State lawmakers meet with Island farmers

Farm bureau reps address PFAS concerns, potential slaughterhouse

Members of the Martha's Vineyard Farm Bureau and a number of Island agricultural stakeholders heard updates Monday on pending farm-related state legislation. — MV Times

Farmers on Martha’s Vineyard have different challenges before them, like the lack of an Island slaughterhouse, and how to deal with contaminants of emerging concern, like PFAS. Vineyard farmers were given updates Monday regarding legislative developments that may benefit the Island’s agriculture industry. 

Joined by Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) executive director Karen Schwalbe, State Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, sat alongside Martha’s Vineyard Farm Bureau president Dan Martino at the Agricultural Hall to discuss farm-related updates at the state house and relay the MFBF’s top priorities for the upcoming years.

The largest general farming organization in the state, MFBF works with lawmakers to develop policies that have been supported and approved by Massachusetts farmers. 

The Martha’s Vineyard Farm Bureau, created just two years ago after seceding from the Cape and Islands branch of the MFBF, was largely made by members of the Agricultural Society, and consists of both terrestrial and aquatic farmers. 

The Island’s bureau aims to help shape Vineyard-specific agricultural policy, and to provide information and resources to the Island’s farming community. 

Schwalbe told Island farmers in attendance that the state bureau is supporting a number of bills this legislative session, including one targeted at examining the effects of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). 

The bill calls for greater awareness and further testing of what are dubbed the “forever chemicals;” particularly how prevalent those chemicals are on farmland around the state. 

PFAS, which is found in a number of commercial products, is largely known to present public health risks, yet how the chemicals impact agricultural products remains unclear. 

On the pervasiveness of PFAS, Schwalbe said, “It’s a problem the whole world will face.” She added that a proposed bill would prohibit PFAS application on farmland, and offer protections for local farmers who identify PFAS on their property. 

Meanwhile, Martino asked for an update on a proposed pilot program that would allow for on-Island livestock processing. 

Any livestock processed for human consumption, other than fowl, must first meet the requirements put into place by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including inspection of the product. 

Because Martha’s Vineyard does not have USDA-regulated processing facilities, Island farmers must transport livestock to off-Island facilities for slaughter — which is time-consuming and a financial burden.

Sen. Cyr noted that the discussion of introducing a slaughterhouse on the Vineyard has been going on for some time, nearly a decade. 

Cyr said that he’s secured $150,000 for the department of health “to establish a roadmap of a round of pilot [programs] for livestock slaughtering and processing” for communities in areas like the Vineyard. He said that effort is ongoing.

He said a part of the issue would be obtaining a USDA-certified inspector for a potential Island processing facility, but agreed that it may be possible to find other solutions to alleviate the hassle of taking Island animals to slaughter. 

Partly subsidizing transportation to and from off-Island slaughter facilities isn’t out of the question, Cyr said. Perhaps it would be worth engaging with the Steamship Authority to see if they’d be willing to work with and better accommodate traveling livestock farmers, he said.