Year 8: Shining a Light on Local Food, Farms and our Food System

For the eighth year, let’s shine a light on local food, farms and our Monadnock Region food system during New Hampshire Eats Local Month, a month-long celebration of our state’s harvest in August.

What do we mean by a food system?

Our food system includes all the pieces needed to bring local food from the farm to our plates: the soil, farmworkers, transportation networks, markets and more — everything needed to grow, harvest and distribute these goods to us.  These pieces come together to form our local food system.

Please dig in and enjoy this bounty of updates!

Fertilizing Edible Education

The Cornucopia Project, based in Peterborough, cultivates community health through edible education at nine elementary school gardens, learning kitchens, and a student-powered educational farm.

“Learning comes to life in the garden,” shared Lauren Hudd, Programs Director at The Cornucopia Project. “Students who work with [us] show increased interest in nutrition and agriculture, impacting their future choices and vegetable consumption at home.”

Despite COVID-19, The Cornucopia Project’s educational farm continues to sell organically grown produce to local restaurants, institutions, and community members. This year, they have also donated produce to their local food pantry, provided remote lessons to 250 students, and grew over 3,000 seedlings for home gardeners.  And their best news of 2020, they just received a two-year Farm to School grant from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to expand their programs to more schools in our region!

Connecting Markets and Farmers

This year Food Connects, a food hub based in Brattleboro, VT, built a 1,000 square foot cooler and freezer and completed a crowdfunding campaign for their “Growing Local Food Markets in the Monadnock Region” project. This campaign, run through The Local Crowd Monadnock, raised $10,000 to enhance food safety and expand farmers’ access to markets in the Monadnock Region.

Due to COVID-19, Food Connects experienced a 200% increase in sales year over year from March to June.  “We are delivering food to local co-ops and markets, hospitals, school meal programs, and buying clubs in record numbers,” shared Alex McCullough, Food Hub Manager.   “This diverse group of customers is allowing us to continue supporting farmers and finding outlets for their food.”

“We must continue to strengthen our local food system by building regional infrastructure for farmers and other food producers,” said Richard Berkfield, Food Connects Executive Director. “The more resilient our local food system is now, the more prepared we will be to weather future storms.”

Food System Infrastructure

Local food stakeholders have come together to envision “The Food Collaborative,” an effort to create a Keene-based business featuring food preparation and storage space, processing equipment, and facilities for food business entrepreneurship and education. This collaborative seeks to enhance food security for all community members while providing opportunities for economic vitality.

These infrastructure needs were identified through a partnership project between Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition (MFCC) and The Community Kitchen, Inc. (TCK), funded by the You Have Our Trust Fund in 2017. This fund made a second investment in the group in 2020, supporting a collaborative proposal for infrastructure needs.  These needs included accessibility signage for the Walpole Farmer’s Market, bottling equipment for the Greater Falls Food Hub, dairy equipment installation and training for Stonewall Farm, and a 12-week farm-to-restaurant-to-pantry project. This last project involves the purchase of locally grown foods that Machina Arts Kitchen and ArtBar in Keene will prepare and freeze for pantry and hot meals guests at TCK.

Open meetings are held on Zoom on the first Thursdays from noon to 1:30. Anyone interested in participating may contact Sarah Harpster at [email protected].

Growing Gardeners

Antioch University’s Community Garden Connections in Keene shifted its usual growing season outreach. Instead of supporting partner organizations’ gardening efforts in person, they provided gardening opportunities remotely. They offered container garden kits to their partners, including big buckets of soil (made from Antioch’s own compost), seeds of easy-to-grow plants like beans, and step-by-step instructions. Just add water and sunshine. This way, instead of individuals gathering at community garden plots, they could maintain their distance and green thumbs at home.

Community Garden Connections continues to produce food for the Community Kitchen at various sites in Keene and their Westmoreland garden site.  They also have an extensive collection of free seeds available by request. Just email [email protected] with the quantity and variety or for more details.

Boosting Food Security

This June, the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition (MFCC) launched, “Food & Gardens for a Resilient Monadnock” — a new website providing gardening and food access resources:

“We are experiencing an unprecedented moment with the COVID pandemic, which has made us re-examine our supply chains and how we get our food,” said Roe-Ann Tasoulas, MFCC Director.  “Many people in our region are feeling increased anxiety about how they are going to get food on their tables. Building resilience through gardening and better information on how to access food can help.”

What’s Your 2040?

On August 18, 2020, Monadnock Food Co-op and Monadnock International Film Festival (MONIFF) will co-host a virtual screening of the documentary film 2040. This film explores what 2040 could look like if we embraced solutions like regenerative agriculture, renewable energy, and climate justice. The film asks viewers to explore “What’s Your 2040?”

The film starts at 6:30 p.m., and a live post-film discussion will follow, with Monadnock Region community leaders in the areas of regenerative agriculture, food and farming, energy, transportation and housing, equity and social justice and cooperatives. This event is free, but registration is required.

“A dose of inspiration and optimism is just what we need right now, and 2040 offers plenty of both,” said MONIFF Board Chair, Deirdre Fitzgerald. “It’s the perfect film to celebrate NH Eats Local Month. Eating local strengthens our communities, nourishes our bodies, and sustains a healthy planet. This documentary shows how, through the power of community, we may already have what we need to tackle climate change head-on.”

Equipment Rentals for Farmers

Since 2012 the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) has offered low-cost farm equipment rentals to area farmers. They expanded their fleet by purchasing three new offerings (no-till drill, vegetable transplanter, and 4-row corn planter), plus a walk-behind BCS Tractor to support local gardeners.  Additionally, local dairy farmers will receive equipment rentals for no charge this growing season.

Dig Deeper

The Keene Public Library invites new and experienced gardeners to a series of free virtual garden talks hosted by UNH Extension Master Gardeners. “Gardening in a Time of Climate Change” presented by Sandra Pickering on August 6 at 11 a.m. and “Putting the Garden to Bed” presented by Joy Ackerman on August 20 at 11 a.m. Please register online.

Thank you to all the individuals, programs, policies, and initiatives that continue to build more robust local and regional food systems in our corner of the state and throughout New England.  Together, we’re cultivating healthier citizens, communities, and economies.