Local Farmers & Produce Markets – Sustainable Food Systems

We are all too familiar with the pressing issue of climate change, which continually reminds us of the impending challenges ahead. Each passing year, we witness the unwelcome escalation of temperatures during summers and the unpredictability of weather patterns in different seasons. This reality hits especially close to home for our local farmer communities. The previous summer inflicted record-breaking droughts upon us, leaving a lasting impact. Sadly, this year didn’t fare any better, as we endured an unprecedented heatwave, setting new records for high temperatures. Tragically, this was followed by a series of disastrous floods, wreaking havoc on our region like never before. These events serve as stark reminders of the urgent need to address climate change and its devastating effects on our environment and communities. 

Communities, towns, and farms continue to report the devastating impacts of the recent flooding. As the waters recede, the full extent of the damage to areas beyond town infrastructure remains uncertain, and it may take several weeks of extensive clean-up efforts before a complete assessment is possible. The visible damage to crops and fields submerged in water is distressing, but there are subtler yet equally concerning effects that will take longer to identify. Issues such as root rot and an increase in harmful bacteria in the water can have lasting repercussions on sustainable systems, agricultural productivity and the overall ecosystem. Even plants survive which survive flooding can be found to contain chemicals, oil, sewage and other toxic elements, making the food unsellable by local farmers at produce markets and puts farms organic certification at risk.  

The flooding and destruction of crops doesn’t just effect food production and growing seasons, but livestock and infrastructure as well. Animals such as cattle will be evacuated from the flooded pastures and cause them to be unsafe to return to. Barns, equipment, greenhouses and more can be damaged or destroyed, causing thousands more dollars in damages and costs to the farmers. The loss of the crops, pastures, and equipment are devasting to properties and lost sales. 

Our country and our local communities thrive because of the impact agriculture has on our economy. The damage to farms and their growing seasons will have effects that ripple throughout the community. As we confront the aftermath of these natural disasters, it becomes increasingly evident that ensuring the sustainability of local farmers and securing food supplies for future generations must be a shared goal. 

Climate Farming 

Most of the food the U.S. eats comes from industrial-farmed land, which often relies on pesticides, synthetic chemicals and tilling, causing an increase in greenhouse gases emitted and threatening food security. It’s estimated that approximately one-third of human-caused greenhouse gases are linked to food production, agriculture and land use. 

However, there are farming practices that can benefit the climate instead of increasing emissions and wrecking the soil. Healthy, non-tilled soil can hold five times more carbon than our atmosphere, removing it from the air and helping to keep our planet cool through photosynthesis. 

In recent years, the philosophy of Regenerative Agriculture has become more popular among both national and local farmers. This philosophy focuses on the connected nature of agriculture, instead of thinking of farming and agricultural practices as a linear supply chain. You can participate by shopping at your community produce markets.

While regenerative agriculture has gained popularity in recent years, it is essential to recognize that Indigenous communities have been practicing these principles and fostering sustainable food systems for centuries. Across generations, Indigenous food practices have centered on the holistic well-being of all organic elements within farming. 

Regenerative agriculture, in essence, embodies a sustainable and harmonious approach to farming, working hand in hand with nature and the ecosystem. It stands apart from conventional methods by eschewing herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic chemicals or fertilizers. 

In the 1950s and 1960s, the “green revolution” began; chemical fertilizers and chemical pesticides and herbicides were introduced into industrial agricultural practices and into our food systems. As more research and studies have been conducted, we are learning more about the negative impacts these practices have not only to our ecosystems, but our climate, food system and health. 

With regenerative agriculture, local farmers and growers can reduce carbon released into our air, conserve water, replenish waterways, grow healthier foods found at produce markets, employ community members, and ensure long-term use of the land they’re using. The ecological, personal, community, physical and economic benefits regenerative agriculture can offer can sustain our communities for generations to come. Visit nrdc.org to learn more about the history, techniques and benefits of regenerative agriculture. 

Numerous alternative strategies exist for farms to potentially adapt to climate change more immediately. However, each option carries its own set of tradeoffs, making the decision-making process complex for local farmers. Some of these practices involve substantial costs that could burden the farmers financially, while others may require sacrificing usable land that could be dedicated to crops. Additionally, implementing measures to mitigate climate impacts in one area might inadvertently worsen conditions in other aspects of the farm. 

Several adaptive practices include obtaining flood insurance to safeguard against flood-related damages, making strategic changes to land use, regrading fields to manage water flow, and clearing flood debris to prevent obstructions. Yet, all of these solutions come with their limitations and could prove impractical, especially for small-scale farms with limited resources and land. 

Addressing climate change and its consequences is undoubtedly a challenging endeavor for the agricultural community. Finding a delicate balance between effective adaptation strategies and their tradeoffs is crucial for achieving sustainable food systems and resilient farming practices. Collaborative efforts between governments, researchers, and local farmers are essential in identifying practical and feasible solutions that can protect our farms and ensure food security in the face of a changing climate. 

Getting It Done Locally: 

Across the United States, smaller-scale farms have been actively incorporating restorative and climate-friendly farming practices into their management strategies. A notable example is Walpole Valley Farms in Walpole, NH, which practices pasture-raising of cows while abstaining from the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in their cultivation. Similarly, Bascom Farm in Charlestown, NH, follows pasture-raising methods for their sheep and maintains an organic title by adhering to sustainable farming practices. 

