Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Middle Branch Farm: Looking Forward to the Summer Harvest

by Shawn Menard, Co-op Produce Manager

Located in New Boston, Middle Branch Farm has been in the Noonan family since 2000. Since its founding in the mid-1700s, this land has raised nearly every kind of fresh food possible in the Northeast: dairy, eggs, poultry, apples, cider, vegetables, and maple syrup. Today, the certified organic farm primarily grows vegetables to supply its CSA shares and a few wholesale accounts, including the Co-op.

The land is sustainably managed to ensure the fields will continue to yield high-quality produce for many generations to come without having a negative impact on the ecosystem.

Like a Co-op, owner Roger Noonan and his family believe in the “triple bottom line” approach to running a business (let’s not forget that farms are businesses, too!). This means their focus is divided equally among maximizing profit, preserving the environment, and ensuring social wellness – or “people, planet, profit” for short.

Noonan’s advocacy for sustainable agriculture and environmental preservation is apparent by the dozens of leadership hats he wears: President of the New England Farmers Union, President of the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts, and a member of the Government Affairs Committee for NH Farm Bureau, to name a few. Middle Branch Farm also grows a significant amount of food for the New Hampshire Food Bank. This collaboration allows the farm to remain connected to the community and give back to those that make up our population.

In an effort to create deeper relationships with our farmers and increase the local produce on our shelves, this year the Co-op has been working even more closely with Middle Branch Farm to provide our customers with farm-fresh produce. The season is off to a bit of a late start due to the cold winter, but Noonan is optimistic.

“Just as long as we get some sun and showers, our vegetable seedlings should wake up and pop out of the soil,” he says.

You can expect to see plenty of zucchini, summer squash, peppers, and cucumbers during the summer. Heading into the late summer and fall, we are excited to see broccoli, cauliflower, melons, and fingerling potatoes. Winter squash and pie pumpkins will round out the season.

You can learn more about the family operated, certified-organic farm by checking out www.middlebranchfarm.com. Middle Branch Farm is still offering CSA shares for this season, and of course you can also stop by the Co-op this summer to pick out some of the farm’s delicious vegetables in our produce department.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Maple Month in NH

by Jaimie Jusczyk, Marketing Specialist at the Concord Food Co-op

Did you know that March in New Hampshire is Maple Month and last weekend was Maple Weekend? The weather was looking a little iffy last Saturday, so I suggested to my husband that we go find some warmth inside a sugar shack. I looked up the Maple Weekend 3 map as supplied by the NH Maple Producers Association, Inc. and pinned a trail for the afternoon.

Our first stop was at a farm that supplies the Concord Food Co-op with organic vegetables all year round, Kearsarge Gore Farm in Warner. The drive there took us past Vegetable Ranch in Warner, the home to the Co-op’s very own hoop house and annual Farm Festival event, too. You can’t miss the yellow and purple sign out front of the hoop house.

The drive to Kearsarge Gore Ranch is not one for those who don’t like a little ice and mud. When you think of a farm being off the grid, Kearsarge Gore Farm really is off the grid, using solar panels for electricity.  As the roads got narrower and icier, the snow started to fall but we made it there in one piece parking off to the side as the lot was full. This must be the place to go to get your maple syrup. But as we were getting out of the truck, a few people were already heading back to the parking lot; I hope there is syrup left for me!
Kearsarge Gore Farm Sugar Shack

We were greeted by a friendly black dog wearing an orange bandana who led the way down the icy path to the sugar shack. From the outside, wood was stacked to the rafters and smoke lazily drifted down scenting the air. There was the sound of some kind of hostile machine coming from within, curious we walked into the dark opening to see a huge and shiny contraption with a friendly operator ready to explain how the sap running through the lines from the surrounding trees will end up on my pancakes tomorrow morning.

