I live part of the year in Newbury NH and for the past few years I have been enjoying going the Sweet Beets Farm stand in Bradford. It is always a wonderful experience to support local agriculture but it is also amazing to eat local as well and feel the bounty of the season. Sweet Beets and the Kearsarge Food Hub make that a possibility not only bringing the local farmers under one roof but making it completely accessible to the local community as well. I really believe in what the Food Hub is up to and I hope I can be a part of it myself one day. Please enjoy my interview with Hanna from the Kearsarge Food Hub and hear their story and thoughts on the local environment.
a v a j a n e: What is a food hub and about how many farms are in your food hub currently?
Hannah from KFH: A food hub is an entity that aggregates, stores, and distributes goods on a local and regional level. In many ways, food hubs are trying to create a “missing middle”, the intermediary step between producers and
consumers on a smaller scale than industrial production and a larger scale than traditional farm to table
markets like farmer’s markets and CSAs. Food hubs seek to make family farms and local production more
viable, and limit unhealthy competition, by opening new and varied market channels. This means, in large part,
doing the boots on the ground work of organizing and aggregating from many different farmers and producers
and distributing their goods to many buyers, including retail, wholesale, and institutional outlets.
This also means, for many food hubs, provided the necessary education, training, and technical
assistance to producers, buyers and consumers along the supply chain to make local more successful. For
instance, small family farms will need to be compliant with new packing standards and food safety regulations
to meet wholesale requirements, while restaurants purchasing local food need to be educated on seasonality
and how local produce might differ from industrial produce, and consumers shopping in a local food retail outlet
might need recipes and cooking guidance for lesser known local fruits and veggies. In essence, a food hub
attempts to provide all necessary services that helps increase the flow of goods within a local network.
Our operation, Kearsarge Food Hub, works with 30+ small farms and value-added producers within a
30-mile radius in central New Hampshire. Our network includes farmers of all kinds, from larger farms to small
homesteaders, from organic to conventional practices. Our model is based on inclusiveness. Instead of turning
away farmers who use practices that we don’t prefer, such as spraying pesticides, we work with them to open
up conversation for the possibility of transitioning to more earth and people friendly practices. Our primary
focus as a hub during our first three years has been operating our retail space, Sweet Beet Market, which has
afforded us the valuable opportunity of getting to know the needs, challenges, and opportunities of our local
network. If we are to satisfy local and regional institutional and wholesale demand, we know we have to include
more farmers in our network, be they farms we just haven’t yet made contact with or farms that have yet to be
started, and will be looking to do so as we expand in the coming years while still staying true to our definition of
a v a j a n e: You have your own growing grounds as well. How much land does Sweet Beets manage, the area
used for cropping. What kind of farming practices do you use at Sweet Beets? (Permaculture,
biodynamics, traditional farming, fertilizers, tilling, composting etc)
Hannah from KFH: Sweet Beet Farm is Kearsarge Food Hub’s own growing operation that spans about one and half
acres across three plots of land. We began the farm in the spring of 2015 to accompany our seasonal roadside
farm stand, Sweet Beet Farm Stand, and to acquire knowledge and skills regarding growing food and
managing land and resources. Luckily for us, the three plots of land that we started cultivating were donated to
us by supportive community members who were just excited to see young kids making use of the land and
starting something in town.
We started out as beginners, so the first couple years have been focused on the very basics of
farming: digging up land that hasn’t been cultivated for several generations, figuring out how many of what
kinds of seeds to buy and when, when to start seeds and transplant, generally how to manage the growing
season and, very importantly, how to grow for a retail market. This means a lot of time and energy has been
spent on harvesting, cleaning and packing vegetables for the Sweet Beet retail outlet.
Our farm is not certified organic but has been implementing organic practices since its inception.
Inputs thus far have included organic fertilizers, pest/disease control inputs like hydrogen peroxide and
cayenne pepper and garlic spray, and mulch like hay, straw, and leaves collected locally. We started out tilling
our fields, especially since they were covered in sod and grasses when we first began, but are moving toward a
no-till system and making a transition to more of a permaculture-based operation. For us this means farming
less land, using permanent beds and making the most of the space we cultivate through things like companion
planting, focusing on building the soil with things like cover crops, and closing the loop by bringing in less inputs
and using things like our own compost as fertilizer. This transition will be a process over many years, and our
goal of producing vegetables to suit our retail and wholesale markets will remain central. How we meet that
demand will be the area of change, as we design systems to produce more food per acre through sustainable
annual agriculture, perennial crops, and soil enrichment practices.
a v a j a n e: My next question includes a mention of climate change
Have you noticed any changes to the environment over the past decade to make you think that local
farming and community building may be more important than ever before.
