Roughly 90% of the farms in Massachusetts are family owned businesses. Many of those farms are multi-generational as well, and that gives you a sense of how important farms and farmers are to our communities: they employ local people, are good stewards of the environment and provide an important product for their fellow citizens. I’ve recently been reminded of just how important it is to maintain that community. Sure, everyone has their own business or interest but, in the interests of sustaining local agriculture, we have to come out of our silos and band together.
A cohesive agricultural community, working both on a municipal, regional and state level, is the reason why we are blessed with a growing farming community and an abundance of locally-sourced products. That didn’t come overnight. Since the 1980s, farmers and growers have been working hard, advocating at the State House and forming agricultural commissions at the local level and advocating for important policies to help preserve and expand agriculture, particularly “right-to-farm” bylaws. According to MDAR, as of the end of last year, “162 towns have established AgComs, and 141 towns with Right to Farm Bylaws”. These mechanisms have been invaluable in not just supporting and expanding agriculture, but also protecting it. AgComs specifically have offered a method for town governments and farmers to interface, resolve disputes and build a greater understanding of each other’s responsibilities and challenges. It’s not a coincidence that Massachusetts agriculture is on the rise.
Truly, our enlightened leadership coupled with a dedicated and knowledge core of farmer advocates have given us a much brighter agricultural future but, as always, the work is not over. Simply having the edifices of AgComs and the legal protections of “right to farm” is not sufficient. Like any important job on the farm, the challenges ahead require hard-working people. If you are a farmer and are not involved in or with AgCom or a similar group in some way, please consider lending your voice. “Someone else’s problem” may become yours sooner than you’d like. If you are not a farmer but appreciate the skill and labor with which they ply their trade, stand for them. Become active in town government or write letters of support to your elected representatives. It’s easy to silence one voice, but much harder to silence many. Find organizations that support agriculture and become a part of them. Let’s continue the great work done almost thirty years ago, because you can’t have “local agriculture” without “community”.