On October 22, the Log Lunch community had the privilege of hearing from Ashley Sears Randle, Deputy Commissioner for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR), whose talk was entitled “Massachusetts Agriculture: Past, Present and Future.”
Randle began by reflecting on her journey back to Massachusetts farms after many years away. After growing up on a dairy farm in nearby Deerfield, Massachusetts, Randle studied Applied Economics & Management and Animal Science at Cornell University, and had the opportunity to study in Washington D.C. and intern with the American Farm Bureau Federation during college. Upon graduating from Cornell, she studied Sustainability and Environmental Law at the Western New England University School of Law and earned her J.D.. Recognizing that she relished working directly with farmers rather than at a law firm, Randle worked for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, as well as the Northeast Dairy Producers Association (NEDPA) before transitioning into her current role.
She discussed the complexity of managing and supporting the 7,241 farms in Massachusetts, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite its comparatively small geographic scope, Massachusetts is the second-largest producer of cranberries in the United States and ranks 5th in direct-to-consumer sales, proving the critical importance of agriculture to both farmers and consumers in the state.
Randle continued to discuss the history of the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources, which actually predates the founding of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) by ten years. Since its founding in 1919, the Department has faced evolving challenges, many of which have been deepened by the market disruption caused by the pandemic. At present, the Department aims to address and improve food insecurity, environmental justice and climate change, and the fragility of the supply chain in the state.
Since May 2020, Randle has worked closely on the Massachusetts COVID-19 Food Security Task Force team. The Food Security Infrastructure Grant program, a recommendation of the Task Force, strives to identify and target farms, schools, nonprofits, fisheries, and more that are in need of grants to continue to function while facing the new economic challenges presented by the pandemic. Buoyed by a $36 million dollar fund, the program has successfully kept a number of Massachusetts businesses in action over the past 18 months. Randle concluded by noting the importance of strong local food systems in the state, emphasizing how direct-to-consumer sales can strengthen communities in the face of a fragile national supply chain.
The lunch entree served this week was brown rice and butternut squash curry served alongside garlic or plain naan with a side of kohlrabi and carrot slaw. The dessert was vegan snickerdoodle cookies. Fresh fruit and vegetable ingredients, as well as aromatics, were sourced from local farmers and a resident’s apple tree.
BY SARAH JANE O’CONNOR ‘22.5
Log Lunch is a CES program hosted every Friday at noon. During Log Lunch, a vegetarian meal prepared by Williams students is served, followed by a talk on an environmental topic. Speakers are drawn from both the student body and faculty of Williams, as well as from local, national, and international organizations. Learn more here.