CISA marks 20 years of promoting local food
NORTHAMPTON — “I cannot believe in a county like ours we can’t make it easier for people to get more local, healthy food,” said U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern.
To that end, McGovern, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District, said the work being done by organizations like Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture is critical in getting that food to people who need it.
“You are local heroes,” he told the 200 people who attended CISA’s annual meeting and potluck dinner Friday night at the Northampton Senior Center.
McGovern said organizations like CISA make access to healthy, local foods easier by establishing winter farmers markets, allowing EBT cards to be used as payment and matching funds for purchases. They also help educate people about the benefits of eating locally grown and produced meals, he said.
He said information from CISA has helped people understand the connection between local food and the economy, fossil fuel consumption and obesity — and “to find a way to make kale taste good,” he joked.
He said cuts to programs that subsidize food purchases for the poor and under-employed force people without means to rely on unhealthy processed foods, which are typically cheaper.
“Being poor is hard work,” McGovern said, criticizing the recent federal “sequestration” cuts, many of which targeted support the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) and Women, Infants and Children that help low-income people supplement their food purchases.
“Don’t cut the programs that work because you don’t have the courage to cut in other areas,” he said.
McGovern said he supports CISA in its goal to increase the amount of local food in people’s diets to 25 percent by 2033. That would be double today’s amount.
CISA’s first executive director, Viki Van Zee, said when the organization first started, it focused less on outreach and education and was tackling specific farming issues like labor and sustainable practices.
Van Zee said what surprised her about CISA’s growth is how many of the people involved aren’t farmers, but are concerned about supporting local agriculture.
Staff member Margaret Christie said the growth of CISA since she joined in 1995 has exceeded her expectations. She said she is impressed by its long-term impact on the region.
“People like living in a place where people support local food,” she said.
Christie said even with as much access to information people have through technology, there’s no substitute for groups like CISA to provide education, because she’s found in some cases the electronic information is simply wrong.
She said a smartphone application she used that supposedly tracks what produce is available in a region at a particular time of year claims there is no produce in season during the winter in western Massachusetts despite potatoes, pears and some squashes being in season through December, for example.
“That shows why we do what we do,” she said.
CISA Executive Director Philip Korman opened the evening by acknowledging current and former staff and directors and held a moment of silence for Mary Golonka, 94, co-founder of Golonka Farm, and her daughter Sonia Golonka, 64, who perished in a house fire Wednesday night.
When Korman asked for a show of hands from those who had ever purchased something from the Golankas’ farm, about 150 people did so.
State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, made a brief presentation on a legislative resolution that acknowledged CISA and its work over the past 20 years.
Dinner and dessert were provided by those who created dishes from locally produced ingredients.
“Nothing like a pot luck for 200,” Korman said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.