Mass. Designs Program to Increase Access to Local Food

By ecoRI News staff

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) recently awarded $920,700 to five agricultural groups through the Massachusetts Food Ventures Program (MFVP), a new grant program intended to address food access and expansion of economic opportunities through new food ventures and enterprises statewide.

The MFVP, part of the 2014 Environmental Bond Bill and funded for the first time in the 2017 Capital Plan, provides financial support to food ventures, sited primarily in or near communities of low or moderate income. With expanded investment, completed projects will improve access to locally grown, harvested or caught food products through the development of collaborations with local agricultural enterprises and private/public entities, according to state officials.

The program will also help implement the goals of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan.

“These agricultural ventures create great job opportunities in low-income communities while also encouraging healthier local food systems,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Matthew Beaton. “By strategically investing in infrastructure for local food production, this new grant program allows us to help local agricultural enterprises thrive and ensure underserved communities have access to nutritious Massachusetts-grown products.”

Key areas for investment for the MFVP are food processing infrastructure to meet the needs of the expanding local food system; improved distribution systems to support opportunities for equitable access to local food; and retail outlet strategies that enhance access to healthy food.

The following organizations recently received grants:

The Livestock Institute of Southern New England ($250,000)
The Westport-based organization will use the money for construction costs associated with building of a modern slaughterhouse and process facility. The project will also provide educational, job creation and training opportunities for residents with regards to safe and humane handling and slaughtering techniques and job training for butchering.

Franklin County Community Development Corporation ($250,000)
The Greenfield-based corporation will use the money to expand capacity at its food-processing center, and create infrastructure by building a cold storage unit and buying additional equipment needed to increase opportunities for food businesses to start and grow. This infrastructure will increase the amount of locally grown vegetables that are frozen right after harvest and will be sold and distributed during the offseason.

Nuestras Raices ($174,000)
The Holyoke-based group will use the money for the construction and launch of a handicapped-accessible Mobile Market with refrigeration and freezer, a food transport truck and a commercial wash station. The increased infrastructure is anticipated to spur economic opportunity regionally, increase market opportunities for local farmers and create 50 new jobs.

Commonwealth Kitchen ($170,000)
The Dorchester-based organization will use the money to invest in specialized equipment and infrastructure improvements to expand its contract manufacturing enterprise to produce value-added products to serve Boston’s institutional markets. It will also process gleaned and surplus food, and produce simple, minimally processed products to feed low-income families.

World Farmers ($76,700)
The Lancaster-based group will use the money to improve access to established farming infrastructure for the 250 immigrant and refugee farmers at Flats Mentor Farm, to increase agricultural production and marketing capacity. The funding for this project will buy a walk-in cooler and refrigerated trailer, a commercial food hydrator, vacuum-sealed packaging unit and corn miller, and a refrigerated van.