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Home » Farm & Food Events, Food System Builders

Strategic Opportunities for Sustaining NH’s Agricultural Renaissance

By Coalition for Sustaining NH Agriculture (February 8, 2013)

Are you involved with a NH group working to strengthen our food system?

Then the NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture wants to hear from you!

What issues are you working on? What changes would you make?

Here’s how you can share your answers:

  • If you’re able please attend the event NH’s Agriculture, Food and Markets Renaissance: Cultivating Synergy, Collaboration and Network on Friday, February 8, 10 a.m (meeting cancelled due to snow) during the NH Farm and Forest Expo). The gathering will be an opportunity to share your work, exchange ideas and resources, and create a network for ongoing support and collaboration.  See the flyer below for more information or contact Lynda Brushett at brushett@metrocast.net.

Continue reading to learn more about the NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture’s work:

NH MeetingNew Hampshire’s agricultural economy is a vibrant mix of tradition and innovation.  Comprised of diverse enterprises in diverse communities, farmers share common institutional, land, labor, technological, information, financial and other challenges…and opportunities. NH’s agriculture’s independent entrepreneurial businesses contribute to economic development and well being in the state’s towns and cities.

Over the past few years we’ve seen big changes in education, research and technical providers including the emergence of new organizations that support farm businesses and the rebirth of others.  We’ve seen changes in policies, communities and customer preferences open new markets for agricultural products in the state and beyond our borders and revive traditional ones.  We are experiencing an agricultural renaissance and with it strategic opportunities for continued innovation, invigoration and renewal.

The opportunities below were compiled by The NH Coalition for Sustaining Agriculture, a 20 year old informal network of organizations and individuals dedicated to enhancing the social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture in New Hampshire.

Opportunities

1. Energy—Costs, Uses, Systems and Products

What we need to do:

  • Conduct whole farm audits to identify energy use and inefficiencies which result in a plan to use less energy as well as to use different and renewable sources, equipment and technology
  • Support audits with implementation:  equipment, practices, financing and installation
  • Train more audit providers in agricultural applications
  • Provide access to capital and business planning for implementing audit recommendations
  • Connect, coordinate and facilitate collaboration among farmers, agricultural organizations, agricultural service providers and Agricultural Commissions and energy resource providers.
  • Conduct on-farm research to reduce use of diesel and other non-renewable fuels
  • Conduct research into renewable biomass energy crops which can be produced on NH farms along with methods such as distillation, waste to energy and similar projects.
  • Set goals, targets and benchmarks to measure outcomes
  • Identify and publicize alternative energy projects and outcomes

Who needs to be involved?

  • RC&D’s, NRCS, Rural Development, Conservation Districts, Cooperative Extension, Auditors, Jordan Institute, Energy Committees and Ag Commissions, UNH research, specialists and Extension educators…

Check out:  A Rhode Island group is doing small-scale solar farms using a CSA model, offering energy shares.

Policy:  NH needs group net metering to share green electricity generated on a farm with all its meters and perhaps with neighbors.

2.  Farmers (owners and operators) and farm labor

What we need to do:

  • Train and organize planting, weeding and harvest teams for hire by farms as needed
  • Train livestock workers; organize a matching program
  • Publicize and expand farm apprentice and journeymen programs
  • Support Ag in the Classroom, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Farm to School and other programs which engage young people in agriculture—early and often, urban and rural
  • Ensure vocational and university agriculture programs are staffed and funded
  • Provide resources to teachers which make agricultural connections within the curriculum
  • Integrate agricultural education in university general education courses; create opportunities for university students to learn about and engage in agriculture; review COLSA programs and courses to ensure options for applied agricultural learning; develop farmer to student mentoring options
  • Create and publicize successful farm case studies in UNH publications
  • Make new immigrant farmer to farmer and farm connections
  • Create “Come Farm in New Hampshire” marketing, outreach and communication to compete more effectively with VT/ME/MA to bring new farmers and farm workers here
  • Organize match-making programs for farms, farmers, workers and apprentices
  • Support Ag commissions and others work with communities and planning boards to understand needs and develop farm friendly zoning regulations for farm family and worker housing
  • Work with easement holders to ensure farm housing can be built and maintained on agricultural properties

Who needs to be involved?

