CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) is familiar to many of us because of the bright yellow Local Hero signs at farmstands, farmer’s markets, supermarkets and car bumpers. We have recognized the benefits of buying food from our local farmers: keeping our money in the local economy; preserving local farms that produce the rural atmosphere we all treasure as well as a variety of crops; and cutting down on oil-dependent food transportation.
As consumers we see some of the work done by CISA, but much of its work, and workers, are visible only to the over 200 local farmers who are CISA members.
Philip Korman joined CISA in 2008 as its Executive Director. A graduate of Cornell University he has spent his professional life working for the community and common good through organizations like the National Priorities Project in Northampton and the Franklin County Council of Governments.
Once, as a young man, he spent a couple of summer months on a farm in Norway, just three hours south of the artic circle. “They raised dairy cows, and pigs, but no vegetables. All produce was imported. A lot of rhubarb soup,” Korman said.
Nowadays he contents himself with a home garden and enjoys living in a rural area, where there are lots of vegetables and fruits, and working for CISA, a community organization that has a wide reach, from farmers to consumers, to other organizations and businesses who have an interest in food. And that is almost all of us, when you think about it.
“We are here to help the bottom line of farmers,” Korman said. They do this through a variety of workshops in business, finance and marketing. “Farmers already know what they are doing in the fields, but we can help them with those other aspects of farming. We also have a new Women in Agriculture initiative, in acknowledgment of the growing number of women who are farming.”
As any person starting a business knows, there is more to success than making a product. For farmers this means they also need an agricultural infrastructure to allow farmers to process their crops, and gain that value for themselves.
There was great controversy recently about a slaughterhouse in the area, and it is clear that such an operation will need to be sited carefully. However, meat farmers would benefit immensely from having a local slaughterhouse, and even those of us who like, or would like to raise backyard chickens, or pigs, would benefit. I believe that a well planned and managed small local slaughterhouse would avoid all the environmental problems that we associate with industrial sized slaughterhouses where there is cruelty and dangerous waste.
Korman said there is interest in building a local dairy processing operations. Gary Schaefer of Bart’s Ice Cream already uses local blueberries and peaches in their ice cream and are interested in using local milk as well.
In addition, CISA is investigating the possibility of establishing a flash freezing operation, that could either be brought to farms, or where farmers could bring their produce for freezing. This would be another was to increase farm income, and add jobs.
Those who attended the Northampton Winterfare farmers market scooped up all the fresh greens that Red Fire Farm had, showing that there is a market for fresh vegetables early and late in the season. Currently there is the possibility of funding to help farmers build hoop houses, to make this market available to more farmers.
During my talk with Korman I realized that how many people and organizations are generating ideas, and then working in concrete ways to make it more and more possible for us all to eat more healthfully and locally, and for more small farms to be more successful. This is a very exciting time for farmers in our area when there is organizational support and resources, as well as the desire from consumers to buy their products.
Since our local farms are small, we don’t realize what an economic impact they have on the area. Yet, local farms had more than $9 million dollars in sales last year; 35 Local Hero restaurants spent more than $1 million on local produce; and schools, and hospitals are buying more local produce. Of all the produce used at UMass dining halls and cafes, more than 20% now comes from local farms.
According to the 2008 CISA Annual Report “. . .we want more local foods and agricultural good available, more of the time, to more of the people.” When that report came out, a state funded Senior Farm Share program provided 350 low income seniors with 10-12 weeks of fresh produce from their local CSA. The state cut half the funding for the current fiscal year, and for the upcoming fiscal year there is no state funding at all.
Because of their commitment to providing healthy fresh food to low income seniors CISA has been fundraising, hoping to raise $25,000 to keep this program alive until the economy and our state recover from this serious downturn. There is still time for people to make a donation to that program. Call Pamela Barnes at (413) 665-7100., or logon to www.buylocalfood.org for full information.
Nowadays you don’t have to be a farmer to be a supportive CISA member. Community memberships are available at a variety of levels. I’ve joined. Will you?
Don’t forget Greenfield’s Winterfare farmers market on Saturday, February 6 from 10 am to 2 pm at Greenfield High School. Beautiful produce, a Barter Fair, and workshops. I’ll be talking about that most local crop, sprouts. For full info logon to www.winterfare.org. ###
Between the Rows July 31, 2010