Down on the farm

Rep. Tra­han tours busi­nesses hit by pan­demic

Sentinel & Enterprise - - FRONT PAGE - Ly Jon win­kler jwin­kler@nashobaval­leyvoice.com

Three farms in Mas­sachusetts’ 3rd Congressio­nal Dis­trict got some face time with U.S. Rep. Lori Tra­han on Tues­day to ex­press the trou­bles the busi­nesses face dur­ing the coron­avirus pan­demic.

Tra­han vis­ited Idyl­l­vale Farm in Lit­tle­ton, Honey Pot Hill Or­chards in Stow and Hol­lis Hills Farm in Fitch­burg Tues­day af­ter­noon. The con­gress­woman was ac­com­pa­nied by other state of­fi­cials at her three stops: Sen. Jamie Eldridge in Lit­tle­ton and Mas­sachusetts Farm Bureau Deputy Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Brad Mitchell in Fitch­burg.

Tra­han and oth­ers walked among cows and grass­lands to hear how farm­ers have been im­pacted by the eco­nomic down­turn caused by the coron­avirus pan­demic and what she could do to help craft a new re­lief pack­age that ad­dresses the needs of the farm­ers.

“When you’re craft­ing these re­lief pack­ages, you re­ally have to have an in­dus­try un­der

stand­ing of how COVID has uniquely hit all sec­tors of our econ­omy,” Tra­han said at Hol­lis Hills Farm. “Last year I did my very first farm tour and got to know dif­fer­ent as­pects of the ma­jor­ity fam­ily-owned farms. This is one of the few that aren’t, but 97% of the 842 farms in my dis­trict are fam­ily-owned and they don’t have a lot of wig­gle room in terms of their cost struc­ture and their levers to make up for lost rev­enue.”

Idyl­l­vale Farm is one of those fam­ily-owned farms, owned and over­seen by Will Pickard with help from his wife, Sarah, and his fa­ther, Jim. Lo­cated on just over 90 acres of land on Bruce Street in Lit­tle­ton, Idyl­l­vale is a dairy farm fo­cused ex­clu­sively on pro­duc­ing raw milk from 60 full-grown cows twice a day and then pro­vid­ing it to pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Pickard said he and his fam­ily had been deal­ing with prob­lems even be­fore the coron­avirus hit, in­clud­ing feed­ing is­sues last year re­lated to wet weather and mi­cro-toxin poi­son­ing. With the coron­avirus pan­demic im­pact­ing nu­mer­ous as­pects of busi­ness, Pickard said his farm has been re­quired to cut milk pro­duc­tion by 6%, which has caused a loss in rev­enue over the last four months.

“It’s a lit­tle bit of a trick just try­ing to keep an­i­mals go­ing and healthy and to keep the farm mov­ing along,” he added.

“If there’s a 3% over­sup­ply of milk on a na­tional ba­sis, we will ex­pe­ri­ence a roughly 30% de­crease in our pay price,” Pick­hard said. “That’s a pretty ex­treme cir­cum­stance to have to ad­just to on the fly.”

Pickard said that the farm is cur­rently en­rolled in the Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram and has also re­ceived COVID-re­lated fund­ing re­lief due to the price change of the milk his farm pro­duces. Pickard’s hope is for milk prices to sta­bi­lize and for the dairy farm in­come tax credit to keep Idyl­l­valle open.

“I think that any­time you can make that real, phys­i­cal con­nec­tion with some­one over agri­cul­ture, I think it strength­ens the un­der­stand­ing and per­haps a re­solve to keep us in their minds as they’re mak­ing a leg­is­la­tion,” he con­cluded.

Over at Hol­lis Hills in Fitch­burg, owner Jim Lat­tanzi showed Tra­han, Mayor Stephen DiNatale and oth­ers around the in­door restau­rant and out­door bar on Mar­shall Road where ice cream, maple syrup and other food is typ­i­cally sold Tues­day through Sun­day. Lat­tanzi said that the farm’s din­ing ser­vices have been open for three weeks of the cur­rent sum­mer sea­son and while he’s been “happy” with busi­ness “on the whole,” he no­ticed a loss in mar­ket op­por­tu­nity af­ter miss­ing the two best weeks of maple sea­son to pro­duce syrup and a drop in cus­tomer turnout.

“It seems like the cus­tomer cli­mate is still luke­warm,” he added. “Ev­ery­one’s still ner­vous.”

Lat­tanzi added that he also en­rolled in the Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram and was able to ac­quire state grants to keep things afloat.

The farm re­cently com­pleted work on a new kitchen and was ready to showoff that kitchen’s cook­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties for out­door din­ing by May, but the pan­demic hin­dered that. While Lat­tanzi said the farm is able to do take­out orders, he wants the farm to “sell an ex­pe­ri­ence” of great out­door din­ing with live mu­sic. With the vast space in front of the out­door bar, Lat­tanzi said the farm is able to han­dle 600 to 700 peo­ple “safely.”

“Fi­nan­cially, there’s al­ways hur­dles,” he added. “You just be op­ti­mistic and keep work­ing.”

While she ad­mit­ted that there’s still plenty of work to do in iron­ing out specifics, Tra­han said she’s hope­ful that more de­tails on an­other fi­nan­cial re­lief pack­ages for small busi­nesses and oth­ers will be ready by the end of the first week of Au­gust. She added that the Senate and the House are go­ing back to the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble next week to dis­cuss an­other pack­age and that more talks are needed to ad­dress the needs of small busi­nesses and its work­ers that could lose ac­cess to health care.

“I heard to­day that there are some things that we need to tweak so that when economies open up and work­ers can safely go back to work, we’re send­ing them to do that,” Tra­han said. “We just have to be very care­ful. Some­times when you brush things with a broad stroke, you miss and there are gaps that are cre­ated. This is why this was help­ful, so I can hear about some of the things that we can do proac­tively to help di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion for that scrappy fam­ily farmer who just wants to make it to the other side.”

JU­LIA MALAKIE / LOWELL SUN

U.S. Rep. Lori Tra­han vis­its the Pickard fam­ily of Lit­tle­ton at their fam­ily farm, Idyl­l­vale Farm, to learn how the COVID-19 pan­demic has af­fected their busi­ness. Here Tra­han meets Luke, a 6-week-old Duroc cross pig. At rear is Sarah Pickard.

SCOTT LAPRADE/ SEN­TINEL & EN­TER­PRISE

Owner of Hol­lis Hills Farm in Fitch­burg James Lat­tanzi talks with U.S. Rep. Lori Tra­han while Mayor Stephen DiNatalie lis­tens Tues­day.

SCOTT LAPRADE / SEN­TINEL & EN­TER­PRISE

U.S. Rep. Lori Tra­han speaks with Brad Mitchell from the Mas­sachusetts Farm Bureau, Mayor Stephen DiNatale and Hol­lis Hill Farm owner James Lat­tanzi about is­sues fac­ing farm­ers in the pan­demic.

JU­LIA MALAKIE / LOWELL SUN

DJ Pickard, 5, cen­ter, and his brother Wil­liam, 7, with Free­dom, a fe­male Hol­stein calf born on the 4th of July at the Idyl­l­vale Farm in Lit­tle­ton Tues­day.

SCOTT LAPRADE / SEN­TINEL & EN­TER­PRISE

Owner of Hol­lis Hills Farm James Lat­tanzi shows off the new kitchen to Rep. Lori Tra­han and Mayor Stephen DiNatale.

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