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The value of farms in our communities

How do we want land used in our community? It's not just forest that's endangered by current development. We need local farming, too.

We may not have big tracts of land to support agribusiness-type of farming ... but that's not the kind of farm that contributes to the community, anyway. Smaller, more diversified farms, close to us, provide fresher food, more nutritious and tasty from not having endured so much time and handling in transit. Currently Massachusetts imports about 85% of its food; the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) says we could cut that to 65% -- keeping more food dollars in the local economy.

Local farmers also bring to our community an active, working stewardship of the earth. We need the practical appreciation of how our lives depend on that care. Farms smell; farms make noise. But if we get rid of them we have artificial environments with an impoverished relationship to the earth.

MDAR encourages towns to create Agricultural Commissions to help integrate farms into the community. MDAR offers free guidelines on how they work and how to get one started in your town; see or call 617-626-1702. Pepperell seeks volunteers (contact Town Administrator Bob Hansen), and in Groton, the Grange will be calling a meeting (contact President Sally Smith, 978-448-3418).

In the Pioneer valley, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) — a member-supported nonprofit — promotes farming and farm products with projects to:

  • Provide local food for low-income seniors
  • Help local farmers and other CISA members build their businesses
  • Encourage school agricultural activities in classrooms, gardens, and local farms
  • Involve urban residents and encourage urban farmers markets
  • Build local wholesale agriculture markets with institutional buyers such as cafeterias in workplaces, hospitals, and schools
  • Raise public awareness with a multimedia marketing campaign using the slogan "Be a Local Hero, Buy Locally Grown." Currently 120 farms, 12 restaurants, 45 grocery stores and 8 farmers' markets participate

On Thursday, January 26th, at 7:00 PM, Annie Cheatham, Executive Director of CISA, will come to the Nashua River Watershed Association (978-448-0299), thanks to a grant from the Groton Trust Funds’ Lecture Fund. Cheatham will be talking with local farmers Anne and Mike Gagnon of Bear Hill Farm in Tyngsboro, Garrett Stillman of Stillman Dairy Farm in Lunenburg, and Carl Hills of Kimball Fruit Farm in Pepperell. Farming is hard work, says Cheatham, but it has an attraction. She will ask these folks to tell their stories.

© Copyright 2006 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 20 January 2006

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