owner Clifford Hatch led McGovern and his staff around his farm. McGovern was joined by State Senator Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, State Representative Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture and the local nonprofit community involved. in sustainable agriculture (CISA).
Besides Upinngil Farm, Wednesday’s tour included Atlas Farm in South Deerfield, CISA, Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton and Many Hands Farm in Amherst. The tour will continue on Thursday, with stops further east.
Hatch said food insecure programs – such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Health Incentive Program (HIP) – are invaluable when it comes to providing healthy food to people.
âIt shouldn’t be just the people who have the luxury of time or budget to get food,â Hatch told the group. âWe need to have good food available for everyone. ”
McGovern said food insecurity and poor nutrition go hand in hand, and there must be a national push for more education and awareness of their relationship.
âThis country has a real mismatch between nutrition and food,â McGovern told the group. âWe never make the connections.
He also advocated for more school programs in agriculture. He said he visited a school in Arizona that experienced a significant decrease in behavioral incidents after implementing more farming-based activities and lessons.
âThere is no connection with nutrition and agriculture. Kids don’t know how carrots are grown, they don’t know how milk is produced, âMcGovern said. âIt would go a long way to help people better appreciate what they are buying. ”
Upinngil Farm became one of the first agricultural stores in the region to accept SNAP cards in 2015 and also piloted HIP, which reimburses people who buy products with their SNAP points. The farm hosts 50 actions with its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which also offers shareholders a 20% discount to accompany their products.
The farm has also been a supporter of state subsidies, as it has made multiple improvements to its services and building through grants from the Food Security Infrastructure Improvement and Agricultural Sustainability Program grants. The farm had four employees in 2013, but the grants saw it grow to six employees in 2016 and now a total of 12, according to a schedule given by the farm during the tour.
Hatch told the Greenfield Recorder that the tour was a great opportunity to share feedback and speak with those who advocate for these grant programs.
âIt’s great to have a chance with the people who are focused on this,â Hatch said. âYou’re not going to learn and grow if you don’t share with other people. ”
McGovern told the Greenfield Recorder that Upinngil Farm “embraces all of the values” he believes in and provides a “commitment to the community”.
âThey make sure this great food is affordable,â McGovern said. âThere is also a mission of social justice.
He added that the farm is just one of many farms in his district – there are nearly 1,800 from Worcester to Greenfield – and that the state and federal governments have a good relationship with these farmers.
McGovern said the Upinngil farm in particular has played a key role in addressing local food insecurity. He noted that lawmakers have had a controversial few days in Washington DC this week and it’s great to be in such a positive environment.
âIt is so inspiring and uplifting to be at Upinngil Farm,â said McGovern. âA lot of good is going on here. ”
Later that afternoon, McGovern spent an hour at Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence, speaking with owner Nate Frigard about the 10-year-old’s efforts to distribute food, at low cost or for free, to families. needy people in the region.
âYou want to create a system where people have a choice (to buy) fresh, locally grown produce, instead of something that’s been shipped across the country,â McGovern said. “We want to make sure that the amazing food that is grown in places like this is available to everyone, not just the wealthy, but the struggling people.”
Crimson & Clover has approximately 600 CSA shareholders locally and in the Boston area. The ASC program allows clients to make an investment in a farm while receiving fruits, vegetables, herbs, milk and meat once a week.
Some CSAs let their shareholders work a few hours on the farm instead of paying, and SNAP beneficiaries can use their benefits to pay for shares.
âThe cost of living is different in Mitchell, South Dakota than in San Francisco or Boston,â said McGovern, advocating for equitable food access programs that leave no one behind. âYou see people showing up at these food distribution centers and they say, ‘I’m working, it’s just not enough. And I’m not eligible for SNAP.
He said food insecurity is linked to other major social policy issues such as minimum wages, utility costs, access to transport, health care, education and climate change.
âThe USDA needs to open its eyes a little more,â said McGovern, âand get a little more creative in how they allocate funds.â
Speaking to Gill, Whipps said there was “no greater advocate in the land” of food insecurity and child hunger than McGovern. She echoed her statement on the need for more education on nutrition and agriculture.
âFood is directly linked to public health,â Whipps told the Greenfield Recorder. âThe closer you get from farm to table, the healthier it is. ”
She said expanding HIP benefits is a âwin-win-winâ situation because it helps people buy food, pays farmers who put their soul into their work and keeps the public healthy.
âNo one goes into farming to become a millionaire,â Whipps said. âWe have to support our farmers.
CISA program coordinator Zoraia de Jesus Barros said the annual farm tour helps lawmakers âreally understandâ what’s going on on farms in the regions they represent. She added that the presence of other government officials helps maintain the growth of SNAP and HIP.
“It gives a real perspective,” said de Jesus Barros. âSeeing that and advocating for those needsâ¦ having USDA and local and state representatives, it strengthens the case. ”
De Jesus Barros said McGovern has always been an advocate for farmers and Wednesday’s tour was another example.
âIt supports agriculture in a wide range,â said de Jesus Barros. “He is an advocate for SNAP and HIP.”
Comerford said feedback from farmers is essential and said they are helping her develop programs like HIP, which she says is one of her highest priorities.
Comerford, who chairs the state’s joint committee on public health, said the annual tour offers a field perspective that shows the real experiences of farmers that cannot be found otherwise.
âI can read on Upinngil, but to be on Upinngil,â Comerford said. “It’s critical.”
Chris Larabee can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4081. Editor Brian Steele contributed to this story.