Our obliging guide was Bob, one half of the duo that own and operates Kearsarge Gore Farm with the help of a few more crew members. I am not sure I can explain the whole process without you actually seeing the evaporator machine in person, so I will leave that up to Bob to tell you if you are lucky enough to visit during boiling. But I will tell you that the generous sample of maple sugar I tried was heavenly on my tongue as it melted away and the syrup was the perfect sweetness to drizzle on crispy bacon or over vanilla bean ice cream, mmmm, just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
Kearsarge Gore Farm Sugar Shack Boiler

After Bob showed us the basic functions of the different parts of the evaporator, he had to hurry away to fill the boiler with wood to keep the process going. This year the weather during March has not been very co-operative for making syrup. The days and nights have been too cool and many of the sugar maker’s mentioned they have only produced 1/3 of what they had accomplished last year. I made sure to stock up and grabbed myself a bottle of the sweet syrup.
Kearsarge Gore Farm Sugar Shack

After we left Kearsarge Gore Farm we stopped at a couple more sugar shacks to sample different grades of maple syrup. Did you know that you may prefer the taste of a different grade of syrup? The grades happen naturally as the trees get ready for their spring budding and this changes the color and taste of the syrup. We also had the pleasure of tasting maple popcorn, maple cotton candy, various nuts glazed in maple syrup, and even some maple coffee! Maple Month is a great way to meet our local farmers and sample their products; many produce more than just our favorite breakfast syrup. Depending on the weather some farms even have spring lambs to watch playing or wagon rides through the mud (it really is mud season here!) There is one more weekend to enjoy the open houses on the Maple Month trail; you can check the map out, click here!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Revisiting Generation Farm

by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator & Perimeter Manager

You might remember the young farmers of Generation Farm in Concord from an article in the Co-op newsletter back a year and a half ago, when they first began bringing their fantastic spring greens mixes to the store. The farmers had recently purchased their future farmland with dreams of a certified organic permaculture produce mecca. Within just 18 busy months, both the farm and the land have gone through radical changes.

The farmers have built two greenhouses, a 1,200-foot farm road, a three story barn, and successfully achieved organic certification. Generation Farm feels it is important that consumers feel confident that they are buying certified organic produce because it is one of the official ways to give customers assurance in how the produce was grown. The farmers have cultivated several new acres of diverse vegetable crops this year and made major infrastructure improvements – including changes that will comply with new rules and standards which may be required for all farmers through the Food Safety Modernization Act (see page 4 for more on FSMA).
 
The farm has gone through rough periods and experienced growing pains like many small businesses. Two of the three original partners have left the farm to pursue different career paths. Generation Farm has endured all the fury that Mother Nature has brought over the past year, from hurricanes to blizzards and flooding rains. Every day is a new challenge but that is what makes the work so vital to establishing a sustainable business that can serve the community and provide delicious veggies for many decades to come. Currently there are two main farmers, James Steever and Marley Horner, who both work and live on the farm.

James and Marley feel that in order to have strong, sustainable communities there should be robust local agriculture. Early on, Generation Farm worked to develop a hyper-local business model. They feel strongly about supplying food to people who live in the greater Concord area. This way the produce is as fresh and nutrient-rich as possible while also using very little energy for transport – good for people, and good for the environment. With the Co-op being only a 10-minute drive from the farm it seemed like the perfect place to sell their produce. Generation Farm and many other local farms can and will play a huge role in what is an essential and missing piece of our country’s food security and overall health.

In 2014, Generation Farm will be offering several new offerings. Spring will bring succulent perennial green and purple asparagus. They also plan to grow sugar snap, snow peas and bunches of kale. For the summer months they will be introducing fresh herbs to our selection as well. Keep an eye out for their thyme, basil, chives, parsley, and cilantro. Fresh herbs can make all the difference in creating outstanding flavor in many dishes – and they are incredibly easy to use. James and Marley plan to provide hints and tips for each herb on their packaging to inspire some new ideas for the home cook. Generation Farm will also be introducing its first garlic crop, and garlic’s fantastic pre-harvest treat: garlic scapes.

Keep up with Generation Farm at https://www.facebook.com/GenerationFarm.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sanborn Mills Farm: Young Farmers Hard at Work

by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator & Perimeter Manager

I have been incredibly impressed by the quality and variety of vegetables coming into our produce department this year from Sanborn Mills Farm. This year has been a challenge for our produce manager Lloyd. Many of our regular farmers have had difficulty supplying us with the sufficient quantities of produce for our local-loving customers, pulled by the demand of farm stand sales, CSAs, and farmers markets, compounded by a tough farming year and reduced yields. We’ve been extremely grateful to our emerging young farmers who have helped fill in the gaps. Alina Harris and Nick Reppun have provided us impeccable vegetables and unique varieties, which fly off the shelves as soon as they arrive. The farmers use organic farming methods and anticipate receiving certification shortly. Keep your eye out for winter squashes, decorative corn, gourds, sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts this fall.

