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Monadnock region farmers working to build community

  • Local farmers introduce themselves to each other at a recent gathering organized by Doug Williams, at right at podium, at the Peterborough Historical Society.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Local farmers introduce themselves to each other at a recent gathering organized by Doug Williams, at right at podium, at the Peterborough Historical Society.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Eric Johnson of Boston, who recently purchased Stonewall Farm in Dublin talks to Joyce Carroll, left, and Kin Schilling of the Cornucopia Project at a recent gathering of farmers in Bass Hall at the Peterborough Historical Society.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Eric Johnson of Boston, who recently purchased Stonewall Farm in Dublin talks to Joyce Carroll, left, and Kin Schilling of the Cornucopia Project at a recent gathering of farmers in Bass Hall at the Peterborough Historical Society.

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Local farmers introduce themselves to each other at a recent gathering organized by Doug Williams, at right at podium, at the Peterborough Historical Society.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Meeting of farmers at Peterborough Historical Society<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Eric Johnson of Boston, who recently purchased Stonewall Farm in Dublin talks to Joyce Carroll, left, and Kin Schilling of the Cornucopia Project at a recent gathering of farmers in Bass Hall at the Peterborough Historical Society.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

After a busy fall harvest, local farmers finally get a chance to take a bit of break. So Doug Williams of Peterborough thought early December would be an ideal time to get some of them together to follow up on earlier discussions of how to build a community of farmers.

In September, Williams brought author Steve McFadden to Peterborough and Keene, where he talked about ways to develop a structure that can sustain local farmers and make far more locally grown food available. And on Dec. 12, about 20 farmers met again at the Peterborough Historical Society, invited by Williams, to share their ideas on what should come next.

“We want to deepen the process to be about whole communities supporting agriculture,” Williams said a few days after the meeting. “Farmer’s markets are popular, but they take a lot of time. Farmers spend hours getting ready. We’re aiming to form some kind of a food hub, a central gathering place where food, dairy products and meat could be brought, prepared, stored and distributed. It will take some while for it to form, but the concept is building.”

For Dan Holmes of Sunnyfield Farm, one priority is to put more land into farm use.

“We need to get more farmers with their hands in the soil,” Holmes said shortly after the Dec. 12 meeting. “We need more animals grazing. We need more consistent quality in production.”

Holmes said Sunnyfield’s meat from grass-fed animals has become a successful niche, but a big challenge is providing enough product on a consistent basis to satisfy demand.

“I’d like to be part of a group to put a processing facility together,” he said. “Right now, we rely on three inspected slaughterhouses. It’s hard to schedule and we’re forced to switch around.”

Tom Mitchell of Ledge Top Farm in Wilton, who attended the recent gathering, said the Community Supported Agriculture system, where customers buy shares in the produce of a specific farm, needs to be broadened.

“I sell about 25 percent through a CSA, 40 percent at farmer’s markets, the rest at farm stands in Wilton and Amherst,” said Mitchell after the meeting. “I would love to be able to sell right from the house, but that’s pretty rare. So I’m intrigued with the idea of a farming group. We need to get together with other farmers and not try to reinvent the wheel. We need to look at our marketing options.”

One way to do that, Mitchell said, is through sharing of customer bases, something he plans to do with another Wilton farmer.

“I’m not possessive. I don’t believe in hoarding customers,” Mitchell said. “We can share products and techniques. Maybe there’s equipment that can be shared. I helped a guy put up his first greenhouse. We’re kind of informally networking and I got a contact from somebody looking to buy eggs. If we can expand that networking, it should be a good thing.”

Two Temple farmers, Vince Mamone of Autumn Hill Farm and Cathy Joly of Lilly of the Valley Farm, are looking to start a different type of CSA. Rather than requiring the purchase of a farm share at the beginning of the season, their customers will be able to select what they want each week from what is available and then pick up and pay for their share at either farm or at one of the two farmer’s markets that Mamone and Joly will attend.

They also plan to partner with Blossom Hill Farm in Hancock, owned by Mamone’s daughter, Jamie Coll, who can provide dairy products and honey. And Joly is planning a newsletter to share recipes, health tips and information on farming with CSA members. Joining together allows each of them to focus on what they do best, according to Mamone.

“Teaming with Cathy has been great as she brings expertise and skills that I don’t have. Plus she is a great teacher and she encourages us to not give in when things get hard,”  he said.

Williams says he hopes to expand the customer base by reaching out to retail grocers and institutions in the community, such as the school districts and hospitals.

At the December meeting, Donna Reynolds, who directs the food service program for the ConVal School District, said she’s more than willing to work with local farmers, but there are several challenges to overcome.

“One of the first factors we look at is cost,” Reynolds said. “Another is distribution. We are used to getting deliveries right to our door. And a third is getting the volume we need.”

Reynolds said local farmers would need to be competitive with her current suppliers in all three areas in order to achieve significant sales to the school district.

“We are trying to get started, on a small scale,” she said.

Joe Byk, a member of the Peterborough Select Board, also spoke at the meeting about the challenges farmers face.

“You are in classic start-up mode,” Byk said. “Your keys are distribution and marketing. You need an infrastructure.”

Byk encouraged the group to focus on developing a hub that could make it more efficient to bring products to market.

“You don’t need one more farmers’ website. I don’t think that’s the solution,” he said. “You guys are too busy to build a website.”

Williams is planning to organize more meetings during the winter months.

“I see how we are not working together as well as we might,” he said. “Community building is very much a part of the whole process. We want people to take the purchase of local food seriously.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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