Back in 2012, I decided to launch a farm tour. It was right after the 2010 census, and the Second Congressional District had just changed shape — I still represented Worcester, but I also started representing many more farms in Central and Western Massachusetts.
I think one of the most important things a Member of Congress can do is listen — so I asked my staff to invite leaders from the United States Department of Agriculture, the Massachusetts Department of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Together, we all spent two days traveling from farm to farm, listening and learning. I was blown away by the determination, innovation, and passion of our farmers.
Some of the richest farmland in America lies right here along the Pioneer Valley and fields of Central Massachusetts. But more importantly, some of the most dedicated, hardworking farmers in all of America are our neighbors and friends. Our farms and farmers are vital to our landscape and essential to our health and well-being.
Here are a few of my priorities for America’s farmers and farms. Don’t see something you think I should know about? Click here to shoot me an email and lets talk.
I’ve seen firsthand the destructive strain that big business and consolidation within the agriculture industry has put on our small farms. That’s why in Congress, I have worked to ensure that the government assistance available to large, single- crop farms is also available to our organic and diversified farms. For example, I have successfully fought for increased funding of conservation programs like EQUIP, which can help our farms ensure long-term stability without long-term reliance on the government.
I also believe that we ought to protect farm lands and preserve access for those looking to open farms, which is why I’ve long supported Farm Preservation and Farm Transition programs at USDA, programs like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)
To stay in business, farmers need to turn a profit. Increasingly, that means they need to be not only farmers, but bookkeepers, marketers, social media experts, and more. That’s why I’ve successfully worked to increase outreach by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) here in Massachusetts to help ensure all our farmers have the tools they need to thrive.
We also know that access to affordable, healthy, nutritious food is absolutely critical when it comes to improving health outcomes and reducing health care costs. When I was growing up, my grandmother used to say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I wish she were still alive so I could tell her how right she was. An estimated one in eight Americans ? 42 million altogether? are food insecure. This means that not only may they be experiencing hunger, but that the kinds of food they eat are probably not nutritious enough to sustain a healthy, active lifestyle. At the same time, rates of chronic disease caused by poor nutrition are rising, and the more food insecure you are, the more likely you are to have chronic diseases like hypertension, coronary heart disease, hepatitis, stroke, cancer, asthma, diabetes and arthritis.
The research is clear: food is medicine. We can no longer look at hunger and healthcare as separate issues. They’re two sides of the same coin. When families don’t have access to nutritious food, their health suffers. It’s as simple as that— which is why I cofounded the bipartisan Food is Medicine Working Group in Congress, and have worked to convene leaders in health care and agriculture to discuss concrete steps we can take educate our colleagues and staff and reform the way we think about these issues in America.
We need to take a hard look at how we can protect farms from the negative impacts of climate change. I’ve successfully fought to ensure that federal aid is available for family farms following unusual droughts here in Massachusetts by working with the federal government to ensure that economic injury disaster loans are available to Massachusetts farmers on top of the standard disaster assistance provided. I’ve also introduced the Save America’s Pollinators Act here in the House of Representatives to demand that the EPA fully investigate the effect that certain harmful pesticides may have on the vitality of our pollinators.
And to promote rural development, I have worked to increase the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) to allow more farmers in Massachusetts access to funds to support increased renewable energy and energy efficiency. This helps our small rural farms save money and move towards being energy independent.