McGovern touts healthy food for food stamp recipients

The Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 23, 2017, by Andy Castillo

WHATELY — Lunch served to Congressman Jim McGovern during his seventh annual farm tour was locally grown and produced — the same fruits and veggies made more available to food stamp recipients through a new state program launched in June.

“People who are struggling economically are incentivized to purchase healthy food from local farmers. It’s a win-win for everybody,” McGovern said after lunch, exiting a Nourse Farms greenhouse flanked by an entourage of state, federal, and local agriculture officials Wednesday. The stop was one of six western Massachusetts farms McGovern visited.

The program, which matches every Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollar spent on local produce, is paid for by $1.35 million in state funds for the Healthy Incentives Program. (HIP). Another incentive program is the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive.

“Our farmers are thrilled because they’re seeing this huge increase in income. We’re up 96 percent from last year,” said Nikki Lankowski, of Grow Food Northampton, who coordinates the city’s Tuesday Market. Lankowski estimated the market makes about $1,500 more each week since the program’s launch.

To encourage farmer participation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture distributes free SNAP card processing equipment, worth about $500.

“We have 42 farmers markets in the area. And right now we have 28 where customers can process HIP,” said Devon Whitney-Deal, Local Hero program coordinator at Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) in South Deerfield.

“If you make it available, people are going to want it,” she said.

More information on the program can be found online at

Local farms tour

While Wednesday’s tour highlighted state initiatives, McGovern also heard from local farmers running both large and small operations.

Nourse Farms produces and ships more than 20 million strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish plants a year, according to the farm’s website. That’s in addition to stocking fruit shelves of supermarkets throughout New England and beyond.

Production covers a patchwork of more than 800 acres in five Franklin County towns. Clients hail from Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, and states across the United States as far away as California.

Inside a $3 million state-of-the-art greenhouse, owner Tim Nourse demonstrated a moving table where fruit plants take root over winter, warmed by heating coils, watered by mist, and lit by full-spectrum lamps. Then, they’re cooled to 28 degrees Fahrenheit and shipped for later planting.

“This is all Dutch technology. It’s very green,” Nourse explained. He pointed out a large drum that stores water runoff, which is later used to water plants.

Digital approach

At the other end of the size spectrum, just over the Hatfield border at Bardwell Farm, 21-year-old Harrison Bardwell is the next generation, taking a digital approach to farming. Customers can order fresh produce online and have it home-delivered.

He began part time at the small-scale farm — which opened in 1685 and has been owned by Bardwells for nine generations — at age 15, and took over full time five years ago. Now, Bardwell hires one employee, Kaitlyn Jozefiak, 23, whom he met at UMass.

“Farming has been in my blood forever. I love growing food and giving back to my community,” Bardwell said.

This year, 15 acres scattered throughout town produce a variety of vegetables, including corn, tomatoes and squash. Much is hand-planted because Bardwell doesn’t have expensive equipment — but that hasn’t stopped him in part because of a strong support community.

“My business has grown a lot in the past several years. We double, and keep doubling,” Bardwell told McGovern earlier in the day, standing in front of corn. “Without the farms in this town that have helped me I would be nowhere,” he added.

Speaking to Bardwell, McGovern recognized the importance of local farming and said “we need to find ways to be wind at the backs of our farmers.”

Other farms on McGovern’s tour Wednesday included Sage Farm in Montague, a 115-acre, free-range pig farm owned by Tyler Sage; UMass Amherst Cold Spring Orchard in Belchertown; Simple Gifts Farm in Amherst; and Australis fish farm in Turners Falls.