- Fruits: apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), grapes, peaches, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
- Vegetables: onions, sweet corn, tomatoes
- Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, swine, sheep
- Animal Products: dairy
- Miscellaneous: mushrooms
- Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, community development
Through a previous research project, the Cheshire County Conservation District identified two primary agricultural issues in our region that need to be addressed—the shortage of qualified and affordable farm labor and the lack of infrastructure to allow farms to expand into new markets. By increasing our understanding of these particular needs and farmers’ present capacity to meet these needs, we will be able to make sound recommendations for projects and programs that will help make our agricultural system more sustainable. In collaboration with our project partners, we propose a needs assessment and feasibility study that comprises several steps: focus groups and interviews with farmers, a fair wage assessment, and a matrix evaluation of properties suitable for meeting labor and infrastructure needs. Information gathered will be used to evaluate the feasibility of a farm labor training program based on the model of First Course, a culinary training program of Monadnock Developmental Services, who has expressed interest in helping create such a project. To further increase knowledge and understanding of how our community can best serve the needs of farmers, we will hold a public forum, during which we will disseminate the information we have gained and share our recommendations with farmers, county officials, community members, and organizational leaders in our region. Our recommendations will also be distributed through a written report to be shared with various organizations with the capacity to meet labor and infrastructure needs, as well as those in other counties interested in replicating our needs assessment project.
Project objectives from proposal:
The information we obtain through our research and evaluation will contribute to a feasibility assessment of creating a farm labor training program in Cheshire County. If we find that such a project is feasible, we will then be able to provide recommendations to Monadnock Developmental Services about the creation of a farmer training program based on the model of their successful culinary training program, First Course. Our research results will also allow us to make meaningful recommendations about what type of infrastructure is most needed, how it will meet farmers’ needs, and where said infrastructure should be located – – to the county, the 23 towns within, and regional non-profit organizations interested in working on projects to make our food system more sustainable.
The Cheshire County Conservation District is the only organization in Cheshire County that is exploring how to address all farming issues related to infrastructure. When Post Oil Solutions a non-profit in Brattleboro, Vermont, decided to conduct a broad survey of farmers’ infrastructure needs in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, they approached the Cheshire County Conservation District to ask for assistance in this effort. The work of this proposal will help them in their regional effort as well as other statewide organizations looking to help farmers. Assessing farmers needs and capacities related to local distribution cooperatives or businesses, off-season storage, and farm worker housing would strengthen the ability of CCCD and other organizations to meet these needs more effectively and sustainably.
The CCCD will partner with Land for Good, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Antioch University New England, Monadnock Developmental Services – First Course, and farmer consultants to assess the needs of farmers through focus groups and interviews directly with Cheshire County agricultural producers. Sample populations will be purposefully chosen to ensure that the results are not biased toward a particular type of farming (e.g. livestock, dairy, or produce) or a particular region, but are representative of the entire county. These two evaluation methods will yield slightly different responses, as information shared in a group setting might differ from information shared during a one-on-one interview. Thus, the combination of two different evaluation methods will give us a more complete picture of labor and infrastructure needs in Cheshire County. One focus group will be paid for with funds from the Women’s Agricultural Network and will take place in February 2009, before farmers become too busy during the growing season. Information from the focus groups, along with consulting from two full-time farmers–Tracie Smith and Erin Bickford, First Course, and UNH Cooperative Extension will be used to inform questions for the interviews which will take place between November, 2010 and January, 2011. Antioch University Interns will be used to assist in carrying out the interviews. The UNH Cooperative Extension and the CCCD will work together to analyze all results and produce a written report that will be used to inform the next stages of this project.
Information gathered during the focus groups and interviews will be used to inform criteria used in the next phase of our project—a systematic evaluation of properties in Cheshire County that are suitable to house a farm labor training program as well as infrastructure needed for distribution, storage, and farm worker housing. A matrix analysis will be performed by Craig Oshkello and Bob Bernstein of Land for Good to highlight sites that can support mixed-use development (both commercial and residential at the same location), an option that will most likely be more sustainable than renovating or building several different facilities. The analysis will incorporate the findings of the first phase into the desired criteria for identification and review of feasible sites for developing needed infrastructure. Outcomes of the analysis will include property feasibility summaries, acquisition and development strategies, and prescription for next steps.
The CCCD will also spend time throughout the project researching various options for how to fairly compensate farm workers for their time and labor. In order for a food system to be sustainable, farm laborers must earn a fair wage while, at the same time, farmers must be able to afford business expenses and earn a living. By researching what innovative methods already exist and by fully understanding what capacity farmers in our region have to pay their workers, we will be able to offer recommendations on creating a system that will be stable, successful, and sustainable into the future.
Lastly, the CCCD will hold a community forum in April, 2011 to disseminate information about the results of our research, to increase the community’s understanding of farmers’ needs, and to gain feedback about our recommendations for a farm labor training program and distribution and storage infrastructure. Volunteers will put in time compiling mailings, hanging flyers, and making phone calls to ensure the success of this event. Volunteers will also be involved with follow up to regional farmers.