Although the farm is new to the Co-op  and Alina and Nick only began farming it last year, the farm itself is more than a century old. Back then, Sanborn Mills Farm was a bustling center of agricultural activities that supported extended family and served the community. Today the farm incorporates farmers, instructors, craftspeople, and historians. They rely on old-fashioned methods of farming and use draft horses and oxen instead of tractors and plows. I recently had an opportunity to visit the scenic farm and get to know these young farmers better...


How long have you been farming?
Alina: I’ve been farming for 5 years, since I was 18 years old. I began my relationship with farming through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) program. I was originally interested in the program because it was a cheap way to travel through Sweden and I didn’t mind putting in a days work in exchange for a roof over my head, food on my plate, and wonderful friendships. Throughout my six-week stint in Sweden “WWOOFing,” I got to learn the ins and outs of living on small family farms. From the first days of chasing sheep to the last days of picking raspberries, I had fallen in love with farming. It just seems like the right thing for a human to be doing - growing food - the thing we depend on for survival.
Nick:  I grew up on my family’s farm on Oahu, Hawaiic so I’ve always been around farming and working on farms. I really got into it after I graduated from college in ’09. I moved home after college and began working on my family’s farm as a partner with my dad and his brother, I also started my own business growing and selling potted plants for a garden store. For a while I worked at an education center designing and developing their agricultural systems which were used for teaching children about traditional Hawaiian farming methods. In 2012 I had the opportunity to broaden my horizons and move to New Hampshire and to work here at Sanborn Mills Farm, so I went for it. This is my second season farming here in New Hampshire.

What/who are some of your influences that inspired you to want to farm?
Alina: Small scale agriculture is what the world needs right now. Knowing that I am bringing myself and others wholesome, organic food while trying my best to not disrupt the ecosystems around us.  Most large scale commercial agriculture (even organic) is centered around using fossil fuels.  Lots of our finite resources are used to power tractors and  refrigerated trucks that ship our food thousands of miles before getting to us.  Even the large scale organic farms are really just monocultures, meaning that they are depleting the land of its nutrients and its natural micro ecosystems. I deeply wanted to change that.  I wanted people to have access to fresh food that was picked that day, with care. It's amazing that people get tricked into thinking their produce is “fresh” when it has  been in travel for a week or so.
Nick:  My family has been a big inspiration for me. Growing up we had a very minimalist lifestyle and there was never a huge cash flow, but we always ate well and never went hungry. I think one of the most important things in life is to be able to provide food for yourself. I’m not talking about having enough money to go buy your food, I’m talking about being able to take a piece of land or a pot of soil and put seeds down and bring forth fruit (figuratively and literally). Teaching other people to do this is another huge inspiration. I have worked with kids in schools before and seeing their faces when they harvest and taste something they grew is priceless. I also feel like in some way I have an obligation to farm and to share both the products and the experience with people. I consider myself blessed to have grown up on a working farm, an experience that is unfortunately fading from our society. It worries me to think that the majority of people do not know what good food is or how it is produced. As a society we are so out of touch with our food production, our lack of awareness has allowed farming to become an industry when really it should be a direct part of every person’s life, even if it is just a few potted vegetable plants on your apartment window sill.

