Of the Earth: A shot to the HIP


For the Recorder
Wednesday, March 14, 2018

I hoped it was a perverse side effect of anesthesia that caused me to awake last week with the disturbing notion that the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), about which we have been so enthusiastic, might be suspended as of April 15. I knew that the program had been in jeopardy due to its own success in servicing far more people far more quickly than anticipated, but the thought that an effort to promote fresh, healthy local food assistance and help boost local farm revenues could simply evaporate ... well, it was too much to believe.

But believe we must, I guess. Notes from Winton Pitcoff of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative and from the Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture confirmed the worst. While I understand some of the particular mechanics of how the program ran out of money, I still don’t grasp the broader policy context that allows us to look at happy folks with armloads of everything from cabbage to microgreens and simply say, “sorry,” just as we slam the cash drawer on an important revenue source for the growers of those greens.

As you will recall, HIP is a joint state and federal program that extends an additional $40 to $80 of benefits for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps) enrolled consumers who purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local producers.

So, there are things we can do. We can call Gov. Charlie Baker and members of the Massachusetts Committee on Ways and Means to urge the inclusion of about $6.2 million for HIP in the fiscal 2019 budget which begins July 1; urge them and backfill funding for the program from now until July; and we can consider tapping into efforts like the March 1 lobbying day that was held on Beacon Hill. To learn more about the program, visit: bit.ly/2FNf94M.

What really bothers me, however, is that HIP is a particularly creative, caring, badly needed program that has proven its worth, but which must survive in a complicated hostile world of federal policy. This is a world where a new federal farm bill is being considered largely in secret, and where SNAP benefits could be partially replaced by boxes of mystery food. About 80 percent of the nearly $500 billion farm bill went to nutrition programs, much of it to SNAP.

How does a sane, helpful well-constructed program survive in this world?

It makes me think that U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern may have been right when, on Feb. 11, he told a Rural Commonwealth Ag Summit audience at Mohawk Trail Regional School: “No farm bill is better than a lousy farm bill.”

Please help me make this a forum for information on the 2018 farm bill, and what it means for our people and farms.

The cutting board

Better Late Than Dept.: It may still be possible to make it to Western Mass. Master Gardener Association’s Spring Gardening Symposium. This year’s theme is “Your Living Landscape.” It takes place this Saturday, March 17, from 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. at Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield. Keynote speaker is Henry Homeyer (“The Gardening Guy”) on “Sculpting the Living Landscape.” The cost for the day is $35, including 16 workshop topics to choose from in two concurrent sessions, the keynote address and morning coffee and snack. For more details about the workshops and a registration form, visit: http://wmmga.org, email gardensymposium123@gmail.com, or call 413-624-5137.

Mystified by fruit tree pruning?: Learn how to properly prune your fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, etc.) at “Home Orchard Pruning: A Hands-on Workshop,” on March 24, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Windy Hill Farm, 686 Stockbridge Road in Great Barrington. Instructors are Jon Clements, UMass Extension, and Liz Garofalo, Stockbridge School of Agriculture. Fee is $50. Visit: UMassGarden.com for more information.

When life gives you sap, make lemonade: Whatever you do, don’t miss Massachusetts Maple Weekend this week. To celebrate, kick back with a glass of Severance maple lemonade using the recipe in today’s column from Tinky!

Food documentary: Thanks to the intervention of last week’s snow, you can still catch Steve Alves powerful film “Food for Change” today, March 14, at noon in room C208 at Greenfield Community College. There will be snacks and a Q&A session.

Finally: Please let it be known that last week’s great easiest kale chips recipe came from Trouble Erin Mandeson. More from her next week, thank goodness.

Wesley Blixt lives in Greenfield. He is a longtime reporter and is the author of “SKATERS: A Novel.” Send him recipes, stories and suggestions at: wesleyblixt@me.com.