My friend Lee is always on the lookout for fun events where we can spend time together and catch up, and it’s even better when we can learn something along the way. I was excited when she suggested we attend a lecture sponsored by BU called “Marketing Massachusetts Agriculture”. And the title of the post is the state’s slogan: Massachusetts Grown….and fresher!
David Webber from the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources spoke about the great diversity in Massachusetts farms. Of course, I always think of fruit and vegetable farms first, picturing rows of cornstalks, apple orchards, and pumpkin patches. But there are also nurseries, and dairy farms, and aquaculture. (Yes, that’s the farming the shellfish.)
The good news is that the number of farms here is growing, and the amount of land dedicated to farming has stabilized, in part due to state programs to preserve farmland. Farms in Massachusetts are also conveniently located near densely populated areas which provide an excellent customer base for direct sales. This includes 221 Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, 233 farmer’s markets, plus many farmstands and ‘pick your own’ operations. Direct sales also include the growing area of agri-tourism, which encourages visits to all types of farms in the state. There is a cool map of the state which highlights all the place you can go!
One of the big challenges in marketing local food is the cost. Consumers often complain about the price of local food, and can’t understand why you have to pay so much more. One reason is the cost of farmland in Massachusetts, which is among the highest in the nation at $12,000 per acre. Of course, other costs are higher here as well, including energy and labor, and that all factors into the food prices. Yet many people feel that local foods are worth paying for because of the quality of the products and impact to the environment.
David talked a little bit about the Boston Public Market which has been in the planning stage since 1996. It’s a wonderful concept to house several local vendors under one roof in the heart of Boston, and be open year round. As you can imagine, there are also a lot of logistical issues that need to be resolved. But stay tuned, because this would be a great accomplishment! In the meantime, one change you can look forward to right away is that due to recent state legislation, local wine can be sold at farmer’s markets and agricultural events.
If you’ve made it this far, let’s play a game. According to data from the USDA, what single agricultural product comprises 17% of the cash receipts in Massachusetts? You can guess in the comments, and I’ll give you the answer tomorrow!