Food hub is trying to connect local farmers with local eaters

  • Sweet Beet Farm Stand, the storefront for the Kearsarge Food Hub, is a Bradford initiative looking to set up a distribution network for local producers in New Hampshire. ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge Food Hub is a Bradford initiative trying to connect local farmers with local consumers. “Farm and Paint” is a monthly event the hub puts on to attract, educate and feed customers.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Garlic scapes are one of the numerous fresh local items Sweet Beet farm stand at the Kearsarge Food Hub sells.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • At a recent “Farm and Paint” session at the Kearsarge Food Hub, participants painted garlic scapes.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • “Farm and Paint” participants work on their art at the Kearsarge Food Hub in Bradford on a recent Saturday.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge Food Hub organizer France Hahn laughs during a “Farm and Paint” session on a recent Saturday.  ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Lettuce grows in one of the fields farmed by the Kearsarge Food Hub. In addition to growing their own produce to sell, the hub buys other local farmers’ crops wholesale to sell at Sweet Beet farm stand.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Purple cabbage grows at Kearsarge Food Hub’s farm in Bradford.  ELODIE REED—Monitor staff

  • Kearsarge Food Hub organizer Garrett Bauer picks cherry tomatoes to sell at Sweet Beet farm stand in Bradford. Bauer and four others began a non-profit to try and connect local farmers’ products with local consumers.  ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Friday, August 05, 2016

Just after 10 a.m., the dirt parking lot at Sweet Beet farm stand in Bradford
began to fill in.

Weaving between garden plants and each other’s accompanying dogs, Saturday shoppers filled the shady stand and perused the assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, bread, meat and dairy. The smell of breakfast sandwiches wafted from the kitchen in the back of the stand, and past a field chock-full of unpicked produce, 10 people sat under a green tent, drank mimosas and contemplated a painting of garlic scapes they were about to imitate.

In the middle of all this activity was Garrett Bauer, a 27-year-old Bradford resident, and one of the 20-somethings behind the Kearsarge Food Hub. With experience and inspiration from working at Kearsarge Gore Farm in Warner as kids, Bauer and four others have erected the wooden farm stand, planted three fields and networked with local partners for the past year.

“We wanted a space where we could interact with producers and consumers on the same level,” he said, adding that Sweet Beet is in its second season.

The hub isn’t exactly self-sufficient yet – all of the organizers have other jobs and are currently holding a fundraiser – but the market sales keep the project afloat.

“We’ve done this with all our own funding and the help of our community,” Bauer said.

He said the hub is still “really under the radar” and is currently aggregating food from local farmers, though it doesn’t have a formal distribution system yet.

“We’re not quite a real food hub,” Bauer said. “Food hubs are still an emerging idea and they’re not necessarily the first place farmers are thinking about selling their food.”

Kearsarge Food Hub is however, clearly something. In addition to buying wholesale from more than two-dozen nearby farms and selling those items as little as possible in the farm stand, the hub has worked with several area schools and organizations to provide fresh produce and working opportunities in its one and three-quarter acres of farm fields.

The hub aims to provide new markets for local or new farmers. Bauer said they “have a corn guy,” who, in past years, has sat out at a stand to sell his corn, but now, just sells it to Sweet Beet farm stand, which then does the sales work.

Bauer said the hub is also experimenting with processing leftover, unsold farm products into pesto and dips, canned vegetables and prepared meals.

“That’s the step toward the food hub as well,” he said. He added that with processing, there’s a lesser risk in purchasing local, fresh food.

The big picture goal, Bauer said, is to become a distributor for local food to the institutions in the area: Kearsarge School District, Colby-Sawyer College and New London Hospital.

“It’s all about logistics at this point,” Bauer said. He added that their nonprofit has just had preliminary conversations with Sodexo, the food management company for Colby-Sawyer College.

For now, the Kearsarge Food Hub is just trying to get the word out while trying to make local food as accessible as possible.

“We’re just trying to get people to talk about food – the more education and the more we talk about it as a community, the more we understand it and the more we can affect it,” said Bauer.

In addition to Sweet Beet farm stand, the hub holds regular food-inspired events, such as monthly “Farm and Paint” sessions modeled after the popular “Sip and Paint” events.

At a “Farm and Paint” led by instructor Mia Marzelli on a recent Saturday, three generations of Bradford women followed along as the group painted garlic scapes.

Grandaughter Abigail McHugh said she and her family has been shopping and attending events at Sweet Beet Farm since it opened.

When asked why, McHugh responded, “Local farms, local food, community.”

McHugh, her mother and grandmother – along with the other painters – would later eat a fresh garlic scape-pesto pizza and blueberry pie.

“In the face of an ever growing industrial food system, we just want to support people doing good work and help other people eat their food,” Bauer said. “It all comes down to building this sense of community and surrounding ourselves with something good – which is the food.”

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)