Sen. Lesser, Local Food Banks, Experts and Farmers Hold "Food Security Roundtable"

BELCHERTOWN — Senator Eric P. Lesser, along with representatives from local food banks, policy experts and farmers, held a roundtable discussion on Dec. 14 about the challenges faced by farmers and food pantries in Western Massachusetts and solutions to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food.

“This was a productive conversation about the opportunities that exist for government, farmers and emergency food providers to collaborate in a number of areas. It remains a critical goal for all of us to provide greater access to healthy food for those in need, keep our local farms competitive, and create jobs in our regional agricultural economy,” said Sen. Lesser.

The meeting included discussion of ways to encourage companies like restaurants and grocery stores to donate leftover food rather than dump it and the potential to use Massachusetts Food Trust Program grants to build a new grocery store in Springfield’s Mason Square.

Participants agreed that they also need to develop strategies to boost the Healthy Incentives Program, which helps disadvantaged residents buy fruits and vegetables for their households, and improve the program’s outreach to marginalized communities. Sen. Lesser hopes to reconvene the group to discuss these strategies during the new legislative session beginning in January.

This is the second year that Sen. Lesser was the lead Senate sponsor on the budget amendment introduced to increase funding for the Massachusetts Emergency Food Assistance Program (MEFAP), which buys produce from local farms, including many in Western Massachusetts, to stock the state’s food banks.

Last year, Sen. Lesser was honored by the Greater Boston Food Bank as a “Public Advocate of the Year” for this work that supports both farms and food banks.

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Roundtable participants included Sean Ahern, Operations Manager for Lovin Spoonfuls; Winton Pitcoff, Director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative; Andrew Morehouse, Food Bank of Western Massachusetts; Eric Stocker, owner of the Belchertown food cooperative Squash, Inc.; Jessica Collins, Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts; Melissa Adams, Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources; Lisa Damon, Co-Director for Massachusetts Farm to School; Liz Wills-O’Gilvie, Chair of the Springfield Food Policy Council; Phil Kormen, Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture; Tammy Ryan, Belchertown School Gardens/STCC Market; Nate Shattuck, Shattuck’s Sugar House; Jane Cohen, Betsy Bertuzzi and Sarah Shtrax of Rachel’s Table; and Corrin Meise-Munns, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.