In our region, numerous local farmers have also taken significant strides towards sustainable agriculture in their farms, even if they may not possess the official USDA-awarded organic certification. Many of these farms have consciously chosen not to employ pesticides or synthetic chemicals during their farming operations, prioritizing crop protection and delivering the freshest, highest-quality produce to our community at produce markets. 

For those interested in learning more about specific farming practices, explore the farm’s websites, social media accounts, and delve into their historical approaches. These resources can provide valuable insights into the philosophies and methods that underpin their agricultural operations. 

Despite the best efforts and intentions of local farmers, they remain vulnerable to the unpredictable whims of weather patterns. As we have witnessed this spring and summer, even the most carefully laid plans can be thwarted by unforeseen weather events, underscoring the urgency to address climate change and its impacts on agriculture. Supporting local farmers and their sustainable practices becomes all the more crucial as we collectively navigate these challenges. 

Local Impact: 

As consumers, one of the most effective ways to support our local farming community is by actively choosing local products whenever possible. By making this conscious decision, we contribute to the development of a more resilient and sustainable food system that can better withstand the challenges and impacts brought about by climate change. 

Monandock Food Co-op announced a new criterion to our Farm Fund this August to provide emergency relief fund to local farmers. The Farm Fund exists to support local, sustainable wholesale food production, farm viability, and farmland protection. It consists of a grant opportunity for local farmers through a partnership with the Cheshire County Conservation District, and a land conservation fund with The Monadnock Conservancy. For the next 60 days (up to October), the Co-op will donate all funds contributed through its website exclusively to emergency disaster relief: Monadnock Food Co-op Farm Fund Donation Page.

NOFA VT has taken immediate action in sending resources and aid to farms that express need. In the short-term, you can continue to show up for local farmers and their employees by sharing money, time and resources. This will help provide the groundwork to push through the months to come. In the long term, use your voice to advocate for local food systems support regional produce markets and align your purchasing decisions to support the system that keeps our communities fed while facing these crises. 

Supporting local farms and producers not only bolsters the economic well-being of our community but also encourages sustainable farming practices that prioritize environmental stewardship. When we opt for locally sourced products, we reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation and storage, promoting a more environmentally friendly and efficient supply chain. 

Furthermore, local farmers often implement diverse and adaptable agricultural methods, allowing them to be more responsive to changing weather patterns and environmental shifts. This inherent flexibility can significantly enhance the overall resilience of our food system. 

Embracing the idea of “think global, act local,” our individual choices as consumers can collectively make a profound difference in encouraging sustainable food systems. By consciously supporting local farmers and their produce, we become active participants in fostering a sustainable and climate-resilient food ecosystem that benefits our community and the planet. 

Resources and How to Help (will be updated as more information comes in): 
  • Farmer Emergency Relief Fund through NOFA-NH 
  • Monadnock Food Co-op & Cheshire County Conservation District have introduced a new criterion into their Farm Fund applications. Local Farmers that have been adversely impacted by this growing seasons challenges can reapply for the emergency relief funds. Monadnock Food Co-op hosts several Round It Up campaigns throughout the year dedicated to the Farm Fund, and you can also donate directly by following this link: Co-op Farm Fund
  • Shop locally! As a consumer, one of the most impactful ways to help local farmers is to support and choose local products when possible. By supporting our local farmers at produce markets, we can develop a more resilient food system that can withstand the changes and impact of our climate. 
  • Monadnock Food Co-op will be participating in the following August campaigns dedicated to supporting local farmers in the region and state-wide: 
  • N.H. Eats Local Month, August 2023: Hosted by N.H. Food Alliance, NH Eats Local promotes buying, supporting and eating N.H. grown and produced food to support local communities, economies and our environment. 
  • Eat Indie Local Month, August 2023: Hosted by the American Independent Business Alliance (AMIBA), Eat Indie Local Month focuses on supporting and maintaining a robust, local food system to maintain vibrant communities, economies and landscapes. AMIBA’s campaign encourages and inspires you to eat locally grown and meet the farmers who enhance our communities through sustainable food systems. 
  • Mike Green at the NH Farm Service Agency (USDA) is the lead for Cheshire and Sullivan Counties for documenting impact and putting forth requests for an emergency declaration for federal support.  His email is michael.greene3@usda.gov.  Any local farmers or producers who are suffering losses can reach out to him directly. 
  • Farm First has dedicated farmer peers available to talk to any farmers this week. Farmers can access our resource coordinator, counselor, or peers by contacting: (802) 318-5538 during daytime work hours (8:00 AM-4:30 PM M-F)(877) 493-6216 outside of daytime work hours. Email: Eva Griffin at EvaG@farmfirst.org 
  • NOFA is gathering information to coordinate support and recovery efforts for farmers. If you are a farmer, please share information here. 
  • Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Marketshas a comprehensive list of resources available for farmers. 
  • NOFA-VT - NOFA Farmer Emergency Fund 
  • Intervale Center – Intervale Farmers Recovery Fund.  Intervale’s fund was able to raise over $300,000 in the first four weeks for local farmers, and have just given out their first round of $30,000 grants to five farms.
  • Apply for assistance through the Center for an Agricultural Economy’s emergency loan fund here. 
  • If you have crop insurance, contact your local Farm Service Agency to report losses.