Massachusetts Celebrates Agriculture Day at the State House
State officials promote Buy Local programs, farmers showcase local produce
The annual event, known as Massachusetts Agriculture Day, highlights industry achievements and provides a forum for farmers to meet with lawmakers to discuss labor shortages, global competition, rising energy costs, and other challenges facing the Commonwealth's agricultural sector.
From Wellfleet's oyster beds to sugar maple groves in the Berkshires, the Massachusetts farming industry is diverse and robust. Employing more than 13,000 workers, Massachusetts farms also steward 518,000 of open space across the Commonwealth.
"We are here to celebrate the ingenuity, strength and vitality of the Massachusetts agricultural industry," said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles. "The Patrick Administration recognizes the value Massachusetts farms add to our economy and quality of life and we are proud to partner with farmers on a variety of programs including agriculture promotion, clean energy, and land conservation initiatives."
The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) census released in January showed that the Massachusetts agricultural industry - made up of 7,691 farms - grew by 27 percent both in crop and livestock sales and in the total number of farms from 2002 to 2007. The market value of agricultural production also jumped during the same period, from $384 million to $490 million. The USDA noted that income generated from tourists visiting Massachusetts farms (agritourism) leaped from $665,000 in 2002 to $5.3 million in 2007, and the number of women farmers increased from 21 percent in 2002 to 29 percent in 2007. Organic sales rose to $17.5 million in 2007 from $7.8 million in 2002.
"Bay State farmers are the pride of the Commonwealth both for their delicious products and their contributions to local economies," said Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner Doug Petersen. "Massachusetts continues to be a leader on Buy Local campaigns, which promote the distribution of fresh food grown by local farmers who provide jobs and pump revenue back into their communities."
During today's event, DAR officials highlighted statewide programs promoting clean energy adoption, culinary tourism, agricultural business training, animal health, pest management, and agricultural composting. This year, the DAR is continuing to focus efforts on distributing food to the state's neediest citizens through the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program and helping farmers develop business plans through the Farm Viability Enhancement Program.
Secretary Bowles also highlighted DAR's Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program, which permanently protected 1,530 acres of farmland in 18 communities through 27 projects across the state. The department's Farm Viability Enhancement Program also placed 1,711 acres under 10-year agricultural covenants.
Capping off the festivities was a noontime reception, known as the Taste of Massachusetts. Farmers and specialty foods producers offered samples of locally harvested or produced items ranging from oysters, cranberry juice and apple pies to cheese, honey, and ice cream.
"Agriculture is one of the linchpins of the traditional Massachusetts economy, and we must continue to keep our farming industry vibrant," Senate President Therese Murray said. "As we did last year with passage of the Dairy Farm Preservation Act and land conservation tax incentives and bond funding, the Legislature will continue to work with the agricultural community to support our farming industry."
"I'm proud of the role the farmers of Massachusetts play in our state's economy," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo. "They provide access to healthy and delicious food and contribute to the diversity of what our state has to offer."
Forty agricultural exhibitors participated in Agriculture Day. Also in attendance were representatives of the USDA and agricultural associations such as the Massachusetts Christmas Tree Growers, the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers.
Senator Anthony Petruccelli and Representative William Straus, co-chairs of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, also attended the event.
"It is a pleasure attending and being a part of this year's Agriculture Day at the State House," commented Senator Petruccelli. "I am eager to partner with all those interested in fostering the Commonwealth's agricultural programs and revenues."
"I look forward as the newly appointed committee co-chair to participate in a day that recognizes the importance and value of farms and open space in Massachusetts," said Representative Straus. "The day also serves as a forum to discuss the variety of legislative issues affecting and impacting agriculture in the Commonwealth."
Sponsored by the Massachusetts Agricultural Promotion Board with the support of the DAR, today's event also included a reading of Governor Patrick's proclamation declaring March 10 as Massachusetts Agricultural Day.
In addition, state officials presented Agriculture Day Awards in recognition of support for the viability and sustainability of Massachusetts agriculture. The winners were Senator Jennifer Flanagan, Representative Viriato Manuel deMacedo, former Worcester Telegram & Gazette food editor Barbara Houle, and Ken Nicewicz on behalf of the Nicewicz Family Farm in Bolton.
DAR officials also took the opportunity to kick off the 2010 Massachusetts Agriculture Calendar Photo Contest. Professional and amateur photographers are encouraged to snap photos that capture the beauty of Massachusetts agriculture in its changing seasons. The deadline for submissions is June 1. Winning photos will be published in the 2010 calendar.