Hannah from KFH: Climate change is absolutely a factor that influences our work and motivates us to build resilient
systems around small local farms and community. Transportation and industrial agriculture are the major
greenhouse gas emitters contributing to climate change, so any effort to support and strengthen small-scale,
organic, and permaculture practices in the local food system, and help food travel less miles, ultimately helps
combat climate change. As a food hub operating for just a short time, about 3 years and counting, we have not
noticed any changes to the environment in our local network that we can with certainty attribute to climate
change, but the general consensus is the weather is less stable and less predictable, and the national and
global changes due to climate change are certainly felt.
For instance, something like hurricane Harvey, which is disrupting oil refineries on the Texas coast,
might lead to an increase in food prices, since the production and distribution of food on an industrial scale is
dependent upon fossil fuels. In a time where climate change is contributing to unpredictable weather patterns
and the food industry is so dependent upon fossil fuels to circulate food on a global level, taking food
production back to a local and regional level is a smart (and we would say necessary) move for all
communities. When food production is localized, there is less risk of being cut off from a far-off food supply,
less likelihood that consumers are burdened with rising food costs due to disruptions along the industrial supply
chain, and generally less negative consequences and externalized costs to the environment.
a v a j a n e: Would you say farmers experience "a way of life, a way of making a living that acquires a meaning far deeper than almost any other occupational identity. -this is more of a statement the question is the
Do you feel farmers are influenced by tradition, which also includes a desire to sustain their farm in
family hands? Is this changing?
Hannah from KFH: This is an interesting question. From my (limited) perspective of working with farmers for these past few years, I might say that farmers are deeply influenced by tradition, but, these days, maybe more relating to
community traditions, specifically relating to producing something meaningful for others and connecting with the
land, rather than one bound up in familial ties. The traditions being honored are things like relating to the land,
relying on the land, stewardship of the land, and a sort of ambassadorship from the land to the community.
Historically, sustaining the farm in family hands has been integral to the field of agriculture, I think
primarily because agriculture was the dominant way that people had to make a living. There really weren’t
many other ways people could sustain themselves beyond growing food, and for centuries this was how it was.
You passed the farm on because that was the only choice. Now, over the past several generations, things are
a little different because there are more options for people. So when a farm is passed on to the next
generation, it’s more about preserving that relationship to the land and that relationship as providers for the
community, rather than having no other choice than to take up farming.
In this sense, the tradition of farming is one bound up a level beyond the family, into the communal.
Farming is at the base of what keeps communities together, it’s what sustains and provides for people far
beyond family lines. It’s what allows for other people to choose other professions, so that they may focus on
things other than feeding themselves. In this way, the tradition of farming as providing is very strong and
continues to strengthen, in my opinion. Perhaps now it is less about keeping the farm in the family than it is
about keeping the land preserved and about providing for oneself and the community. Which I think is a very
special place to be because, instead of out of sheer necessity, we see people coming into farming with a true
interest in the practice of growing things, a true love of nature, natural systems, and living off of the land.
As a food hub, we work with many farms that have been operating for several generations, but we
don’t really see anyone taking up their parent’s farm without a true interest in the practice itself. It really is a
sacred practice that creates deep bonds between the farmer and the land, and the farmer and those he or she
provides for, which is an aspect of farming that is only getting stronger. The really neat thing to see is people
taking up farming who have never farmed before and who are not inheriting something from their family, but
rather are starting something completely new.
We work with several new farmers, young and old, who have decided to take on the craft of their own
volition and as a result of their own true interests. I think the tradition of connecting with the land is the primary
driver of new farmers in this era, as people are seeing the destructive nature of industrial systems and looking
for productive ways to push back against that wave. While I might not say that farmers alone make “a living that
acquires a meaning far deeper than almost any other occupational identity”, I would say that the identity born
from choosing a path in farming is very strong and embedded within a deep connection to the land, a desire to
produce something meaningful, and the ability to work hard, both physically and mentally, on a regular basis.
These traits, while not born from farming alone, are the bedrock of an identity formed from an occupation in
a v a j a n e: Coping with uncertainty
There can be many seasonal or environmental factors that affect growing grounds, hail, frost, wildlife.
Can you think of some of the struggles local farmers in NH may be encountering and how important it
is to support their economy?
Hannah from KFH: Farming in New Hampshire is no easy task. For one thing, there is a very short outdoor growing
season. It basically runs from the last frost at the end of May to the first frost some time in late September. On
average that, there are about 135 days of outdoor growing. For New Hampshire farmers, this means planning
and utilizing all tools to extend the growing season, such as starting seeds indoors in the spring, using a
greenhouse or high tunnel, and planting storage crops that can last well into the winter.
When you do plant outside, having the proper tools and equipment to brace against uncontrollable
environmental factors is key. Some of our biggest challenges in New Hampshire are frost, pests and disease,
and consistent water supply. Row cover is an inexpensive way to prepare against unexpected frost. Covering
your crops with this light cover can be just the thing that saves them from the bite of the cold. Not only that, but
timing the use of row cover properly can also mitigate against pests in the garden, such as early aphids that
come for your greens. Covering the crops means unwanted intruders, be it frost or pests, can’t reach them.
