No farms, no food. That bumper sticker slogan feels more apt than ever in this time when government officials are determining what counts as an “essential service.” Could there ever have been a doubt that those growing the food to feed us pass the test? And yet, local farms are probably not the first businesses one thinks of supporting at this time. Most of the coverage of food in the media has been about grocery stores — of course another vital set of businesses.
This week, many Massachusetts residents are receiving their one-time payments from the federal government via direct deposit. It’s actually fairly good timing to use to help support locally grown food. Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) recently put out a list of ways those who are able can fund farms and other food outlets in the Valley.
One of the most notable is to sign up for a summer vegetable share. Farms practicing Community Supported Agriculture, also known as CSA, provide regular delivery of fresh vegetables to those who sign up and pay in advance. There will likely be additional considerations related to social distancing when picking up or receiving the shares, and you should check with the farm about what they plan to do. CISA has a way to local farms and their contact information on its website: buylocalfood.org.
The one-time government checks may make CISA farms more accessible for certain people, but others still can’t afford to offer support in that way. Fortunately, the state’s Healthy Incentive Program, known as HIP, allows low-income residents who qualify for federal SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps), to purchase locally produced fruits and vegetables. The state House and Senate approved additional funds for the program in March, halting a temporary suspension on the program in February when it ran out of money. A Facebook group, called HIP – Healthy Incentives Program, Pioneer Valley, provides a list of farms and other operations that accept HIP benefits and are open during the crisis. CISA’s website has a link to the group, as well.
CISA is stepping up to support local farms through its emergency farm fund, offering zero interest loans to farmers who have lost income due to the COVID-19 crisis. The deadline for this round of applications has passed, but CISA expects to open it up again later in the spring. You can donate to the fund at buylocalfood.org. Also, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and the local Survival Centers provide food for hungry people in the area, and are in need of support at this time.
An important related issue is support for undocumented people — some of whom work for local farms. Most of the supports the federal government have put into place exclude undocumented immigrants, even though many work and pay taxes. The one-time government checks will not be going to undocumented people, and likewise undocumented workers cannot access the additional unemployment funds green-lighted by the feds, as they are not eligible for unemployment.
Here, the Pioneer Valley Workers’ Center has established the 413 Undocumented Worker Solidarity Fund, with the aim of helping undocumented workers who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, but are excluded from the programs the federal government approved in its relief package. Information on the fund can be found at pvworkerscenter.org.
Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.