What kinds of challenges have you faced as a farmer?  
What are some of the surprises that have come up as a farmer?
Alina:
When you work a 19-hour day to prepare to go to market and you get only 3 hours of sleep before going to market, it gets very very tiring. There is only so much that is humanly possible, and I am always pushing the boundaries of labor and lack of sleep on my body. Then you still have to smile, look nice, do math, and more physical labor at market.  At the end of the week, you don’t just get a paycheck. You make what you make. When you do the math, it usually comes out to your wage being at least 50% less than minimum wage. To me, it is very frustrating and degrading that society expects low prices after you have given everything that you can give. When you’ve stayed up until 2 a.m. bunching and washing produce and someone makes a snooty comment about pricing, you just have to take a punch on the chin. It's been really disappointing that people seem to under-appreciate local agriculture and the work that it takes.  To be a farmer you really need to understand soil science, biology, entomology, pathology, animal husbandry, horticulture.... etc. You also must be a business (wo)man, a marketer, an accountant, a mechanic, a builder.... etc. These challenges are what make farming remain interesting even after years of doing it. I don’t mind working hard - there are just never enough hours in the day and you never stop learning!
Nick:  Farming for profit holds a lot more challenges than farming to feed yourself. One of the biggest challenges I have come up against is education, or lack thereof in consumers. I feel like I have to constantly educate people about how the food is produced, what goes into it, why it costs what it costs, the list goes on. As I mentioned before, the societal disconnect from farming has come at a huge cost. Reconnecting people with their food is a big challenge, especially when for the consumer it is cheaper out of pocket to remain disconnected and buy “cheap” food. Many people simply are not aware of the other costs of “cheap” food: health issues, environmental issues, and abuse of farm labor, to name a few. Another challenge has been increasing regulatory action towards farmers by our government. This is very apparent today with the passage of the “Food Safety and Modernization Act” (FSMA). If you haven't heard about this get online and do some research, NOFA-NH has some good resources and there are many other organizations trying to help farmers to submit comments on this legislation to the FDA. The basic idea of this legislation is to impose regulations and record keeping on farmers that will create accountability in the event of a food-borne illness. I understand that we need to assure the safety of our food supply not only health wise but economically too, but more often then not the regulations that are imposed do not reflect the diversity of farm operations, especially here in New England where small farms are abundant. Some of the proposed rules under the FSMA will make production farming cost prohibitive on a small scale due to required infrastructures and food testing procedures. Maybe its not so surprising that farming is so regulated, but I have really learned a lot about this in the past two years which has been eye-opening for sure. It also frightens me because the regulations definitely tip the scales in favor of large-scale agriculture.

How long have you been selling your product to the Co-op?  
What kinds of products do you bring or specialize in?

We began selling produce to the Co-op last summer. We are thrilled to be Certified Organic this year! This year we have been focusing on producing "mixed bunches" of various crops. In the early part of spring we were bringing in our “Spring Mix” bagged greens. You can also find our Rainbow Chard, Mixed Kale, and Rainbow Carrots on the shelves. We also have other things like cucumbers and onions as well. We planted a lot of fall harvest crops, which will likely make their way to the Co-op, too. Keep an eye out for winter squashes, decorative ‘Painted Mountain’ corn, gourds, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts ,and more!

How do you see your farm growing/diversifying in the future?
We would like to learn more about meat production and how we can incorporate that into our program.  We are also looking to figure out ways to shift away from fossil fuels where possible and minimizing off-farm inputs.  We were able to use a decent amount of draft power this year, which we are happy about. The farm has a pair of Percheron draft horses which did most of our harrowing for field preparation. We used a pair of milking short-horn oxen to create long raised beds for some of our crops like carrots. The oxen were used to plant our potatoes as well.  If you are interested in seeing us plant potatoes with the help of the oxen, try watching Sanborn Mills Farm on Chronicle.  The vegetables are in the last part of the segment. The draft horses also helped us collect the sap for the maple syrup that we produced this year. We are elated that our maple syrup is made the old fashioned way: draft-powered and wood-fired. The pine wood slabs that we use are byproducts of the water-powered sawmill here.

What other things would you like to say about farming?
Alina: This year our neighbor Bruce Yeaton was nice enough to give us a big bag of dry bean seeds that he has been growing here and saving for fifteen years. We feel so lucky to be able to plant seeds that are a “land race” and have been adapted to our microclimate and soil here at  Sanborn Mills Farm. We are excited to be growing some protein in the form of plants and be able to sell and eat it all winter long!
Nick: Small-scale agriculture is a tough business. Right now there is a trend towards small-scale agriculture, especially among younger people. My hope is that as more people are drawn to farming, they come into it with open hearts and minds and fist full of determination. What the farming community needs is to shift the focus away from making money and strive to be closer to the ideals of ethical production, respect and regeneration of the land and simply producing food that maximizes the health of the people and the health of the land. I hope that consumers take some time to get to know their farmers, I think this alone will create a wonderful change in their experience of food.

Learn more about Sanborn Mills Farm at www.sanbornmills.org and find Alina and Nick on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sanbornmills.

Photography by Brad Turgeon (except photo of Alina with root veggies, courtesy of the farmers).




