Learn more about the federal, state and local policies that impact our region, and how you can get involved.
Created in 2010 under the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA), the Pennsylvania Agricultural Surplus System (PASS) serves its state’s farmers and those most in need of access to health food through a program enabling the food industry to safely and efficiently donate, sell or otherwise provide food products to Pennsylvania’s charitable food organizations. PASS funds help to support Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry statewide – making connections between production agriculture and the non-profit sector responsible for making food available to those in need. PASS provides an alternative market for many farmers and food producers in the Commonwealth that currently have no outlet for safe, but somewhat inferior quality product. Without PASS, this product would otherwise be left in the field, be plowed under, or be landfilled. Producers, packers, and processors are reimbursed for costs involved in harvesting, processing, and/or packaging donated product.
Agriculture and food production are vital to our health, prosperity and culture and connect to virtually all levels of our economic, environmental, social, and policy-making systems. This critical sector is in the midst of a fundamental structural transition in the Northeast worthy of far more attention than is currently afforded to it.
It's a perilous time for undocumented farmworkers in the United States. Gabriella della Croce, Pioneer Valley Workers Center, breaks down some of the ways they are challenging injustice and building hope in this context.
Agritourism is an increasingly popular strategy for small-scale farmers to raise farm income, diversify product lines, educate the public about farming, and build strong community engagement. Agriculture census data suggests that U.S. farms annually earn $566.8 million from agritourism activities. To advance agritourism in the Northeast, the USDA Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program funded a multi-state train-the trainer project from 2011-2015, spearheaded by Rutgers University. A team of extension educators created a train-the-trainer curriculum and supporting educational materials—including fact sheets, a corn maze budgeting tool, farm assessment checklists, and educational videos. Twenty-four service providers at nonprofits, extension, and other organizations used the training and materials in their work with more than 1,680 farmers throughout the region. As a result, 313 farmers made changes to their marketing practices, 207 improved farm safety practices, 190 farmers enhanced liability or risk management strategies, and 126 developed employee training procedures. Thank you to Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program for contributing this story.
In early August, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced a $4.6 million grant award to Farm Fresh Rhode Island to expand its work increasing access to fresh, locally grown foods across New England. The GusNIP (Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, formerly known as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, or FINI) grant to Farm Fresh RI is the largest of 24 grants totaling $21M awarded nationwide by the USDA this summer.
Support from the USDA Local Foods Promotion Program (LFPP) enabled Health Care Without Harm to develop a seasonal harvest program for healthcare dining services across New England. The program, called Nourished by New England, launched in the fall of 2017. After just the first quarter 44 hospitals across New England have registered to participate. They spent an estimated total of $166,000 on local food over the first three months of the program, with a concentrated focus on four featured items. The program was able to develop posters, table tents, point of sale signs, and LCD screen images for promotion of local food throughout the facilities. In addition to the seasonal harvest program, funds from the project are supporting 20 farm and food businesses to scale up to meet New England’s institutional market. A virtual trade show in January allowed these businesses to meet institutional purchasers, connections which continue to bear fruit for both the entrepreneurs and the hospitals. Thank you to Healthcare Without Harm for contributing this story.
Thanks to the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), a state program started with the help of a $3.4 million federal Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive grant (GusNIP, formerly known as the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, or FINI), thousands of families in Massachusetts that had previously been unable to afford fresh, healthy, local produce have been able to purchase fruits and vegetables directly from Massachusetts farmers since April 2017. Designed to improve healthy food access and health outcomes for low-income families, and to increase sales and sustainability for Massachusetts farmers, HIP provides a one-for-one match for SNAP recipients’ purchases at participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and CSAs.
More grocery and corner stores across the Northeast will be increasing their purchases of fresh produce from regional farmers as part of their participation in Double Up Food Bucks, a healthy food incentive program of the Fair Food Network, active in grocery stores and farmers markets in nearly 25 states nationwide. Double Up matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participant purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables. The wins are three-fold: low-income families bring home more healthy food, area farmers make more money, and more food dollars stay in the local economy.
Benny Bienlonko’s 265 acre farm is located in Suffield, Connecticut in the exceptionally fertile land of the Connecticut River Valley. In fact, his farm, where he raises vegetables, corn, hay, and large leaf tobacco, is designated as 94 percent prime and important farmland soils. However, Suffield is also home to intense development pressure and much of the surrounding land has been lost to subdivisions in the past 40 years. With the help of Connecticut’s Farmland Preservation Program, funds from the Town of Suffield, and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Bienlonko was able to permanently protect his farm from development using an agricultural conservation easement. Now, not only will his farm be protected from development for generations to come, but he is also able to purchase an adjacent farm that he is currently leasing, thereby strengthening his business.
Joe and Emily Donegan – young dairy farmers who sell milk through Organic Valley – are excited to be new owners of a 258-acre dairy farm in Hinesburg, VT, thanks to the vision of the former owners, the Vermont Land Trust, other local, state, and federal funding partners, and the use of an innovative policy tool – an Option to Purchase at Agricultural Value (OPAV), intended to maintain farmland affordability.