The farm economy of Massachusetts, linked to a remarkable growth in farmers markets across the state, offers important opportunities to improve our health in both personal and economic terms.
Fresh food needs to be available and affordable, especially in urban communities where we are seeing an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses caused in large part by fast-food diets. Nowhere is the impact of corporate control on our economy more profound. Supporting and expanding agriculture creates local jobs, generates local revenue, improves health, and saves on health care. Educating consumers about good nutrition, and how personal health directly relates to the health of our communities, is a core responsibility of government.
Some of the farmers markets that have sprung up around the state have joined a creative program, funded by private entities, to double the purchasing power of people using EBT cards if they buy fresh local produce. This program has the double benefit of supporting local farmers with more customers. It should be funded in the state budget.
In addition, some Massachusetts hospitals and clinics now offer “veggie vouchers” as “prescriptions” to patients whose diets have led to issues like obesity and diabetes. Initial studies have shown dramatic success with this strategy. As a matter of public health and health insurance cost savings, this should be encouraged.
Third, school breakfast and lunch programs are a perfect opportunity to support local growers, encourage new eating habits, and enrich education with a deeper appreciation of how the food we eat is produced, and why healthier alternatives are better. The state should remove all unreasonable barriers to school systems purchasing fresh local food, and fully fund nutrition programs.