Every year in March, agriculture gets its rightfully deserved recognition at the State House in Boston. Massachusetts Agricultural Day, or more commonly referred to as Ag Day, is an opportunity for our local growers – farmers, fishermen, aquaculturists, Aggie students, Buy Local cooperatives, 4-H, FFA and agricultural enthusiasts to have their voices heard by our State Representatives and Senators.
This year an estimated 200 farmers and more than 35 agricultural organizations attended.
The event kicks off with a speaking session that provides an overview of the current status of the MA agricultural industry and its projected future. Then the Great Hall becomes a mecca of locally produced foods and farm products that get distributed to attendees as they make their way around the hall during a Taste of Massachusetts reception. A massive lunch buffet is also prepared by the Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School students from locally sourced products that are donated by farmers from around the State. Food is the bait, but networking and lobbying are the main event.
Currently, New England produces about 10 percent of its own food. The goal of the New England Food Vision is to increase that to 50 percent by 2060 – that is just 42 growing seasons away! This will require expanding our farm sectors, bringing more agricultural land into production, and supporting small to mid-size farming operations so that they are able to not only survive economic and environmental risks, but thrive during these unpredictable events.
Ag Day presents a great opportunity for us to connect with our agricultural and fishery partners and to support them and their industries with policy and decision-makers. We have said it before, but it cannot be stressed enough – our work is about listening and learning from farmers regarding what their most pressing issues are, where are their greatest risks, and how SEMAP can support and advocate on their behalf. Thus, allowing them to do what they do best – steward our lands and grow healthy, local food for our communities.
SEMAP takes full advantage of the day by setting up many one-on-one meetings with Senators and Representatives to advocate for what is most important and pertinent to Southeastern MA. This year SEMAP’s Executive Director, Karen Schwalbe, was a strong voice on behalf of the highly successful, Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), issues around the Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR) Program and supporting the cranberry bog renovation tax credit bill. Karen also aligned with our Buy Local partners, all nine of them, to hold a joint meeting with legislators and their aides to talk about the impact of local food in Massachusetts. Every year SEMAP hosts a table in the Great Hall. This year our table was staffed by SEMAP’s Program Director, Jon Gray, who did an outstanding job of educating and entertaining visitors as they stopped by to sample cheeses from Foxboro Cheese Company which was extremely tasty and popular – especially with the FFA students.
If you are a farmer, if you love a farmer, or if you count on a farmer (which you do!) for delicious, healthy food then I highly recommend that you make the effort to attend an Ag Day. SEMAP will help schedule meetings with your legislators so your voice and our collective voices can be heard. No other event puts so many farmers and legislators together at one time to discuss the importance of local agriculture and the issues impacting it.