TIME FOR THE COMMONWEALTH TO LEAD AGAIN
by Dan Burgess
As I wrote last week, it is time for Massachusetts to step to the forefront and lead the United States in developing the country’s first functional regional food chain. Here’s why.
Agricultural investment is a common sense companion to the economic, environmental, and health care investments that both the state and the federal government are currently making. By providing money to local farmers, both through creative investment and guaranteed purchases from government programs, we could begin to seriously develop a sustainable regional food system that makes sense for Massachusetts.
Economically, guaranteeing purchases and creatively investing in local agriculture would immediately create jobs in the agriculture sector. Farmers will plant more and hire more of the currently 8% who are unemployed in Massachusetts. Investment would also encourage small farms to enter the market, therefore increasing the amount of local food available in communities. While there would certainly be supply chain challenges for small farmers attempting to distribute goods to urban areas, this is exactly where fresh food is needed most. Existing supply lanes could be expanded and new avenues of distribution could be created to creatively disseminate the local goods.
A regional food system would also have immeasurable benefits for the health of our citizens. Nearly two-thirds of the United States is overweight or obese and, ultimately, we are putting our children’s future in serious jeopardy. While there is some controversy over the claim that the cheapest calories are the unhealthiest, there can be no doubt that the food that we make most readily available to our citizens is the worst for us. It does Massachusetts no good to feed our citizens, particularly those of little means, the unhealthiest food. This is particularly relevant as our state is attempting a universal health care plan that must be focused on preventative care and overall wellness.
Massachusetts does have programs of which we can be proud, and as of 2007, the Commonwealth ranked below the U.S. average of food insecurity (see the map here). Additionally, to help combat nutritional issues some are facing due to recent economic issues, the state has allocated over $2 million dollars of Federal Stimulus Dollars to the Emergency Food Assistance Program. We also usually rank low in obesity rankings when compared to other states, and Boston tends to be thought of as an active and healthy city. We should take pride in the relative success of these statistics but should also not rest on our laurels. Massachusetts should strive to be the most well-fed and healthiest state in the country, and a robust regional food system would only serve to help us achieve this goal.
Finally, our current food system has negative effects on our environment that are difficult to overstate. Michael Pollan, best-selling author and unofficial spokesman for a common sense food system, puts it this way in an open letter to the 44th President:
We must see our food system as a major piece of the environmental puzzle we are trying to solve, and sustainable agricultural practices must be rewarded by our government. States are continually sharing best practices in regard to clean energy solutions, and it should be Massachusetts’ goal to be on this list sharing our agricultural investment success stories.
Investing and reorganizing the country’s food chain is not a new idea, and President Obama has begun to show that he understands the importance of eating locally grown foods , though not enough for some. Now what is needed is a progressive state to take the lead. A state whose leaders are not afraid to make regional partnerships and show creativity in their investments.
This investment will cost money, both federal and state, but the question is not: How much? It’s: Can we afford not to?