Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray today joined hundreds of Massachusetts farmers, agricultural officials, legislators and residents today at the State House to celebrate "Agriculture Day", a commemoration of the agricultural industry's $490 million annual contribution to the Commonwealth's economy.
Each year, Massachusetts Agriculture Day is held to showcase agricultural products and industry achievements and to foster discussion between farmers and lawmakers regarding challenges faced by the state's farming communities.
"I am proud to support Massachusetts agriculture," said Governor Patrick. "The 7,500 farms across the Commonwealth contribute in important ways to our economic activity, food security, education, environmental stewardship and open space."
From cranberry bogs and shellfish flats on Cape Cod, apple orchards in the Berkshires, and garden centers in between, the diverse and robust Massachusetts farming industry employs more than 14,000 workers. Massachusetts farms also provide more than 517,000 acres of open space across the Bay State.
"The Commonwealth is steeped in rich agricultural traditions and Massachusetts Agriculture Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate those traditions, while bringing farming community leaders and state officials together to focus on key initiatives to support local farms and farmers," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr.
Governor Patrick also presented a proclamation, declaring April 3, 2012 as Massachusetts Agriculture Day. Representative Carolyn Dykema, Representative Peter Kocot and Dr. Deborah Kochevar, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University were each recognized support for the viability and sustainability of the Massachusetts agriculture industry.
State officials also recognized edible Magazine, which portrays seasonal foods and local products through five publications -- edible Berkshire, edible Boston, edible Cape Cod, edible Martha's Vineyard, and edible Pioneer Valley -- bringing local farm products to the forks of Massachusetts residents.
Capping off the festivities was a noontime reception, known as the "Taste of Massachusetts." Farmers and specialty foods producers, including aquaculture, livestock and dairy farmers, offered participants samples of locally harvested and produced items such as oysters, cranberry juice, apple pies, cheese, honey, and milk shakes.
"We are honored to bring from western Massachusetts all the amazing food that our farmers grow for all residents of the Commonwealth," said Philip Korman, executive director of Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture. "Ag Day provides a unique opportunity to work with our elected officials to expand the positive economic, public health and environmental impact of local agriculture."
During the event, DAR officials highlighted the Commonwealth's commitment to encouraging energy efficient farm operations and promoting statewide programs that foster agricultural diversification, culinary tourism, agricultural business training, animal health and pest management.
DAR officials also featured statewide programs promoting agricultural diversification, the Commonwealth Quality Seal, the MassGrown & Fresher Initiative, Rabies Awareness Program, Backyard Poultry Initiative, Asian Long-Horned Beetle project and an effort to register businesses in the Plant Industries Project.
DAR unveiled its 2011 Annual Report, which gives an overview of the department's more than 60 programs and services and gives a calendar-year snapshot of the Commonwealth's agricultural landscape.
Culinary students from Worcester Technical High School prepared and served a variety of dishes made from Massachusetts products, including turkey, lamb, root vegetables, honey and local cheeses.
Olivia Baker, an 11th grader at Thayer Academy in Braintree and a member of The Massachusetts 4 H, was chosen to speak and represent youth involvement in agriculture.
More than 45 agricultural exhibitors participated in the day's festivities, including representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and agricultural associations such as the Massachusetts Farm Wineries and Growers Association, Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association and the Massachusetts Association of Dairy Farmers.
Rep. Anne Gobi, co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, also attended the event, praising it as "an opportunity for the legislature to show our support to our farmers, fisherman and producers who enhances our communities and our economy through great stewardship of our land and resources."
The 2007 U.S. Department of Agriculture census showed that the Massachusetts agricultural industry grew markedly from 2002 to 2007. Crop and livestock sales and total number of farms grew by 27 percent, while total direct sales rose from $31 million in 2002 to $42 million in 2007. Organic sales also grew, from $7.8 million in 2002 to $17.5 million in 2007. The industry is currently comprised of 7,691 farms.
DAR's mission is to ensure the long-term viability of agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions -- Agricultural Conservation & Technical Assistance, Agricultural Markets, Animal Health, and Crop and Pest Services -- DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the rich diversity of the Commonwealth's agricultural community to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture's role in energy conservation and production.