New England Farmers Union was proud to sponsor two great events in April, the Farm to Institution New England (FINE) summit at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the PVGrows Spring Forum at Open Square in Holyoke.

The two events were quite different in scale — the FINE gathering drew 600 attendees from throughout the region; PVGrows was more locally focused, bringing in around 60 food system workers and farmers. Their goals diverged, as well. FINE aimed to bring together leaders who are working to increase the amount of local and regional food served in schools, colleges, and health care facilities. While PVGrows, among other activities, hosts a yearly forum with a theme. This year’s theme was land, specifically, farmland preservation. In the UN-designated International Year of Soils, this was particularly relevant.

At the FINE summit, attendees gained insight into how to source locally, and farmers learned how to market to institutions. Topics included financing opportunities, integrating gardens into school curricula, food safety, procurement procedures, policy matters, and staffing. A presentation on UMass Dining Service’s efforts to source locally showed how when institutions decide to use local and regional farms, the impact is dramatic. In six months of working with New England farms, UMass shifted $600,000 to the Massachusetts economy, and $1 million to the regional economy.

The PVGrows forum showed how access to land can be a big barrier for farmers. Ray Young from the Next Barn Over in Hadley, MA, described how leasing land can add complication and stress. She said she and her partner farm on 30 acres and have 12 landlords with 12 different lease agreements, many of them based on a verbal agreement and a handshake. Still, they partner grow 50 crops, have a 500-member CSA, and have some wholesale grocery and restaurant accounts. “We want to buy more land,” Young said.

It’s exciting to be a part of, and to support, regional efforts that increase markets for farmers, and that give farmers an economic incentive to continue farming. If you’d like to be part of these efforts, please become a member of New England Farmers Union now. It’s quick and easy on our website, or email us to arrange for a membership form to be mailed to you.

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