McGovern kicks off annual farm tour in Sunderland

The Recorder, August 27, 2020, by Domenic Poli

SUNDERLAND — Jim McGovern was elected to Congress in 1996, and he never imagined that during his political career he would serve the 2nd Congressional District of Massachusetts under a crippling pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak has suffocated all aspects of the American economy, from education to entertainment to agriculture, and the Democrat embarked on his 10th annual Massachusetts Farm Tour on Wednesday to visit food sources and evaluate how the world’s battle against the pandemic has affected the industry.

McGovern started his day at Riverland Farm at 211 River Road in Sunderland before heading to Hatfield and Hadley. He has plans to stop by Hardwick, Jefferson and Northborough on Thursday as part of the second half of his tour.

Standing in a field, McGovern said a large portion of small farmers’ business consists of selling food to schools, which are not operating at full capacity due to the pandemic. Owner Emily Landeck said Riverland Farm is part of the Sunderland Farm Collaborative, which she described as an online retail platform a group of local farmers created so consumers can craft custom orders.

“That’s been this really cool outlet for some of our produce,” she said as workers harvested leeks behind her.

Philip Korman, executive director of the Deerfield-based nonprofit organization Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), said Riverland Farm was one of three — the others being Kitchen Garden Farm and Warner Farm — that created the collaborative within two weeks of Gov. Charlie Baker declaring a state of emergency in Massachusetts.

“The community support of that was amazing, and the turnaround time was really quick,” Landeck said.

State Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, said this proves local residents love and support their small farms.

“Having our faces out there,” Landeck responded, “I think it’s kind of intimidating as a farmer, but it is also, I think, really helpful because people make those connections.”

Between properties in Sunderland and Montague, Riverland Farm grows 40 acres of certified organic vegetables, including onions, lettuce, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. Landeck said she took ownership of the farm in January, having worked there for a few years.

Landeck said the biggest challenge the pandemic has presented has been the addition of aspects farmers must think about every day. Everything has changed, from how workers are transported from field to field, to requiring employees to wear masks.

“The demand has been impressive. The local support has been amazing,” she said.

McGovern, who chairs the House Rules Committee and is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, mentioned a bill was moved through the U.S. House of Representatives to provide additional aid to farmers and increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits so more people can buy food.

“But … as you can tell, we’re having a problem with the guy in the White House right now,” he said in reference to President Donald Trump. “But that is one of my biggest concerns right now during this pandemic, is the number of people who can’t afford food.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.