The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) and farm, fishery and forestry leaders this week announced the “Commonwealth Quality” joint initiative, a program to promote local agriculture and help consumers more easily identify products that are produced, harvested, and responsibly processed in the Bay State.

The initiative is a collaborative venture between DAR and representatives from the produce, dairy, forestry, aquaculture and lobster commodities of the Commonwealth.

A licensed “Seal of Commonwealth Quality” will distinguish Massachusetts products that meet requirements of the comprehensive program as well as federal, state, and local regulatory regulations.  The seal will appear only on certified Massachusetts produce, dairy, seafood and lumber products sold at farmers’ markets and retail locations across the state.

“For consumers, the Commonwealth Quality seal will allow them to recognize products from local growers who maintain practices that are safe and environmentally friendly,” said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares.  “For Massachusetts growers, Commonwealth Quality provides a marketing opportunity to increase their ability to meet growing consumer demand for local products.  It is the ultimate win-win.”

Also present at the program launch event were leaders from the cities and towns of Amherst, Concord, Dennis, Dracut, Methuen, and Orange.

The Commonwealth Quality initiative differs from most state agriculture label programs, which typically do not require a product or business to meet specific standards to qualify for  a promotional logo.  In order to gain the Commonwealth Quality seal, however, products must meet a clearly defined set of standards.

According to DAR, the highly structured program and the collaboration behind it represent a significant advance over traditional state label programs.  Officials hope that as a result, consumers will be able to easily identify and enjoy certified products, knowing they are grown, harvested and processed in Massachusetts using safe and eco-friendly practices.

“The Seal of Commonwealth Quality provides an assurance to our customers that food safety and environmental stewardship are practiced every day on local farms,” said Dr. Rich Bonanno, president of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation.

Fred Heyes, Commonwealth Quality contributor and owner of Heyes Forest Products, said that, “Fulfilling local needs with local products is essential to our long-term sustainability…Commonwealth Quality will help clearly convey this message… ”

The seal program is set to begin at farm stands, farmers’ markets, retail and wholesale locations by January 2011.  For more information about the Commonwealth Quality program, visit DAR’s website.