  • Land For Good, Keep Growing, Farm Bureau, International Institute, Lutheran and Catholic Services, NH Dept of Education, NH Department of Labor, NH Department of Employment Security. NOFA, WREN, Department of Agriculture Markets and Food, Small & Beginning Farmers of New Hampshire, NHIAF, DRED, NHFarms.net, UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and the Whittemore School, UNH Cooperative Extension, UNH Thompson School of Applied Sciences , County Conservation Districts, Community Health Institute, 4-H, Vocational schools and programs (e.g. Future Farmers of America), Ag in the Classroom, Farm to School, School districts, community colleges, WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), ….

Check out:  liability issues; NH labor laws; H2A visas

Policy:  Add housing to the state agriculture definition.

3. Agricultural Expertise and Capacity Building:  Education and Research

What we need to do:

  • Increase soil, grazing and climate adaptation education and research
  • Develop more agricultural learning opportunities that are not necessarily degree based: Agricultural Education Centers, Farming Academies, Apprenticeships, Webinars, and more
  • Create more opportunities for Farmer to Farmer mentoring
  • Increase business planning programming for farmers:  diversification, growth, capital (when is debt a friend and when not?)
  • Reaffirm the role of the Land Grant University (UNH) in agricultural education, research, demonstration
  • Offer policy education and engagement opportunities for farmers
  • Provide ag business education for lenders, business consultants, economic developers
  • Provide ag education for consumers, neighbors, employers, regulators (DRED, Office of Energy and Planning, Department of Environmental Protections, etc.), government officials (local and state) and others
  • Communicate agricultural issues, successes and threats with state and federal legislators
  • Convert consumer food interest into agricultural understanding, support and policies
  • Assure funding for UNH, UNH CE, NRCS and other ag education and research providers
  • Incentives to support/encourage new and established farmers at all governmental and policy levels
  • Include agriculture in Stay Work Play: a program aimed at keeping professionals in NH run by the governor’s office
  • Develop more undergrad and graduate opportunities at UNH: applied farm training with COLSA and TSAS

Who needs to be involved?

  • Granite State Grazers, NOFA NH, RC & D’s, Farm Bureau, Department of Agriculture Markets and Food, UNH, UNH Cooperative Extension, Ag Commissions, NH Community Loan Fund, Small and Beginner Farmers of NH, regulatory agencies, WREN, NHIAF, Small Business Development Centers, lawyers, accountants, financial management consultants, Yankee Farm Credit, Farm Credit East, NH Farms.net and more…

Ideas:  Ag Ambassadors; making the connections between local agriculture and homeland security; travelling exhibits, stories, articles, letters that tell the ag story and spark conversation and discovery….

4. Markets and Marketing:  Saturation of direct markets has created opportunity for entry into next level channels which require new or different infrastructure.

What we need to do:

  • Set goals and benchmarks for increased food production and local buying
  • Think through how farmers can access new or different markets and market channels in new or different ways or with new infrastructure, i.e. collaboration among farmers to coordinate production or gain access to value-added processing.  Explore feasibility of cooperatives, food hubs, co-packers, community kitchens and other structures to accomplish aggregation, marketing, distribution and/or processing for meats, produce, fish and value-added products. Explore opportunities for partnerships among businesses and farmers to create workplace markets (employees, food service, etc.)  and other innovative market ideas.  Identify who is working on these kinds of projects; facilitate  networking and learn from successes and failures
  • Help farmers stay current with Good Agricultural Practices training, planning and certification
  • Develop regulatory and infrastructure foundation for processing and marketing meat and poultry to local stores, restaurants, schools etc.:  Inspection program/inspectors, slaughter and processing facilities, aggregation systems.  For example the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food is working on development of a local inspection program for custom facilities using local veterinarians.
  • Expand broadband access to all communities.
  • Explore options for pooling livestock for external markets
  • Support and facilitate collaboration with eat and buy local campaigns:  schools, communities, restaurants
  • Develop purchasing partnerships among large local businesses, institutions, investors and farmers
  • Organize agricultural impact data:  Pull together studies, document and publicize the economic and community impact of NH agriculture:  jobs, income, multipliers, food security, quality of life.  Identify and facilitate communication among researchers to share research and clarify assumptions
  • Make policy changes to encourage buying local products in bids, by schools, colleges and other public and private institutions, etc.  Estimate economic impact of buying local on agriculture, develop programming and/or infrastructure and set goals to achieve goals
  • Develop a network of local food initiatives
  • Ag Commissions and others work with local communities and planning boards to ensure Ag friendly signage, zoning, etc.

