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Local farmers working to meet increased demand

  • The push for more locally-grown food has farmers looking for solutions to meet the demand. Photo by Stacy Hannings

  • Local farmers were met with an increase in demand last year amid the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and that interest in locally-grown food has carried into 2021. Photo by Stacy Hannings

  • The push for more locally-grown food has farmers looking for solutions to meet the demand. Photo by Stacy Hannings—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/19/2021 3:41:36 PM

The demand for locally grown produce saw a dramatic increase last year as people sought to shorten their food supply chains and get a better understanding of where the foods they were eating came from.

Farmers’ markets, farm stands and CSA’s were a solution to avoid crowded grocery stores amid the coronavirus pandemic and growers had a difficult time keeping up with the requests. And it hasn’t slowed down in 2021.

Tom Mitchell, owner of Ledge Top Farm in Wilton, said he actually saw a shift to locally sourced food a couple of years before COVID-19 changed just about every aspect of daily life.

“The trend was there before the pandemic and it’s still there,” Mitchell said. “And I expect it to keep going.”

Mitchell has a saying that if he grows it the people will come and that they have. In the first two weeks of the outdoor farmers’ market season, Mitchell has sold out of all the greens he brought to both the Peterborough and Francestown locations.

“The demand was really intense and I had a lot of people disappointed,” Mitchell said. “So far we’re selling everything we can cut and people are buying it faster than it grows back this time of year. The more we can grow, the more we can sell.”

Mitchell said the most limiting factor this year is the availability of help. He got a boost last year as college students returned home for the remainder of the spring semester. The same cannot be said about 2021.

“Production is really limited because I just can’t get the ground worked and the seeds planted,” Mitchell said on Friday as he looked out at six inches of snow on the ground. “And I just don’t think we’re going to reach the production levels we did last year.”

And with more people seeking local foods, that means lost income for Mitchell and his Wilton farm.

Mitchell said he plants as much as he can depending on what space is available for the year. He put the tomatoes in the greenhouse in January and has started things like peppers, eggplant and will soon begin the process with beets, carrots and peas as he works toward the 40 to 50 varieties for the season. Mitchell said in the coming weeks he’ll have plenty of spinach ready and the winter carrots are almost there.

For Craig Jensen, owner of Sun Moon Farm in Rindge, the start to the last two growing seasons has been filled with difficult decisions amid the lack of help to get it all done.

“It’s daunting and overwhelming looking at season number two affected by COVID,” Jensen said. “The usual ramp-up to spring, this is our second year doing that with no help.”

Because of the lack of help last year, as Jensen and his wife Megan tried to figure out how others could lend a hand safely, the number of CSA shares they offered dropped from 130 in 2019 to 80 last year, adding “it was the first year we ran a waiting list.”

“That’s a significant decline for us,” Jensen said. “We had to say no to a lot of customers, we can’t do it this year.” And Jensen just hopes that doesn’t have a long-term impact on customers coming back in the years to come.

This year, Jensen said they have planned for enough produce to fill 100 CSA shares and as of Friday there were still a dozen or so spots remaining to be filled.

“But we’ll have no problems filling that,” he said.

The thing that keeps the Jensens hopeful is the strong ties to the community and those who want to help and see them succeed.

“There isn’t a farm without a community that supports it,” Jensen said. “If a farm closes for one year, it may not come back.”

Despite the challenges, Jensen is moving ahead because he believes in the model and knows there is a desire for it.

“We’re going to figure it out and make this year happen in some way,” he said.

That will mean keeping more of the farm in fallow this year, which means a more limited amount of fresh foods for their customers and less money coming in.

“The farm is never very profitable,” Jensen said. “And to cut back 20%, 25%, 30%, that’s a significant practical challenge for the farm.”

But what keeps Jensen optimistic is the demand and the shift to locally sourced food.

“We want to continue to show how important local agriculture is,” Jensen said.

Christine Pressman, owner of Foggy Hill Farm in Jaffrey, said she increased her CSA shares from 30 to 50 last year in an effort to meet the increased demand, but it was a strain to grow and harvest all that food.

“This year has been crazy,” Pressman said. “There’s still the demand.” But even though she has people calling and emailing often, Pressman decided to scale back a bit to 40 shares for 2021.

“I want to make sure I can meet everyone’s demands both in terms of food and the community aspect of it,” she said.

Since Foggy Hill’s CSA is full for the year, she tries to point them to another local grower, including the Jensen’s Sun Moon Farm.

“It is hard and I always try to send people to one of the other wonderful local CSAs,” Pressman said.

She used to sell her products at the Jaffrey Farmers’ Market, but it got to be too much because “you grow things differently for a CSA than a farmers’ market and it’s a challenge to do both,” Pressman said.

Last year, in an effort to streamline things a bit, Pressman said she decided not to grow some of the more specialty, less popular crops.

“But this year I’m looking forward to growing those crops we didn’t last year,” she said.

Pressman said she is deeply appreciative of the lessons learned during 2020 and in turn “we’re a little bit more prepared than we were last year.”

And with each phone call or email she gets, Pressman is heartened by the shift to local food.

“It’s reassuring. I feel like the Monadnock region is really getting excited for local everything,” she said. “We are starting to see more of a culture of local food.”

Conrad Dumas, president of the Peterborough Farmers’ Market, saw a big increase in attendance during last year’s season and on the first day of the market on April 7 he said they had 142 shoppers. To put that into perspective, the market averaged 50 for the last two opening days.


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