McGovern’s farm tour highlights link between nutrition, food security
GILL — U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern visited Upinngil Farm Wednesday morning where he highlighted the connection between nutrition and food security during his 11th annual farm tour across Western and Central Massachusetts.
Upinngil Farm owner Clifford Hatch led McGovern and his staff around his farm. McGovern was joined by state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and local nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining 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 Thursday, with stops farther east.
Hatch said food insecurity programs — such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) — are invaluable assets when it comes to providing healthy food to people.
“It shouldn’t be only people who have the luxury of time or budget to get food,” Hatch told the group. “We need to have good food available for everyone.”
McGovern said food insecurity and poor nutrition go hand in hand, and there needs to be a national push for more education and awareness about their relationship.
“This country has a real disconnect between nutrition and food,” McGovern told the group. “We never make the links.”
He also advocated for more school curriculum surrounding the field of agriculture. He said he had visited a school in Arizona that saw a significant decrease in behavioral incidents after it implemented more farming-based activities and lessons.
“There’s no connection to nutrition and agriculture. Kids don’t know how carrots are grown, they don’t know how milk is produced,” McGovern said. “That would go a long way to better help people appreciate what they’re buying.”
‘Inspiring and uplifting’
Upinngil Farm became one of the first farm stores in the region to accept SNAP cards in 2015 and also piloted HIP, which reimburses people purchasing produce with their SNAP points. The farm hosts 50 shares with its community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which also gives shareholders a 20% discount to go with their produce.
The farm has also been a proponent of state grants, as it has made multiple improvements to its services and building with Food Security Infrastructure and Farm Viability Enhancement Program grants. The farm had four employees in 2013, but grants allowed it to grow to six employees in 2016 and now a total of 12, according to a timeline given by the farm at the tour.
Hatch told the Greenfield Recorder the tour was a great opportunity to share feedback and speak with the people who are advocating for these grant programs.
“It’s great to have a chance with the people who are focused on this,” Hatch said. “You’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 the values” he believes in and provides a “commitment to the community.”
“They make sure this good food is affordable,” McGovern said. “There’s also a mission of social justice.”
He added the farm is just one of many farms in his district — there are nearly 1,800 from Worcester to Greenfield — and the state and federal government has a good relationship with these farmers.
McGovern said Upinngil Farm in particular has played a key role in addressing local food insecurity. He noted legislators have had a few contentious days down in Washington D.C. this week and it is great to be in such a positive environment.
“It is so inspiring and uplifting to be at Upinngil Farm,” McGovern said. “There’s a lot of good happening here.”
Crimson & Clover Farm
Later in the afternoon, McGovern spent an hour at Crimson & Clover Farm in Florence, speaking with owner Nate Frigard about the 10-year-old farm’s efforts to distribute food, at low or no cost, to needy families in the area.
“You want to create a system where people have a choice (to buy) fresh produce, locally grown produce, instead of something that’s been shipped halfway across the country,” McGovern said. “We want to make sure the incredible food that is grown by places like this is available to everybody, not just people of means, but to people who struggle.”
Crimson & Clover has about 600 CSA shareholders locally and in the Boston area. The CSA program allows customers 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 recipients can use their benefits to pay for shares.
“The cost of living is different in Mitchell, South Dakota, than it is in San Francisco or Boston,” said McGovern, advocating for equitable food access programs that don’t leave anyone behind. “You see people that show up at these food distribution centers and they say, ‘I’m working, it’s just not enough. And I’m ineligible for SNAP.’”
He said food insecurity is tied to other major social policy issues like minimum wage, utility costs, transportation access, health care, education and climate change.
“USDA needs to open their eyes a little more,” McGovern said, “and get a little more creative with how they allocate funding.”
‘Not a bigger advocate’
Speaking in Gill, Whipps said there is “not a bigger advocate in the country” for food insecurity and child hunger than McGovern. She echoed his statement about the need for more education about nutrition and agriculture.
“Food relates directly to public health,” Whipps told the Greenfield Recorder. “The closer you get with farm to table, the healthier it is.”
She said expanding HIP benefits is a “win-win-win” situation because it helps people buy food, pays the farmers who put their soul into their work and keeps the public healthy.
“Nobody goes into farming to be a millionaire,” Whipps said. “We need to support our farmers.”
CISA Program Coordinator Zoraia de Jesus Barros said the annual farm tour helps legislators “really understand” what is happening on farms in the regions they represent. She added the presence of other government representatives helps keep SNAP and HIP growing.
“It gives a real perspective,” de Jesus Barros said. “Seeing this and advocating for these needs … having the USDA and local and state representatives, that makes a stronger case.”
De Jesus Barros said McGovern has always been an advocate for farmers and Wednesday’s tour was another example of it.
“He’s supportive of agriculture in a broad spectrum,” de Jesus Barros said. “He’s an advocate for SNAP and HIP.”
Comerford said feedback from farmers is vital and said it helps her expand continue expanding programs like HIP, which she noted is one of her highest priorities.
Comerford, who chairs the state’s Joint Committee on Public Health, said the annual tour provides an on-the-ground perspective that shows the true experiences of farmers that cannot be found otherwise.
“I can read about Upinngil, but to be on Upinngil,” Comerford said. “It’s critical.”
Chris Larabee can be reached at email@example.com or 413-930-4081. Staff Writer Brian Steele contributed to this story.