Grants offer growth opportunity for Cheshire County farmers

  • Craig Jensen of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge and his son Fox Jensen stand outside a drying house the farm purchased through a grant provided by the Monadnock Farm Food Co-Op Farm Fund three years ago. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Craig Jensen of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge with a dibbler, a farm tool for creating evenly spaced plantings, purchased with a grant provided by the Monadnock Farm Food Co-Op Farm Fund three years ago. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Craig Jensen of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge with a dibbler, a farm tool for creating evenly spaced plantings, purchased with a grant provided by the Monadnock Farm Food Co-Op Farm Fund three years ago. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Megan Jensen of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge collects arugula and other greens for wholesale. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Wholesale greens grow in a greenhouse at Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Wholesale greens grow in a greenhouse at Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

  • Wholesale greens grow in a greenhouse at Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/5/2022 2:43:16 PM
Modified: 1/5/2022 2:42:36 PM

Farms in Cheshire County looking to expand their production can access up to $10,000 in grant funding.

For the sixth year, a partnership between the Cheshire County Conservation District and the Monadnock Food Co-Op is offering a total of $30,000 in grant funding to help farmers in Cheshire County and abutting towns to reach wholesale markets. Farmers can apply for grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 for equipment, professional services, marketing or business planning, to develop or expand their food production.

One of the farms that has benefited from the grant in the past is Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. Craig Jensen said the farm applied for funds to build a new greenhouse and purchase a rolling dibbler -- a tool used for evenly spacing out plantings, which Jensen used to do laboriously by hand.

“It’s just huge,” Jensen said of what the grant did for Sun Moon Farm. “It allows you to make a jump forward, is how I think about it. In any one year, we don’t have a lot of room to budget for ambition, even if it’s something that totally makes sense – something that will make me so much more profitable, or save me so much time.”

Amanda Littleton, district manager of the Cheshire County Conservation District, said during an information session on the grant application process Tuesday that for many farms, expansion is put off due to expense.

“Farms have so many capital expenses,” Littleton said. “The purpose of this grant is to allow them to be more productive.”

The grant is primarily to allow farms to expand in a way that allows them to move into wholesale markets, Littleton explained, but the money can be used for a broad range of ways to reach that goal – equipment, technical assistance, business or financial planning. There are also things the grant does not cover, Littleton made clear, such as staff time, advertising, research or feasibility studies and day-to-day operational costs such as seeds, mulch or fertilizer.

“If you have a product you know people want, but you don’t have the right storage, or equipment, this is the perfect opportunity for you,” Littleton said.

For Jensen, that product was Sun Moon Farm’s onions. The farm sells its onions to a cooperative in Keene, but at the time he applied for the grant, he was only able to sell about two weeks’ worth of supply.

“They said, ‘If you could do more, we would buy more,’” Jensen said.

While Sun Moon Farm’s yearly budget relies mostly on a Community Supported Agriculture model – where a base of customers pays up front to receive produce throughout the season – Jensen said farms need to have diverse sources of income, and a steady customer like the cooperative is a good way to do that. He just didn’t have the capacity to provide more, as onions and certain other produce need to be stored and cured before sale, and the space in their barn to do that was limited. So he applied for the grant to build a new greenhouse specifically to provide that space as a drying house, not only for the onions, but to cure squash and to transition their plantings from their other greenhouses to the outdoors.

“We are able to sell to the co-op about 150 to 200 pounds of onions a week, as many weeks as we have them, which is many more weeks now than it used to be,” Jensen said.

Before the farm purchased a rolling dibbler, Jensen used a measuring tape and a homemade tool for marking the holes as he went. The dibbler wasn’t a huge expense, Jensen said – between $500 and $600 – but it was money that never seemed to be in the budget for a “want,” not a “need,” leaving the tool on a perpetual wish list until the grant opportunity.

“It’s a simple tool, right for a small farm, but it’s still a jump up in technology. We knew we wanted it, and that it would be helpful, and it was just a few hundred dollars, but even a few hundred dollars wasn’t in the budget,” Jensen said. “It’s saved me this job that was so inconvenient and physically hard. When I was done with that job, I would be tired, and now, I don’t even think of it as a job anymore. It just takes a few seconds. And that’s what it’s going to be like forever, and that’s incredible.”

Eligible farms are in Cheshire County or abutting New Hampshire towns who wish to develop or expand production for wholesale markets, including the Monadnock Food Co-Op and Food Connects. For information on eligibility or to apply for a grant, or to make a donation to the fund, contact Littleton at at 603-756-2988, Ext. 4, or send an email to amanda@cheshireconservation.org. Application materials are available at cheshireconservation.org/farm-fund and must be submitted by Feb. 1.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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