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Bill authorizing $20M for local farming hub in Waltham passes in 11th hour

Waltham News Tribune
August 04. 2014 12:23PM

A bill just passed by the Legislature authorizes investments in clean energy and environmental preservation, including $20 million for a new hub for local agriculture and community farming in Waltham.

The House and Senate passed the bill in the final hours of the legislative session Thursday, sending it to the governor’s desk for his signature.

State Sen. Mike Barrett, D-Lexington, said the proposal aims to transform 58 acres of open space in Waltham owned by UMass-Amherst into a center for agricultural research, public-private collaboration and community farming.

“There’s an opportunity here to create tons of public-private partnerships,” said Barrett, who represents Waltham.

He added that there’s “a real demand for locally-grown, fresh produce” throughout his district. According to the Center for Agriculture at UMass-Amherst, there are 7,721 farms around the state – 700 in Middlesex County. There are more than 240 farmers' markets statewide, including several in Barrett’s district.

After the bill was sent to the governor, Barrett said he was pleased a conference committee between the House and Senate reached a deal on a compromise bill in time.

“This is a significant milestone, but we’re not there yet,” he said.

A new governor must direct money to the project and the treasurer must sell bonds to pay for them.

Barrett also directed praise at state Reps. Tom Stanley, D-Waltham, and John Lawn, D-Watertown, for their efforts in securing the funding in the House version of the bond bill, as well as Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst.

“The UMass Center for Urban Sustainability will become a hub for individuals, families, communities, municipalities and businesses to come together and develop green and sustainable practices,” Stanley said. “I want to thank my colleagues Representative Lawn and Senator Barrett for their hard work and support in making sure this project was included in the Environmental Bond Bill. Needless to say, I am very excited for this 58-acre site to be revitalized as it will become a great asset for residents of Waltham and visitors from around the state.”

“This center will have a tremendous impact on all of Massachusetts,” Lawn said. “Teaching local farmers about urban agriculture will improve the food security and natural resource management by allowing for agricultural businesses to remain economically viable while preserving the state’s natural resources. This center will provide safe and nutritious local food to the people of Massachusetts.”

The Urban Sustainability Center would feature a 20,000-square foot, energy-efficient building. It would serve as a resource for those interested in learning best practices in farming and agriculture, ranging from businesses that process and sell food in cities to community groups operating roof top gardens.

UMass officials are aiming to hold youth and adult trainings. UMass also plans to bring in private partners to help finance the project.

The plan has drawn support from the Massachusetts 4-H Foundation and the Mass. Audubon Society, as well as Waltham Fields Community Farm and the Waltham Land Trust, among others, according to Barrett’s office.

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