Op-Ed: Support your local farms

Buying from local farms provides a boost for the economy, protects the environment, and is healthier for our kids

In 2008 the town of Lunenburg was faced with a decision whether to purchase a 50 acre plot of land on Howard St. for $575,000. The land had once been Aro’s Poultry Farm, a local farm which had gone out of business. The difficult choice for Lunenburg was whether to spend precious resources to protect open space and the rural character of the town, or allow the land to be sold to a developer for subdivision. This is a familiar story in Massachusetts communities as family farms struggle to compete in a culture where most foods are purchased at giant supermarket and restaurant chains.

The family farms that have survived in New England have found innovative ways to compete in this new world. Some farms have focused on higher end and higher margin products. Others have removed the middle man and now produce, process, package, and distribute their product themselves. A good example of this is Stillman Dairy Farm in Lunenburg which milks, processes, bottles, and distributes milk to its customers. This has shielded the Stillman Dairy from the ups and downs of the wholesale milk price, allowing them to survive in this difficult economy. But these farms still need your help.

A working farm in your town has wide-ranging, positive effects: protecting open space from development, economic support to the town in the form of property taxes, economic support to other local businesses (Stillman’s buys and services its tractors at Padula Brothers, buys its trucks from Chapdelaine’s, and building supplies from Maki’s), protecting the environment by avoiding food transportation from other states and other countries, and often providing a healthier and less-processed product that is better for you.

We owe it to our towns and our children’s future to invest in our communities by purchasing from our local farms whenever possible. This can take the form of milk delivery from a local dairy, joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) produce program for the summer, visiting a local farm stand, but mainly by paying attention to where your food comes from and buying local. I recently joined my colleagues in passing a bill which aims to make it easier for schools to enter into purchasing agreements with local farmers to bring healthy, local foods to our school’s lunch programs, but we need to do more to remove the barriers that often exist between local farmers and the ability to distribute locally.

The 2008 Town Meeting vote in Lunenburg to purchase the 50 acres on Howard St. failed by 4 votes and the land has been purchased by a developer. While town purchases of land are a useful and commendable way to preserve open space, we can provide a boost to our local economy, eat healthier and preserve open space by buying from our local farms.