Proper irrigation is also incredibly important. You want to use only the amount of water you need to soak the
ground and reach the roots of the plant. You don’t really want an irrigation system that sprays water all over the
field, losing some to evaporation, getting it all over the leaves (which can also lead to disease in the field), and
generally wasting one of the most precious farm resources. Just last year there was a drought throughout most
of the summer, which left some farmers in our network with completely empty wells. While we are lucky where
we live to worry less about water shortages than some other places in the U.S, it is still very important to keep a
consistent eye on this resource and use it judiciously.
In terms of supporting farmers and the struggles they face from environmental factors, look to local
agricultural commissions, conservation districts, and farm-related funding sources like the NRCS. These folks
provide equipment, information, and funding opportunities to farmers, such as grants for constructing high
tunnels, funds for assessing and improving water supply, and rental equipment that makes farm tasks more
manageable. You can support these organizations as a volunteer, as a donor, or by sharing information for
them through email networks and social media. Getting the word out about supportive organizations and
opportunities for farmers is very valuable!
Supporting farms and farmers through purchasing food from them is another great way to help mitigate
these challenges, for it creates the income stream necessary to prepare with proper tools, equipment, and
planning. For instance, when you purchase a CSA share, often times you transfer the funds for this share in
advance, which allows the farmer to purchase seeds, equipment, and generally prepare for the growing season
when it counts, in the winter or spring prior to growing. Any opportunity to support a farmer financially, such as
joining a CSA or shopping at a farmer’s market, is a great way to help their operation be viable. Without people
to buy their produce, the farmer simply cannot create a sustainable system or mitigate against the challenges
There are, however, noteworthy limitations to the direct-to- consumer model, as in CSA’s and farmer’s
markets. Through this model, farmers are responsible for marketing their own products, for spending full days
at the market themselves, managing their staff, doing all the farm accounting, and, at some point throughout
the day, actually farming. This is a lot to handle, and isn’t working for many farmers. Add to that the idea that
market forces themselves are a primary challenge to the NH farmer. It is hard for new farmers to enter current
markets, and even for existing farmers to maintain viability, based in the direct-to- consumer model alone.
Where we live in central New Hampshire, and we certainly aren’t alone in this, CSA’s and farmer’s markets are
Since accessing sufficient markets is primary challenge of the New Hampshire farmer, another
essential way to support the farmer is to demand local food in other places throughout the community. Good
places to start are schools, hospitals, summer camps, elderly and assisted living homes, restaurants and
grocery stores. There are many obstacles to supplying local food to these kinds of community organizations
and institutions, such as aligning supply and demand, building infrastructure, and the price and convenience
difference between industrially produced and locally produced goods. However, the more these places hear
about your demand for local food, the more obligated they become, and the more value they see, in the
possibility of sourcing locally.
Another great way to help create more market access for local farmers is to support a local or regional
food hub! This is exactly what we are trying to do as an organization, make the occupation of farming more
viable from production to market. Many food hubs are nonprofits, and all of them I’m sure accept donations on
a regular basis and through fundraising efforts, where your money goes to helping someone who is explicitly
dedicated to helping local farmers succeed. What the food hub identifies is the “missing middle”. While there is
industrial production and farmers market level production, there is a middle tier that is simply missing in the
food economy. This, the “missing middle”, is where the most potential lies, and exactly where the food hub
model is putting down roots in the effort to bridge the gap between local and regional producer and consumer.
Supporting a food hub is a great way to show your support of the farmer and is an emerging trend that is here
to stay! We have a fundraiser going now, designed to help build local food infrastructure, where the community
has the opportunity to support the viability of local food. Learn more at www.chuffed.org/project/bradford-
a v a j a n e: New Hampshire agriculture ranks in the top spot nationally for several aspects of the industry. The
state ranks No. 1 in the nation for both direct sales from farm to the public. It also ranks No. 3 for
women farm operators. Do you have any local female farmers in your Food Hub? Do you see any
increases in women getting into farming?
Hannah from KFH: That is very interesting to hear about New Hampshire’s rankings in direct sale and women farmers – I did not know that! It is a little surprising to hear that we are No. 1 for direct sales, since from where we are
standing there is a ton of untapped potential for getting more food from farm to public. Interesting!
One cool thing about the Kearsarge Food Hub is that we are about ⅔ women owned and operated. In
terms of our broader farmer network, there are many women farmers and value-added producers, like bakers
and jam-makers. At least half of our network is women operated. We have only been working in our local food
system for a few years, so have not had much of a chance to notice if there is an increase in women farmers,
but from our perspective a fair share of farmers and producers in our network are women.
KFH is looking to raise money for their next renovation
check out this video of their project and feel free to donate!
Also in my a v a j a n e news section there is a fun article on KFH and more on their story!
Kearsarge Food Hub