Charlene Andersen

NH's farmers connecting with consumers in innovative ways

By Charlene Andersen

Collaborative efforts to strengthen local food consumption and systems have been building in New Hampshire for years.

Strolling of the Heifers, a Vermont-based local-food advocacy group, has released its 2014 Locavore Index. New Hampshire is ranked third, just behind top-ranked Vermont and Maine.

The Locavore Index incorporates data on farmer's markets, community-supported agriculture (CSA), food hub, farm-to-institution activities, and Farm-to-School programs, and compares states on a per-capita basis.

Barn and tractor under partly cloudy skyAlthough New Hampshire moved up 10 notches from the 13th position in 2012, its improvement wasn't really sudden. Collaborative efforts to strengthen local food consumption and systems have been building for years. Demand and supply have grown, and farmers and food producers have used new and creative options to meet the demand.

One of them is the Community Loan Fund's Farm Food Initiative, which offers alternative financing options and technical assistance.

Let's look at some of the ways the farmers we work with have increased both their production and their bottom line.

Farmer's markets

New Hampshire consumers have enjoyed farmer's markets for many years; first with summer markets that serve all income levels in every corner of the state, then in the spread of winter markets. Driven by farmers and consumers alike, these markets have grown to what some farmers believe may be a saturation point. Yet, farmers agree it is a great opportunity to connect and share their stories with customers.

How can farmers make the prevalence of farmer's markets work for them? Go back to the spreadsheet and run a cost/benefit analysis. Market by market, compare overall sales, what products sold, how much product was returned to the farm, and what it cost for you or your staff to sell at the market.

By breaking it down by market and product, you begin to see which are profitable. Evaluate and weigh whether to eliminate certain markets or to adjust the products you sell there.

Locavore Index map
Graphic courtesy Strolling of the Heifers

CSAs

Community Supported Agriculture has been around since the 1980s. One of the first was started by Temple-Wilton Community Farm founders Anthony Graham, Trauger Groh, and Lincoln Geiger. The ever-evolving CSA model now offers a variety of options to customers.

CSA providers have heard customer complaints about finding only one pepper and too much kohlrabi in their weekly CSA box, or about having to drive to the farm to collect their produce. As a result, some farmers have created neighborhood collection points that are more convenient for customers. Others are expanding into livestock to provide protein as well as produce. Others are creating their own yogurt, jams, pesto and other value-added products.

Food Hubs

Nationwide, Food Hubs are being discussed as a way to address providing more locally produced food to consumers. Broadly defined, these hubs manage, aggregate, and market regionally produced food. Some provide storage, processing and distribution services as well. Start-up costs for food hub facilities can be costly.

New Hampshire's farm and food producers considering a food hub should take a strategic approach. Look for technical-assistance providers who can deliver feasibility studies, talk to existing food hub managers about their challenges, and identify your business skills.

Managing a food hub is complex, but help isn't far away: A nationwide leadership team is guiding a Food Hub Management Certificate Program being developed by the University of Vermont to help food hub managers and employees.

New Hampshire's leap in the Locavore Index shows how much planning and effort our farmers have put into delivering fresh food to their local communities. We believe that, with creative financing, collaboration and technical assistance, that trend will continue. If it does, the result will be healthier food on our tables and healthy farm-food businesses capable of feeding us for many years to come.

Charlene Andersen is the Manager of Business Education for the Community Loan Fund's Business Finance team.