Farmer's Diary, Winter 2015


50 X 60—it’s the newest buzzword in our community and the best news that Ag entrepreneurs have had in years (short of less regulation). Who wouldn’t be excited at the thought of more farms of all sorts dotting our landscapes, preserving and protecting productive open land at no additional cost to the tax-payer, and enough Ag job opportunities to satisfy the crying need of young entrepreneurs?

Consider, if you will, where Massachusetts’ thinking about food has been heading recently. There is a throaty cry for more fresh local produce, meat, fish, and forestry products. There are over 148 Agricultural Commissions in MA, of which 117 have already passed Right-to-Farm by-laws protecting farmers and backyard entrepreneurs from ill-informed (if well-intentioned) pressures. Every day earnest and capable young men and women are knocking on websites inquiring about jobs, internships, and any ag opportunity that might be available. Ag education is thriving. There is a hue and cry in the hustings: how can we do more to feed ourselves better in the coming years? We want more of what’s good for us all. How are we going to get it without depleting our resources irreparably? It is not yet too late for a comprehensive "Marshall Plan" for sustainable growth and food prosperity in MA and the Northeast.

If we have learned nothing in the previous decades, we have learned to cut waste, enhance sustainability, and better understand natural systems. We have learned (slowly) that open space has value in and of itself and that saving resources is investing in a healthy future for generations to come. Robert Lemire’s Creative Land Development showed us how to manage growth and preserve prime agricultural lands for future use while preserving value for landowners and their heirs. Brian Donahue et al’s “50 x 60: A New England Food Vision” puts a workable, well-reasoned plan on the table succinctly outlining just how to make meeting 50% of New England’s food needs grown locally or regionally by 2060 a reality. The Vision lays out a concise history of New England’s agricultural heritage and then looks at those areas of reasonable productivity (given rapidly improving technologies) where we have the best hopes of success and what trade-offs might be necessary for optimal resource allocation.

Perhaps, the only stumbling block on the road to affordable food, sustainable incomes, and thriving communities is our own pig-headedness and wrong-minded ideas about short-term self-interest. As we move into the middle decades of the 21st century, we must re-think the previous century’s Butz bread-basket approach to commercial agriculture, understand that our resources are less stable than previously assumed and that, while not yet imperiled, our food system needs a tune-up. Pogo was right: ‘We have met the enemy and it is us.’

We have 35 years (just one generation!) to develop and implement a plan that will shape our lives and those of our children in the very foreseeable future. We cannot afford to have good, clean, and healthy food only for those with significant disposable incomes. Nor can we assume that California, Mexico, and Chile will continue to be our hemisphere’s unfailing produce shopping cart.

Agencies like American Farmland Trust, MA Food Policy Council, regional food policy working groups and others are all working toward a comprehensive, bottom-up solution to known and foreseeable issues related to production, distribution, quality, and availability issues to insure a universally affordable food resource. 50 x 60 in New England will be the best achievable solution to a very complex question, which will focus our thoughts about food justice, quality of life, environmental, and economic health.


John Lee is the manager of Allandale Farm (Boston’s last working farm), which specializes in naturally grown local produce. Each summer, John manages an outdoor children’s program on the farm. He writes for local news outlets and is deeply involved with farming and locally grown issues in Massachusetts.