^ specialty farming comes to Massachusetts : fresh high-quality veggies grown in Grafton’s community gardfens

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As GE prepares to move its headquarters to Boston, bringing with it at least 800 top-level jobs; as GE’s move promises boom times for the City’s technology industry, well beyond what it already has; as Boston people’s discretionary spending increases and keeps on doing so, a new opportunity arises for our state’s agriculture. Will we take it ?

Agriculture is a service industry. It supplies food to people who have money to buy what they eat. The more money, the better agri-products they can buy. Just as Starbucks’s and Peet’s $ 4.00 lattes have, in greater Boston, all but sidelined Dunkin Donuts’s $ 2.00 Joe, and just as premium, $ 4.50 – $ 5.50 ice cream has all but bankrupted the cheap, Friendly’s kind, so expensive agriculture of all sorts has found its moment.

This is not new. We already have craft beers by the thousands, many of them brewed in Boston itself, using grains and fruits grown locally too. Expensive restaurants have become the norm too; and much of the foodstuffs what they cook with are premium-level, premium price.  Farmers’ markets abound, in almost every Boston neighborhood; they are not for the short of wallet.

People will pay for top quality food. If not, Steve’s Ice Cream — a staple of Somerville food mavens back in the day — could never have become the long-line destination that it did. Steve’s was then unique; today its business model is the food standard. The new Boston will only make it more so. Top quality, top price : nothing less will do. How can it ? There’s no comparison between a $ 30 meal and an $ 18 one, you can taste the difference instantly. In my neighborhood — East Boston — Rino’s $ 28 to $ 40 meals draw an SRO crowd almost every night; restaurants that cost $ 15 to $ 18 are rarely full.

All of the above is prelude to this article’s premise : agriculture in Massachusetts stands at the threshhold of boom times — IF farmers understand the nature of the opportunity. Grains for craft beer; grapes for local wineries; greenhouse vegetables and fruits for high-price restaurants; pampered cows, pigs, and lambs for premium meats — all are in demand now, more and more of it. And with high quality foods, freshness is a must. It hurts top level food to come to us by long travel, refrigerated transportation. Grow it locally, as locally as possible.

For many decades the idea of Massachusetts as an agriculture state was hard to take seriously. Not so now. There remains plenty of open space even in Essex County; and urban farming in Boston itself has become a major industry. With the new agriculture comes, finally, escape from economic backwardness for Worcester County and the entire Quabbin Reservoir region as well as for farmed portions of Bristol and Middlesex Counties. You want to up the prospects for our “gateway” cities ? Specialty agriculture, it is; because almost all these cities sit in the heart of farm country — and will be right there, at hand, when the state’s newly prospering specialty farmers come to town to buy city stuff.

Fortunately, Governor Baker’s administration has sen the opportunity and is allocating state budget funds to support Massachusetts farming. I would hope that those funds would also include Boston’s urban farming. Why not ? As high-end income earners flock to Boston in ever larger numbers, we should do everything we can to bring them the stuff they have money to buy.

We should also see that those who produce specialty food for well-heeled customers are well paid themselves. Raising the minimum wage to $ 15/hour helps farm workers as well as fast-food and retail employees. Why not give farm workers enough income to buy the new farming’s products ? For me, a $ 15/hour minimum wage makes much more sense economically and as tax policy than the backward-looking millionaires’ tax surcharge that certain well-meaning advocates have proposed. Public policy in Massachusetts should embrace what is coming and new, not what is going and obsolete.


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