Who needs to be involved?

  • State and Congressional politicians, Business School, SBDC, Farm Bureau, DAMF, CDI, RC&D’s, UNH CE, food security programs (SNAP/EBT/Food Stamps, WIC, etc.), Chambers of Commerce, NH Made and other business associations, NOFA NH, NEFU, farm trade associations, Ag Commissions, NCIC, NHCLF, NE Food Solutions, NH Farm Fresh.com; Plymouth virtual farmers market, Seacoast Eat Local and other local food networks such as Fitzwilliam Local Harvest etc., NH Farm Fresh Direct, Farm to School, Farm to Restaurant, Farm to Institution, food coops, NH Farms.net, distributors, retailers, institutions, International institute, Plymouth State University, Keep Farming, USDA Crop Reporting and Ag Census, Co-Bank, Farm Credit East, FSA and more…

5. Consumer—significant numbers of people have internalized the ‘eat local’, ‘buy local’ message and seek out NH farm products for home, restaurant and school consumption.

What we need to do:

  • Provide access to local products though new/different market channels (on-line, buying clubs, CSA’s and more)
  • Consumer outreach, awareness and education:  cooking, purchasing, access, price expectations and realities for local farm products
  • Create action-based food networks with multiple stakeholders (consumers, farmers, institutions, businesses and more)
  • Integrate nutrition advisory councils in school districts to develop local food policy for cafeterias
  • Continue and expand efforts that inform consumers about local farms, what farmers produce for local sales, where to find local farms and farm products, how to make local farm connections; Ag commissions could lead for example host community programs, create maps, write articles, organize harvest dinners, etc.

Who needs to be involved?

  • HHS-SNAP, Farm Bureau, NH FTS, Ag in the Classroom, Upper Valley Farm to School, Seacoast Eat Local, KALE and other local food initiatives, NH Made, Vital Communities, NH FM Association, Farm to Restaurant, HEAL NH, Dept of Education, DAMF., Ag Commissions, Historic Commissions and Societies, NH Farms.net, NH Farm Fresh Direct, and more…

6. Farmland, housing and facilities – access to affordable property to buy or lease is a challenge especially for new entry farmersWhat we need to do:

  • Protect against loss of farms, farmland and soils through funding, regulation, management, education, governance, buffer zones, policies
  • Legislate ag friendly land use policies
  • Explore short term land covenants
  • Develop Ag friendly easement templates
  • Educate landowners, conservation commissions, land trusts, environmental organizations, regional planning commissions about providing for agriculture in easements so as to ensure future flexibility in land, production and facility uses
  • Make matches between farmers and land, especially conserved land
  • Develop start-up manuals for new farms (business planning, regulations, resources, etc.)
  • Secure permanent and adequate LCHIP funding
  • Provide technical assistance and funding for local, regional and state food system development
  • Secure land tenure for farmers on conserved or leased land; provide information on diverse tenure options
  • Conduct outreach and education for farmers, landowners and professionals such as lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, real estate agents about agriculture, easement and leasing options
  • Provide business planning assistance and education to evaluate the enterprise and leasing costs and details

Who needs to be involved?

LCHIP, Land For Good, Land Trust Coalition, Land Trusts, NRCS, RC & D’s, SPNHF, RPC’s, Carsey Institute, RC& D’s, state legislators, Ag Commissions, Planning Boards and Conservation Commissions, NH Preservation Alliance, financial planners, lawyers and accountants, state agencies such as Fish & Game, DRED, Office of Energy and Planning, International Institute and other new immigrant resources; SBFNH.

Check-out:  Ag land easement templates developed by the Upper Valley Land Trust, Ausbon Sargant Land Trust, Ammonoosuc Conservation Trust and others:  New Entry (Tufts)

7.   Capital—access for new and start-up farmers, farm cooperatives and value-added food and fiber businesses

What we need to do:

  • Outreach and communication about available programs, sources, organizations
  • Facilitate connections and referrals among lenders so that all capital needs are addressed
  • Provide new and beginning farmers with information about farm business and financial planning, service providers and programs like Farm-Start, Co-op-Start
  • Develop underwriting requirements education
  • Organize a network of Ag grant writers and Ag business resources

Who needs to be involved?

