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A Message from Karen Schwalbe, Executive Director

It is with heartfelt gratitude that I say farewell to SEMAP and end this remarkable chapter in my life. For the past seven years I have been embraced by our community of farmers, foodies, colleagues, partners, and supporters – many of whom have since become friends – as I took on the task of advancing agriculture and promoting local food in our region. This community taught me how to best advocate for farmers and keep them doing what they love. SEMAP has never been just a job for me; it has become a central part of who I am and a source of constant pride. 

I am proud of the work SEMAP has accomplished over these years – expanding promotion of and access to local food, supporting our farmers and fishers through business and technical assistance, putting a spotlight on local food for our legislators at Ag Day at the State House, and sharing the joyful bounty of local food through our Farm to Tapas dinners, to name just a few. Through all of this, we have been able to help our food system continue to grow and become more resilient in the face of myriad challenges.

I have so much appreciation for the SEMAP team through these years – Kendra (Murray) Parker, Jon Gray, Janina Busch Amrhein, Michelle Wilson, Emily Mellgard Sheridan, Dawn Dufault, Olivia Hart, and our current staff Shannon Hickey and James Lehner. Their efforts are the foundation of SEMAP’s growth and success. Shannon and James will ably handle this transition period as the SEMAP Board searches for my successor and their knowledge and skill is what makes my departure possible.

When I began at SEMAP, the board and staff were rebuilding from a difficult period and I stepped in to sustain our momentum, reach further into the community to understand their needs, increase promotion for local food, and deepen support for our region’s farmers. Stepping to the podium at my first Ag & Food Conference just a few months into my tenure, I was able to experience firsthand the beauty of our agricultural community.  This is a community of knowledgeable, hardworking farmers, devoted lovers of local food, and believers in a local agricultural economy, and it has been an honor to work with you.

Farming is an act of hope. It is hard labor physically and mentally and the rewards are often elusive. In a world where globalized supply chains rule our lives and efficiency and volume are king, I believe small-scale, diversified agriculture is an answer to our most pressing agricultural problems: working conditions for farm laborers, depletion of topsoil, economic concentration in agricultural industries, and the loss of rural communities.

Leaving SEMAP is not a decision I made lightly, but I will not be too far away as I start this next chapter. I look forward to continuing to advocate for Massachusetts farmers through my new position as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau, and working alongside SEMAP as we assist Massachusetts farmers to build on our successes statewide.  

Liz Wiley, our Board President, is leading a transition team to search for a replacement. A job posting will be released shortly and we hope to have a new Executive Director in place by the end of the year.  While any transition like this comes with uncertainty, this is also a tremendous opportunity for SEMAP to continue to grow in its work supporting local agriculture and creating a more equitable food system. We are hopeful the next Executive Director will be someone who is passionate about our community and region, with an understanding of farm issues, and who can help lead SEMAP into the next era. 

 

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