The Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) held its 95th Annual Meeting on December 4th and 5th in Amherst, MA with higher than anticipated attendance. About 200 members from across the state came to participate in the event which featured informative workshops, tradeshow exhibits, and an annual awards program.

Hotel UMass provided the venue for the annual meeting which was co-hosted by Franklin and Hampshire County Farm Bureaus. This year’s program featured a special screening of Academy Award-winning filmmaker James Moll’s feature length documentary, “Farmland.” The film profiles the lives of six young farmers and ranchers from across the U.S.

The work of young farmers was a main focal point of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

The work of young farmers was a main focal point of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting.

“Farming is growing in Massachusetts, and for the first time in many years more acres are being farmed due in part to young farmers like those featured in the film,” said MFBF President, Rich Bonanno, as he addressed the crowd which included members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst agricultural community.

MFBF presented seminars on a wide variety of topics including Understanding Provisions of the Wetlands Protection Act, Farmers Markets, Roadside Stands & CSA’s, Tennessee Pipeline – “Where Pipelines and Farms Intersect,” Farm Plate Guidelines, Growing Your Farming Operation on APR Land, Pesticide Worker Protection Standard Refresher & Update, and Different Farms, Different Production Practices – How to Work Together.

Among the highlights of the awards program is the announcement of the John Ogonowski Memorial Award winner. MFBF established the award in 2001 as a memorial to John Ogonowski, longtime MFBF member, county leader and victim of the September 11th terrorist attack. John was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center. He was actively involved in the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, serving as a mentor to immigrant farmers. John loved farming and was also very active with the Dracut Land Trust, working to preserve open space for future generations.

The award not only represents outstanding accomplishments in agriculture, but it also recognizes service and a special connection to the individual’s community. This year’s honor went to Alex Dowse of Dowse Orchards, Sherborn, MA. Alex is a third generation Farm Bureau leader. He’s the son of a past MFBF President and has been a member for more than thirty years, holding leadership positions at every level including President from 2001 to 2009.

The MFBF Young Farmers and Ranchers (YF&R) Committee presented the inaugural, “Young Farmer at Heart” award recognizing an older but “young at heart” farmer who goes above and beyond to mentor young farmers who are just starting out. The award was given to Bruce Howden of Howden Farm in Sheffield, MA, and president of Berkshire County Farm Bureau.

The YF&R Committee also coordinated a food drive as part of “Harvest for All,” a program that encourages MFBF members to make donations to local food banks. A horse-drawn wagon made an appearance at Hotel UMass where members brought food to fill the wagon. Final numbers for the state are still being tallied, but the total is estimated at over 185,000 pounds! “Farmers are generous and contribute to community food banks, kitchens, etc. The young farmers of Massachusetts are pleased to lead this effort and hope that we can continue to increase donations to this worthy project,” said Jamie Cruz, outgoing chairperson of the YF&R Committee.

MFBF members raised over $2,000 through a silent auction to benefit Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom, a non-profit group that provides agricultural education and training to over 13,000 teachers and students across the Commonwealth. The MFBF Women’s Leadership Committee also conducted a fundraiser which raised $715 for the Ronald McDonald Houses of MA.