The Massachusetts chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association. NOFA/Mass welcomes everyone who cares about food, where it comes from and how it’s grown

Growing Organically Since 1982

New legislation aims to promote Massachusetts's agricultural industry

Print Friendly Version of this pagePrint Get a PDF version of this webpagePDF

This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 April Issue Newsletter

By Dan Bensonoff

A comprehensive omnibus bill (S.2171) aimed to “promote agriculture in the Commonwealth” is making progress within the State House. This bundle of legislation, which just recently made its way out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture, addresses issues ranging from farm-specific tax reforms to a veteran agriculture program and much else in between. Many of the provisions included are specific recommendations that reflect the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan which was put together last year.

Perhaps the most far-reaching section of this package is intended to “protect the viability of farms in the Commonwealth” by ensuring that any new regulation enacted within Massachusetts would first have to be evaluated for any “direct or substantial effect on commercial agriculture operations that would likely result from the proposed regulation.” In many ways, this section provides an extension of local right-to-farm laws and has the potential to prevent bureaucrats from creating time-wasting or farm-ignorant regulations. Of course, the real-world consequences of this bill are yet to be seen; because the regulatory impact report would be filed to MDAR rather than a local agriculture commission, it’s possible that the voice of actual farmers may not be loud enough within the process.

Massachusetts’s agricultural commissions would also get a formal boost from the omnibus bill. Although many towns and municipalities already have agriculture commissions, they are not currently recognized as official bodies; but, should this bill become law, they would be able to “buy, hold, manage, license or lease land” for agricultural use. They would also have a host of other functions including receiving grants and other monies, creating a comprehensive local agricultural land plan, and advocating for farm interests.

NOFA/Mass is also pleased that several of the bills currently included with the omnibus bill have been priority bills for our members for several years. This includes a bill that would allow for licensed raw milk farmers to deliver their milk either directly to people’s homes or to a “pre-established receiving site” such as a community kitchen or other non-retail distribution area. This would also allow for raw milk to be delivered as part of a larger CSA delivery, as long as the consumer and the raw milk farmer have a pre-established contractual relationship. Because of the dearth of raw milk farms in the metro Boston area, the ability to deliver their product will allow for raw dairies to reach an exponentially greater number of customers and ought to be a major boon for the local industry.

NOFA/Mass has also been actively involved in changing the state’s plumbing code to ensure that dairies and other farms have their own specific set of regulations rather than having to adhere to blanket residential codes. This measure will create an advisory committee representing both plumbing industry voices and farm advocates in order to “provide alternative plumbing practices and methods which are reasonable, suitable and effective for farming buildings and operations.”

The omnibus bill still has to clear several hurdles before it would become ratified as law; currently it sits in the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, through which it would have to pass before being taken up for a vote in the Senate and House floor. Grassroots voices, particularly from within the agricultural community, will ensure that the best possible version of this bill reaches the floor. The upcoming Ag Day at the State House on April 5th provides a wonderful opportunity to share your views on this legislation (as well as other bills and ideas). On this day, you’ll be able to talk directly with your state Senators and Representatives about your policy priorities. Whether you support all of these bills or want to speak against some of them, this day is a rare opportunity to have a real conversation with our lawmakers. NOFA/Mass staff will be on hand during the day for policy consultations and to help you get in the room with your legislators. Please contact Dan Bensonoff, policy director, if you are interested in attending at dan@nofamass.org.

Tags:

 

Become a Member

Donate to NOFA/Mass

Subcribe to the Newsletter