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Farmland, agriculture, and the infrastructure necessary to sustain a strong farming community have dwindled over the years, but a recent rise in the numbers of small farms has been encouraging. There is a lot of buying power in the Monadnock region, the question is, how can we direct it towards farms and a better way of living? With motivation and clear goals the region can once again meet its full agricultural potential.
It appears that the region is off to a good start in terms of expanding agricultural markets. Among many of the efforts put forward from the Cheshire County Conservation District is the Monadnock Menus program, which bolsters relations between farmers and schools, assisted living homes, and other wholesale buyers. Monadnock Menus finished their pilot year in 2013 and is hoping to reach $100,000 in sales in 2015. The program provides transportation between farm and buyer and operates through an online portal that connects the two parties. There is grant funding to cover the next three years of this program, enough time to ensure sustainable income and strategize for Monadnock Menus growth.
Market expansion is also happening through “Double up Veggie Bucks” a program that targets low-income families who use food stamps. For every $10 spent at farmers’ markets using a Veggie Bucks Card, another $10 is rewarded. This not only brings more customers to the farmers’ market, but also reaches out to individuals who would not usually have the funds to purchase at a farmers’ market. This program draws a direct connection between public health sector and agriculture, a seemingly logical relationship. The hope is that growing demand for local farm will allow farmers to scale up to a more sustainable business model.
Progress is also being made to solve farmers’ biggest dilemma: land access and affordability. The Monadnock Conservancy is making land conservation for agriculture a priority and is also actively working to keep operating farmland in use. Land For Good, a nonprofit in Keene works to connect non-farming landowners to farmers. This means that landowners can promote sustainability and put their unused land towards agricultural use without lifting a finger. Additionally the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition which has been meeting for two years now, is helping to strengthen blossoming connections between farmers, businesses and municipalities. The Coalition offers a forum for people to share needs and formulate ideas on how to build the farming community.
In the near future, the Cheshire County Conservation District is hoping to incorporate innovative concepts found in other communities to the Monadnock Region. A Mobile Flash Freezer, a freezer truck that moves from farm to farm as the harvest comes can process and freeze produce so that it can be stored and sold throughout the year. The CCCD is also excited to increase equipment sharing in the region. They have been slowly expanding their arsenal of expensive farm equipment that they rent out to farmers who may not have the funds to purchase these tools.