McGovern gleans input from farmers ahead of White House conference 

  • Congressman Jim McGovern speaks during a farm tour of Red Fire Farm in Montague by state and local officials on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ryan Voiland, in red, of Red Fire Farm in Montague lets Congressman Jim McGovern and other state and local officials sample his blueberries on Tuesday during a farm tour. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague juggles peaches on Tuesday while hosting a farm tour for state and local officials. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague gives out ground cherries and pear shaped cherry tomatoes on Tuesday during a farm tour. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Just Roots Executive Director Laura Fisher chats with Congressman Jim McGovern during a farm tour by state and local officials on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Congressman Jim McGovern and other state and local officials tour the Just Roots farm on Tuesday for a tour. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sarah and Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague welcome Congressman Jim McGover to their farm on Tuesday for a tour. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Sarah and Ryan Voiland of Red Fire Farm in Montague stand in a field of buckwheat explaining some of the challenges on their farm during a farm tour by Congressman Jim McGovern, state and local officials on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Denise Barstow Manz, farm stand manager and seventh-generation family member at Barstow’s Longview Farm, talks with Congressman Jim McGovern during his 12th annual districtwide farm tour on Tuesday in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Denise Barstow Manz, farm stand manager and seventh generation family member at Barstow’s Longview Farm, speaks during Congressman Jim McGovern’s 12th annual district-wide farm tour on Tuesday in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Congressman Jim McGovern, right, walks through Barstow’s Longview Farm during his 12th annual district-wide farm tour on Tuesday in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • Congressman Jim McGovern listens to Denise Barstow Manz, farm stand manager and seventh generation family member at Barstow’s Longview Farm, during his 12th annual district-wide farm tour on Tuesday in Hadley. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 8/16/2022 9:28:46 PM
Modified: 8/16/2022 9:25:18 PM

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern toured farms in Franklin and Hampshire counties Tuesday to gain perspective on their operations in anticipation of the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health in more than half a century.

As part of his 12th annual districtwide farm tour across central and western Massachusetts, McGovern’s first stop took place at Greenfield’s Just Roots farm in the early morning, followed by a stop at Montague’s Red Fire Farm before making stops in Amherst, Hadley and Northampton. The congressman explored various fields and facilities at each farm alongside the staff that maintain them, each worker contributing insight into their farm’s strengths and struggles.

McGovern said that he was encouraged by what he learned, framing the farms’ operations as a model for what to recognize during September’s White House Conference.

According to the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the first — and last — White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health was held in 1969 and was a “pivotal event” that “influenced the country’s food policy agenda for the next 50 years.”

“That was the year we landed somebody on the moon and we’ve learned a lot in the past several decades,” McGovern said.

Just Roots Executive Director Laura Fisher told McGovern that the farm has undergone a metamorphosis since he last visited over half a decade ago.

“I think you’ll find that Just Roots has expanded what it’s offering the community since your last time here,” Fisher said. “What I hope you bear witness to is how it has transformed — and can be transformed by — the community it sustains and that sustains it.”

“What I’m going to start by saying is that every farm you’re going to be visiting has a superpower,” added Meryl LaTronica, director of farm operations at Just Roots.

As the tour commenced, staff of Just Roots made clear that the farm’s superpower is its accessibility and widespread service throughout the county.

“Unfortunately, there’s a ton of people out here in Massachusetts who are experiencing food insecurity,” said Joshua Faller, food access and equity program manager at Just Roots.

“First of all, this is incredible,” McGovern said. “Just Roots is a model of what we should be doing not only across the commonwealth, but across the country.”

Meanwhile, Red Fire Farm, which has locations in both Montague and Granby, prides itself in being a “certified organic, very diverse vegetable farm,” according to co-owner Sarah Voiland.

“One of our biggest goals is to feed the community for as much of the year as possible with the widest diversity of crops,” she said.

Red Fire Farm’s “superpower” could also be considered to be its resourcefulness, making the most of limited acreage.

“It’s really hard to find enough land to have a business, so what we have we really scraped together,” co-owner Ryan Voiland said.

“In addition to the ‘fire’ in Red Fire Farm, there’s a fire that’s been burning in that kid for growing and maintaining,” added Paul Voiland, Ryan’s father.

After treating McGovern to blueberries and cherry tomatoes straight from the bush, the Voilands explained to McGovern that aside from land limitations, a primary concern that Red Fire Farm has is the declining condition of its buildings. Ryan Voiland estimated the farm’s buildings need upwards of $2 million in repairs, with the most pressing infrastructure needs being roofs on the verge of collapse.

“In general, we’re just barely holding the buildings together around here so they can stay functional,” he said.

Funding was also a primary concern for Just Roots. According to Faller, the farm’s CSA program is “extremely dependent” on the state’s 1115 MassHealth Demonstration waiver. The waiver “seeks to transform the delivery of care for most MassHealth members and to change how that care is paid for, with the goals of improving quality and establishing greater control over spending,” according to the state’s website.

“We could do more, but it’s all dependent on available funding,” said Faller, who attributed the CSA program’s success to MassHealth Accountable Care Organization partners that depend on the waiver.

LaTronica, of Just Roots, also urged McGovern to consider climate change as a threat to farms when he consults with White House officials in September.

In addition to McGovern, other officials, such as state Rep. Natalie Blais, Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner and Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey were in attendance along the tour. As McGovern wrapped up his morning, he voiced a commitment to collaboration.

“We want to work with you with this stuff,” he said.

McGovern planned to continue his farm tour across the district on Wednesday, including a visit to Seeds of Solidarity in Orange at 9:30 a.m.


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