An often overlooked culprit, the agricultural sector accounts for fourteen percent — or as much as twenty-five percent if you include agriculture-driven deforestation — of global greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, agriculture may be one of the greatest tools we have for mitigating climate change, and Massachusetts can lead that charge.
Since 2007, over 100 farms in the Commonwealth have installed renewable energy or implemented energy efficiency projects. For example, the Jordan Dairy Farm in Rutland, Massachusetts installed an anaerobic digester that combines manure with commercial food waste to generate electricity and produce fertilizer that can be used to increase farm productivity. It’s a win-win-win-win situation: clean energy, reduced need for chemical fertilizers that generate greenhouse gases and runoff that pollutes our waterways, reduced pressure on landfills, and more productive soil.
As demand for locally grown food in Massachusetts increases, efforts to build a sustainable supply infrastructure are growing as well. It’s been estimated that the average distance food travels from the farm to your dinner plate is 1,500 miles. By shortening the distance between farm and consumer, we’re reducing the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted by transporting food. Further, selling directly to the consumer at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and through CSA (community supported agriculture) shares, farmers get a bigger share of the profits than they would by going through wholesale markets.
Finally, interest in urban agriculture is exploding. Our cities have acres of vacant, flat rooftops that could be used for both rooftop farms and for greenhouses. In March, the first annual conference on urban agriculture, organized by the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture and held at Roxbury Community College, attracted 350 people – maximum capacity. Another 180 people wanted in.
We have a new generation of farmers in Massachusetts and across America — young people who understand there’s a promising future in agriculture, one in which farming plays a critical role in meeting the challenges of climate change. They are joining forces with and learning from our experienced farmers to ensure that agriculture will continue to play a pivotal role on Massachusetts’ physical, economic and environmental landscapes. I’m thrilled to be part of the solution.
(Adapted from Commissioner Watson’s WBUR’s Cognosenti submission.)