Why is Winton Pitcoff passionate about creating a just and equitable food system? The Director of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative cites basic metrics. “Food is such a universal thing. Just about 100 percent of people in Massachusetts eat, right? Even those who don’t think they’re interested in food…they’re interested,” says Pitcoff.
Pitcoff, the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, and anti-hunger organizations, such as Worcester County Food Bank, have been at the heart of advocacy efforts in support of the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which offers a dollar per dollar match to SNAP customers purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers markets, mobile markets, farm stands, and CSAs.
Earlier this month, the highly successful HIP ran out of money and was suspended – if only temporarily. (More about that here.) Now, local and state anti-hunger advocates, farmers, and farm retailers, including the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, are putting pressure on legislators to fund the program at $6.2M in fiscal year 2019.
Says Pitcoff, there are lessons to be learned from HIP’s success. “There’s this myth that low-income families, if given the choice, will choose processed, sugary, food over healthier options. Low-income families really do want to eat healthier food. They need help accessing it. That’s why the incentive is so important.”
Plus, he adds, it’s a boon to the economy if shoppers across a broad spectrum of incomes can afford to buy local. “The feeling in lots of places is that the local food movement peaked because all the foodies and people with additional income to spend on food had already discovered the buy-local options and were taking advantage of them. What we now know is that there’s this whole other market out there of those who hadn’t previously been aware of their buy-local retailers or else didn’t have access to them because of limited resources.”
Regardless of the outcome of budget deliberations, Pitcoff is committed to continuing to work to strengthen the food system. “The food system touches so many aspects of our community. If we can get the food system right, we can get other things right, too. It’s about working together, across different interest areas – poverty, housing, hunger, the environment – for the good of everyone.”
Want to support HIP advocacy efforts? Here’s where to look for the very latest ways to help.