McGovern pursues end to hunger through local farm tours

  • Michael Skillicorn, the associate director of Grow Food Northampton, speaks during a farm tour with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern. Behind McGovern is Nate Frigard, the owner of Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern talks with Eleanor White, an employee of Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton, during a farm tour Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern speaks to a group during a farm tour while Nate Frigard, the owner of Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton listens on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern walks through Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton during a farm tour Wednesday, August 25, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern speaks to a group during a farm tour while Nate Frigard, the owner of Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton listens on Wednesday, August 25, 2021. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, right, looks over the produce Wednesday with Nate Frigard, the owner of Crimson & Clover Farm in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 8/25/2021 8:23:25 PM

NORTHAMPTON — U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Worcester, brought his 11th annual farm tour to Florence, Amherst and Franklin County on Wednesday, highlighting farmers who are working to prevent hunger and food insecurity across western and central Massachusetts.

The congressman said his goal is to build a nationwide movement calling for a White House conference that would develop a comprehensive plan to end hunger in America. Such a conference was last held in 1969.

McGovern spent an hour at Crimson & Clover Farm on Spring Street in Florence, speaking with owner Nate Frigard about the 10-year-old farm’s efforts to distribute food, at low or no cost, to needy families in the area.

“You want to create a system where people have a choice (to buy) fresh produce, locally grown produce, instead of something that’s been shipped halfway across the country,” McGovern said. “We want to make sure the incredible food that is grown by places like this is available to everybody, not just people of means, but to people who struggle.”

Crimson & Clover has about 600 Community Supported Agriculture shareholders locally and in the Boston area. The CSA program allows customers to make an investment in the farm and receive delivery or make pick-up of fruits, vegetables, herbs, milk and meat once a week.

Some CSAs let their shareholders work a few hours on the farm instead of paying, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients can use their benefits to pay for shares.

“The cost of living is different in Mitchell, South Dakota, than it is in San Francisco or Boston,” said McGovern, advocating for equitable food access programs that don’t leave anyone behind. “You see people that show up at these food distribution centers and they say, ‘I’m working, it’s just not enough. And I’m ineligible for SNAP.”

He said that food insecurity is tied to other major social policy issues like the minimum wage, utility costs, transportation access, health care, education and climate change.

After hearing from representatives of Grow Food Northampton about their efforts to increase the number of Black-owned tenant farms, and to establish an immigrant-led farming cooperative, McGovern picked some items off the shelf at the farm store and waited in line to pay. He bought products by Appalachian Naturals of Goshen, Kitchen Garden of Sunderland and Robinson Farm of Hardwick.

The congressman was joined on his tour by representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the local nonprofit Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), as well as state and local leaders, including state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa and state Sen. Jo Comerford, both Democrats of Northampton.

“USDA needs to open their eyes a little more,” McGovern said, “and get a little more creative with how they allocate funding.”

Franklin County stops

McGovern also visited Atlas Farm in South Deerfield and Upinngil Farm in Gill. Uppingil owner Clifford Hatch led McGovern, Comerford and state Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, around his farm, showing them where their milk and vegetables are produced.

Hatch said food insecurity programs — such as SNAP and the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) — are invaluable assets when it comes to providing healthy food to people.

“It shouldn’t be only people who have the luxury of time or budget to get food,” Hatch said. “We need to have good food available for everyone.”

McGovern said food insecurity and poor nutrition go hand-in-hand, and there needs to be a national push for more education and awareness about the relationship. He also advocated for more school curriculum surrounding the field of agriculture, telling the group about his visit to a school in Arizona that saw a significant decrease in behavioral incidents after it implemented more farming-based activities and lessons.

“Kids don’t know how carrots are grown, they don’t know how milk is produced,” McGovern said. “That would go a long way to better help people appreciate what they’re buying.”

Upinngil Farm became one of the first farm stores in the region to accept SNAP cards in 2015 and also piloted the HIP program, which reimburses people who purchase produce with their SNAP benefits. The farm hosts 50 shares with its CSA program, which also gives shareholders a 20% discount on produce.

Upinngil has made multiple improvements to its services and building with the state’s Food Security Infrastructure and Farm Viability Enhancement Program grants. The farm had four employees in 2013, but grants allowed the farm to grow to six employees in 2016 and now a total of 12 employees, Hatch said.

McGovern said Upinngil Farm “embraces all the values” he believes in and provides a “commitment to the community.”

“They make sure this good food is affordable,” McGovern said. “There’s also a mission of social justice.”

He added that Uppingil is one of nearly 1,800 farms in his district — from Worcester to Greenfield — and the state and federal government has a good relationship with these farmers. He said Upinngil Farm in particular has taken the lead in addressing food insecurity.

Whipps echoed McGovern’s statement about the need for more education about nutrition and agriculture.

“Food relates directly to public health,” Whipps said. “The closer you get from farm to table, the healthier it is.”

Comerford said feedback from farmers is vital and it helps her continue expanding programs like HIP, which she noted is one of her highest priorities.

McGovern’s tour continues Thursday with stops at farms in Leicester, Leominster and Grafton.


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