BUCKLAND — Despite the dreary weather and pouring rain, local farmers convened at Mohawk Trail Regional High School to participate in a series of Ag Summit workshops and listen to U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of the 2nd District address their concerns about the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill.
“I want there to be a farm bill and I want it to be a good farm bill,” McGovern told his audience. “No farm bill is better than a lousy farm bill.”
The summit was hosted by the recently established Rural Commonwealth, which seeks to acknowledge the needs of the 170 rural towns in Massachusetts. Greenfield Savings Bank sponsored the event.
According to Director of Rural Commonwealth Toby Gould, the organization began approximately a year and a half ago with small town summits in Charlemont, discussing community issues with the Selectboard.
Gould said the Ag Summit was important to the community because of the impending 2018 Farm Bill, and many local farmers wanted a chance to tell their concerns to a Massachusetts political representative.
After Gould, Sen. Adam Hinds took a turn at the microphone to introduce McGovern to the audience.
“You want a fighter in your corner,” said Hinds, motioning at McGovern. “Jim McGovern is your fighter.”
The farm bill happens every five years, but this year’s bill is not without complications.
“This is the first year I can recall the farm bill not being written in a bipartisan way,” McGovern said, going on to say that it’s being written in secret and the public doesn’t know what the bill contains yet.
According to McGovern, there is no subcommittee for the bill this year. He expressed concern that the public should not support a farm bill that “guts our nutrition programs.”
McGovern offered his help to the audience if they have more questions once the bill is drafted.
“Even those not in my district, I’m happy to work with you,” he said. “I’ve come to have not only a special appreciation for farms, but a special obligation.”
McGovern’s talk transitioned into a Q&A session where audience members could submit their related questions on index cards and have them answered by the congressman.
One question asked the representative how community members could go about blocking an unacceptable farm bill. McGovern responded that people need to reach out to their representatives to voice their concerns, whether they live in the state or not.
McGovern also advocated for an open and transparent process in legislation, citing the importance of the public knowing what policies will affect them.
He also mentioned that the farm bill should be “more than just supporting mega-farms in the Midwest and West.”
Another question addressed the need for broadband internet in rural communities. Some may not believe internet access has much to do with farming, but in current times, internet is necessary to conduct business.
McGovern responded that there was “progress” with the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus package, but “it wasn’t enough.”
“Broadband is absolutely necessary,” he said. “It’s a big deal not just for farmers but also for the state’s economy.”
A later question addressed GMO food labeling laws, asking if there would be any changes coming soon.
In accordance with McGovern’s beliefs on transparency, he wishes for GMO labeling on all food products. He noted that he didn’t want to argue about the science behind whether GMOs are harmful or not, but he believes that people should be able to pick what food they want with clear labels.
As of now, the status of GMO labeling legislation is unclear, but McGovern hopes the Farm Bill will address it.
“If it doesn’t work out how we want it, there’s nothing that says we can’t revisit the legislation,” he said.
McGovern is the only Massachusetts politician on the House Committee on Agriculture. He joined when his district was primarily a suburban and urban district, but said he has always had an interest in local farming and nutrition. There are close to 2,000 farms in the Second Congressional District.
“These farms contribute greatly to our economy,” he said. “You all work hard, harder than people appreciate. I’d last an hour on one of your farms.”
McGovern goes on yearly farm tours and brings an expert according to what challenges the specific farmer is facing. Depending on the occasion, he may bring an official from the USDA or the Agriculture Department, or even a marketing expert.
“For me, it’s been an incredible learning adventure,” he said.
McGovern invited opinions on the Farm Bill once it’s made available.
“I’m not an expert in everything,” McGovern said. “I need to rely on you to tell me whether something is good, or bad, or inadequate.”
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