More than 200 farms across western and central Massachusetts started receiving checks last week from the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund launched by the Healey administration and United Way of Central Massachusetts after devastating flooding in July. The governor said Thursday that the fund will keep accepting donations to be ready to help the next time severe weather hurts Massachusetts farms.
The fundraising campaign has taken in more than $3 million through 650 donations from individuals, families, private philanthropies and businesses, Tim Garvin, CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, said at Hollis Hills Farm in Fitchburg on Thursday afternoon. Gov. Maura Healey said that an initial round of relief checks started going out last week, spreading $2 million across 214 farms.
"More than one farmer has already responded to say quote, 'This will save our farm.' To me, this is what the Massachusetts spirit is all about," the governor said. "I've talked for a long time about Team Massachusetts and I've called upon everybody on any number of issues to come forward and find ways to meet the moment and support, and I am grateful to all of you who answered that call, who showed the generosity, who showed and supported the resiliency of our farming community, and who really stand here all together."
Jim Lattanzi, owner of Hollis Hills Farm, said this was his 10th year farming in Fitchburg and "probably the most challenging."
"Whether it be that frost that we lost all of our peach crop, the frost in May when we lost a lot of our apple crop and have lots of damage we're dealing with, to the amount of rain that we fought and the amount of fungus that we're fighting," he said, describing the challenges of this growing season. "We're used to being able to bring the best looking product forward, and it's been a challenging year, and your customers that aren't used to seeing spots on your apples or a squishy spot in a strawberry or however it was that we faced this year, it's hard because you do all the work and we also feel that we're letting people down because we work so hard, but the product isn't quite right or we don't even have the product."
Watching all of his farm's hard work "wash away" because of severe weather "takes the wind out of your sails," Lattanzi said. But knowing that the governor, legislators and businesses were ready to step in to arrange for relief "blows a little wind back in your sails," he said.
"You know, we don't choose this profession for money. We do it because we love our role, we love the land, we love our farms, we love our communities," Lattanzi said, adding that "money helps."
"We don't do it alone and we know that, and so I can only speak for myself but I know that I speak for many in that we're incredibly appreciative of the financial support, but also knowing that we have such a great community behind us."
Garvin has previously said the goal of the Massachusetts Farm Resiliency Fund is to reach $5 million by the middle or end of September, but Healey said Thursday that the effort "is far from over" and that the fund could be tapped down the line if storms damage farms elsewhere in Massachusetts.
"We continue to see adverse weather events, serious bad weather, right, in all different forms. We had nine tornadoes in Massachusetts. I don't know that a governor's had nine tornadoes in a summer in Massachusetts history before," she said. "So a key to this is building resilience ... it's why this fund is named what it's named, it's why it will remain up and running, because what happened here in central and western Massachusetts, we know there's a threat for our cranberry growers in southeastern Mass. maybe with the next weather event. We want to find ways to support farmers and their innovations to build resilient farms, sustainable farms."
On Wednesday, the Healey administration announced an initial $15 million in funding from the state's Natural Disaster Recovery Program for Agriculture was available to Massachusetts farms that were "adversely affected by one or more of the extreme weather events in 2023." Financial relief is available to farmers impacted by the February deep freeze, the May frost, and July floods to assist with their recovery and resumption of growing operations.
"These funds will help ensure our farms have the resources to salvage a difficult year and come back stronger than before. We're grateful to the Legislature for making these funds available to support our hardworking farmers," Healey said.
And last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated parts of the state primary natural disaster areas following excessive rain from July 9 through July 16. The seven Massachusetts counties designated as primary natural disaster areas were Berkshire, Bristol, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Norfolk and Worcester counties. Contiguous counties are also eligible, including Dukes, Middlesex, Plymouth and Suffolk counties.
Through the USDA, farmers in those counties can apply for low-interest loans and refinance existing loans, and tap into the Emergency Conservation Program, a cost-sharing program for debris and clean-up costs related to natural disasters.