Editorial: Spreading Safety Net for Area Farmers

Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 1st, 2016. Last Valentine’s Day proved heartless for Valley orchardists. After relatively mild weather, temperatures took a nosedive in mid-February, falling to minus 13 degrees one night, then to minus 15 degrees, as measured by Clarkdale Fruit Farm in Deerfield.

Stone fruit trees such as peaches can’t tolerate temperatures that low. Ben Clark of the farm says the freeze decimated buds already forming on his family’s peach trees. Instead of seeing thousands of those buds develop into fruit, fewer than two dozen survived. The freeze did such damage to stone fruit in the region that the nonprofit group Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture moved last week to deploy one of the modest safety nets it can extend to local growers.

Orchardists who need help overcoming a financial setback from the loss of this year’s stone fruit crop will be able to apply for no-interest loans of up to $10,000. Information on the program is available here; the application deadline is Aug. 26. Unlike existing state or federal farm loan programs, the CISA fund gets money to farmers quickly, helping them manage cash crunches. The fund was launched in 2011 in response to damage inflicted by Tropical Storm Irene; 11 farms secured $93,000 worth of loan assistance in 2012. The loan program reopened in 2013 to help three owners of greenhouses who suffered damage from a February blizzard.

These aren’t quite “micro” loans, but they are modest. The money repaid goes back into reserve, ready to help farmers weather problems they can only imagine await. This is all thanks to the folks at CISA and the anonymous donor who pledged $50,000 to draw out matching donations. And those matches struck: $20,000 came both from Whole Foods Market and the Farm Table at Kringle Candle Co. Others helping at the outset included Florence and Easthampton savings banks, Smith College and Deerfield Academy.

That’s an interesting mix of institutions. What do they have in common? They believe, as CISA itself does, that the local food system benefits all, and its survival is everyone’s concern.

Wasting not in Amherst

A determined municipal committee in Amherst has done its initial work. Now it is up to residents, businesses and town officials to come together to hit a bold environmental goal: eliminating solid waste.

Well, “zero waste – or darn close” is what John Root, chairman of the town’s Recycling and Refuse Management Committee, says can be achieved by educating people about ways to sharply curtail the volume of trash produced in the community.

Of all the “green” reforms under the sun, taking a hard look at what gets tossed out may be the least glamorous, at least compared to the use of electric school buses. But morning, noon and night, the trash gathers. Getting rid of it, in a time of capped landfills and air-polluting incinerators, is costly and hard on the environment. In the next two months, the panel’s Solid Waste Master Plan deserves to get a full review – and then, if stakeholders can agree on its merits, it warrants action.

The interim town manager cited the plan’s “laudable” goals, but noted that plenty of work lies ahead. If it can reach consensus, Amherst can notch significant environmental gains.

Bus magnate gets his way

In an email to Gov. Charlie Baker early this month, the owner of the Peter Pan bus company took aim at a plan to study improved and expanded east-west rail service in the state. Just two days later, Baker vetoed a proposal already approved by the Legislature to invest in such a study.

What did Peter Picknelly not like about state Sen. Eric Lesser’s study? Well, he was at least straightforward about it. It might hurt his own business. “I simply can’t see the point of spending huge amounts of taxpayer dollars for this kind of rail service, which would adversely impact Peter Pan, an 80-year-old, tax-paying business …” Picknelly’s email said. In his veto message, the governor said the study ignored the benefits of other transportation improvements, including buses.

And with his veto, Lesser’s inquiry was downgraded from a formal study to a working group. Rail service has been down so long in New England that a study like Lesser’s looked like up. But no longer.