Monday, June 17, 2013

Meet Lloyd Pickering: The Co-op's Produce Manager


by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator

The produce manager’s role at a food co-op is very different than that of their counterpart working at a grocery store chain. At a chain store, the produce manager typically contacts a single food distributor and places an order that is predetermined by corporate metrics.

At the Concord Food Co-op, produce ordering is far more complex. Lloyd Pickering has been the produce manager at the Co-op for five years.  He started with the Co-op managing the dairy department and later the meat department, before settling in with fruits and vegetables. In all, he brings 35 years of retail experience to the Co-op.

Lloyd has developed relationships with over fifty growers in the greater Concord area. He is continuously negotiating with additional farmers that are interested in developing wholesale accounts. Managing so many small farm accounts takes a lot of time and energy to stay on top of orders, especially during the peak produce growing season. All of our local and regional produce comes from farmers who have been vetted by the Co-op to ensure the quality, health and safety of the produce in our store.
In order to get to know Lloyd a little better, we asked him a few questions.
What are some of the unique challenges managing a Co-op Produce Department?
“One of the biggest challenges is educating customers about where specific produce are coming from during the local growing season. Sometimes it’s necessary to explain why I have selected to offer local products that weren’t organic, versus buying the same produce organically grown in California or Mexico.  I explain that many times a local farm may be practicing organic methods at their farm, but can’t afford to go through the expense of organic certification. Some farms may be observing organic practices and are awaiting certification, but essentially the produce is organically grown.”

Typically what do Co-op customers ask for when they see you in the produce aisle? “I have found that Co-op customers are loyal to the point where they want specific produce from specific farms. This is hard to manage though. During the normal growing season it is common that the farmers have the same vegetables available at the same time. I need to be very careful not to step on anyone’s toes. As it is paramount to treat all farmers fairly it is a balancing act to when it comes to divvying up the Co-op’s produce ordering.  Mostly our customers want to know what items are locally grown. When we have our hoop house produce in the case, customers will almost always choose that over other options.”

What are some of the changes you have seen since last year’s expansion of the Co-op? “The biggest change has been the different types of people who buy produce. In the past it seemed like customers had to go out of their way to find the produce department. Those people were very committed to buying local produce. The new store configuration has all customers needing to first walk by the produce department.  We now have better visibility and in my mind that has resulted in a considerable increase in produce purchasing."

Is there something you would like to see offered in produce that you can't find? Just ask Lloyd and he will be glad to look into it for you.





Friday, April 26, 2013

Co-op raises $500 for SPNHF on Earth Day


Photo by Maria Noel Groves
by Shane Smith, Outreach Coordinator
New Hampshire is unusually lucky to possess forests, mountains and scenic lakes all within our states boundaries. We enjoy walking, swimming, picnicking, hunting, and working on our lands. Products from the forests and farmland of our great state help sustain us, from the food we eat to the lumber that we use to build our homes.  NH’s economy is largely based on tourism which relies directly on the conservation of our beautiful spaces.

The Society for the Protection of NH Forests has been working to protect NH landscapes since 1901. NH is the fastest growing state in New England and it is projected that within 20 years or so, the southeastern portion of the state will be built up to the point where there will be only developed land and no land left to conserve.

Shane, Paula and Jack Savage from SPNHF

The vision of the Forest Society for the next quarter century is to secure one million acres of NH’s best land for conservation. The Society envisions people caring for lands that sustain dynamic communities with clean water and air, forest and agricultural products, habitat for native plants and animals, scenic beauty, good jobs, and recreational opportunities.

In light of these lofty goals we thought that there was no better organization to partner with than the Forest Society for Earth Day. We want to thank everyone who participated in the 2013 Earth Day shopping bag fundraiser. With each $5 donation Co-op customers received a 2103 Co-op Earth Day reusable canvas bag.  Collectively, we were able to raise $500.







Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Adventures in Parmesan Country

by Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Co-op Wellness Educator

I recently had the luxury of taking a two-week vacation in Italy with my husband to visit friends and sight see. It was our first "real" vacation as couple (which means that we didn't pitch a tent or carry our kayaks along logging roads for any part of it). Once I realized that the food mecca of Parma was located between our destinations of Venice and Cinque Terre, I knew we had to take a detour and sign up for one of the region's famous food tours... read more