Mixing It up With Farmers
By: Jason Reimers, Esq.
Chances are, you’ve bought something directly from a farm in the past year. Maybe you picked up eggs or soup bones at Sunnyfield Farm, cheese at Boggy Meadow Farm, or your produce through 1780 Farm’s CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program.
There are more than 4,000 farms in New Hampshire, and the Monadnock Region has an especially bountiful crop of farms. New Hampshire’s farms are national leaders in a couple of categories. First, you may be surprised to learn that New Hampshire’s farms are ranked first in the country in the percentage of goods sold directly from the farm to the consumer.
One reason that New Hampshire farms see a lot of consumer traffic is that they tend to be small, especially compared to the huge farms of the Midwest and California’s Central Valley. Because the farms are small, they are located close to town centers and well-traveled roads. On my drive to the office, I pass honey for sale, fresh-cut flowers and eggs, a pick-your-own blueberry farm, a weekly farmer’s market, perhaps the best variety of heirloom tomatoes in New England, and a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, not to mention sweet corn. I could not avoid farms if I tried, and all of these farms have signs inviting me to stop and shop.
The “right to farm” principle is embedded throughout New Hampshire law. For example, there is a law that prohibits municipal zoning officials from unreasonably limiting agricultural activities (though farms are still subject to some local regulation). Agricultural activities are also generally exempted—though not entirely—from some laws, including the Shoreland Water Quality Protection Act. Last year, Governor Hassan signed a bill establishing a Farm-to-Plate program to further strengthen the relationship between farmers and eaters.
There are also many organizations that support farmers, including the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA-NH), the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition, Land for Good, and Monadnock Conservancy. Among the resources that organizations such as these provide are occasional informational and social events for farmers, would-be farmers, and landowners.
Sometimes these events are called “Farmer Mixers”, which, without fail, conjures the image in my head of a farmer prom in which single farmers in overalls awkwardly ask each other to dance. Instead, these farmer mixers are great opportunities for practicing farmers, aspiring farmers, and landowners to meet each other and to get information from various professionals who routinely work with farmers.
These professionals often include technical agricultural experts and organic experts, financial advisors and financial lenders who provide loans exclusively to farmers, realtors who focus their practice on agricultural properties, and an attorney familiar with agricultural legal issues. Although the roster changes with each event, the available resources generally remain the same. There are usually good snacks and local beer, too.
I will be participating in two upcoming local events organized by the Cheshire County Conservation District, Monadnock Conservancy, UNH Cooperative Extension, and Land for Good. These “Farmland Access Info Nights & Farmer Landowner Mixers” will be from 6-8 p.m. on March 23 in Keene and March 24 in Jaffrey. I encourage you to register in advance with the Cheshire County Conservation District, though you can show up unannounced, too. You can get more information on the Conservation District’s website at www.cheshireconservation.org.
While these events may not be the farmer proms that I think of when I hear the words “Farmer Mixer”, if you are a local farmer and want to meet like-minded people or maybe even make a love connection, you might try your luck, as there will be farmers of all ages and an even distribution of men and women. This last fact is probably due to the fact that New Hampshire has the highest percentage in the nation of farms principally operated by women. Another first in the nation for New Hampshire to be proud of.