  • Farm Credit (East and Yankee), FSA, NHCLF, USDA RD, local banks and credit unions, CFDA, Co-Bank (all part of the NH Ag financiers network), Wholesome Wave, Fair Food Network, Slow Money and more… UNH CE

8.   Planning, zoning, regulations—recognize the unique characteristics of operating a land and natural resource based businesses

What we need to do:

  • Promote Right to Farm and the NH RSA definition of agriculture
  • Create sample or template regulatory language (for zoning, signage, buildings, housing, etc.) that prevents unintended consequences for agricultural businesses (such as interpretations or rules that prevent use of high tunnels or temporary signage) and that recognizes vertical integration (i.e. production, processing, marketing, etc.) noted in the state ag definition
  • Promote development and adoption of farm friendly taxation, policies and regulations at all levels:  state, local and federal
  • Preserve current use
  • Recommend formation of Ag Commissions in all municipalities; strengthen Ag Commission communications, education and networks
  • Integrate Ag into local, regional and state plans
  • Make the agriculture connection to home land and food security co
  • Explore a state land use policy

Who needs to be involved?

  • RPC’s, Farm Bureau, State Legislature, local government including Selectboards, Ag Commissions, Planning Boards, Conservation Commissions, RC&D’s, Eat/buy local networks, Environment and conservation groups, Land For Good, NHDAMF, NH Planning Association, Plan NH, NH Local Government Center, Office of Energy and Planning, Department of Revenue Administration, state legislators…

9.  Dairy:  For many rural NH communities, dairy has been the backbone of the local economy, creating jobs, supporting the agricultural infrastructure for all types of farms, preserving rural character, circulating money and more … .

What we need to do:

  • Promote Right to Farm
  • Organize conversations with and education of legislators at all levels regarding dairy farming and federal milk regulations
  • Support dairy diversification planning:  processing and direct sales of bottled pasteurized milk, raw milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and other products
  • Research and develop dairy beef processing and marketing opportunities
  • Provide ag-tourism education, business planning and other types of development support

Who needs to be involved?

  • Granite State Dairy Promotion, Farm Bureau, legislators, UNH, UNHCE, DAMF, RC&D’s, Eat/buy local networks, dairy co-ops, CDI, Health and Human Services Dept., Plymouth State,

10. Integrate farming into all aspects of community life

What we need to do:

  • Insure connections between farming, community services, health and social networks (education, welfare, food pantries, hunger initiatives, faith based programs, health care, hospitals, wellness …)
  • Elevate farming to an economic development priority at the community level
  • Encourage, support and facilitate urban food production
  • Recognize ecosystem services provided and sustained by farms
  • Make historical and cultural connections
  • Celebrate farming to highlight its importance within the community
  • Educate and involve the community multi-facets and values of agriculture (environmental protection, recreation, forests, clean water, landscape…)

Who needs to be involved?

Farmers, consumers and all of the above mentioned groups, organizations, institutions and

Getting to Work

  1. Network:   There is no centralized way to know what local food system work is happening in our state.  We have lots of food and agriculture programs, initiatives, groups, but we are not well linked.  We need to know who is doing what and where to support agricultural expansion and innovation.   We need to be more intent at sharing.  How do we help each other?  How do we learn about what is being tried, what is working, what hasn’t?

ACTION

Convene a statewide gathering of local food initiatives at the NH Farm & Forest Expo on February 8, 2013

  • Use our networks to identify and reach out to projects, programs,
  • Inventory what we are doing along with tools and resources
  • Make connections among organizations generally and within the above issue areas
  • Facilitate discussion, collaboration, synergy and learning
  • Review and comment on this document
  • Organize a continuing network

2. Policy:  make the connection between agriculture and food, community and personal well-being, and economic development.

ACTION

Develop and implement a process that results in a strategic plan for agriculture that identifies the role of the state, other governmental levels and diverse stakeholders and proposes policy and actions to ensure the growth of strong, viable agricultural businesses in the state

Check out:  Vermont Farm to Plate Initiative  http://www.vsjf.org/project-details/5/farm-to-plate-initiative

How can we accomplish this in NH?

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