USDA Officials Visit Deerfield Farm

Representatives from the US Department of Agriculture joined Congressman John Olver, Pioneer Valley farmers and local food advocates at the Williams Family Farm’s sugar house in Deerfield, Massachusetts today. The group gathered to recognize the impact of USDA programs in Western Massachusetts and to discuss farmers’ concerns for the fall.

One of the newest USDA awards in Western Massachusetts is a 30 year, 750-thousand dollar loan to the Franklin County Community Development Corporation — or the FCCDC. John Waite — the corporation’s executive director — says the money will be used to expand the organization’s food processing center in Greenfield.

“We are actually buying hundreds of thousands of pounds of peppers and broccoli and carrots from local growers. We process it, chop it, blanch it, freeze it and and sell it to the schools during their school year. So its really helping to educate the kids as to where their food comes from. It doesn’t just come from a package in the grocery store.”

Kathleen Merrigan, the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA, says local food hubs like the Greenfield processing center are essential to an economically viable regional food system. Merrigan — who grew up eating sweet corn in Greenfield — says she’s proud Massachusetts is ranked second in the country for average direct sales from farmers to consumers.

“I consider it the little engine that could. We are not in the most easy climate for year round locally grown food. But New Englanders are resilient, determined and they’re gonna make it happen. It is one of the hotbeds of local food interest in the country.”

One group Merrigan says she is concerned about is dairy farmers. That’s because the federal program that helps farmers deal with the high cost of feed and the low price of milk — expires on September 30th. Merrigan says until Congress passes a new Farm Bill including that program, she’ll be worried about Western Massachusetts dairy farms going out of business.