Will New Hampshire’s pandemic preference for locally grown food last?

  • Kathy Doherty of the Sanborn Meadow Farm at the Canterbury Farmer’€™s Market on Wednesday. Doherty said her farm had one of its best year during the pandemic because of people wanting local know products. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/2/2021 5:15:41 PM

One of the changes the pandemic brought to New Hampshire was increased appreciation for local food, as shown both a new UNH survey and the results at farmers markets and farm stands.

The question is whether new habits will last as grocery stores and food supplies return to pre-pandemic levels.

“I’m hoping that continues, even though things have opened up,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the Division of Agricultural Development. “I hope that people who had never shopped locally, or done it minimally, learned that the quality of the food is worth their continuing to shop at farmers markets and farm stands.”

One reason for optimism, she said, is that coping with the changes brought by COVID-19 led many local producers to make some improvements that had long been discussed, especially adding curbside pickup and online ordering, which will be easy to continue.

Certainly, people seem to like it.

Half of New Hampshire residents say they buy “local farm food” at least a few times a month, according to a web-based Granite State Poll of 903 residents in May. Not surprisingly locally-sourced food was most popular among people in the three counties in the Connecticut River Valley, which has the state’s best farmland, and least popular north of the White Mountains but Merrimack County also did well: 68% of respondents there bought local farm food at least occasionally.

They were most likely to report that it was easy to get to traditional sales models like farm stands, physical stores and farmers markets.

The survey, from the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH, also saw a lot of room for improvement. For example, only about 30% of people said CSAs, in which customers pay in advance for access to seasonal crops from a farm, were “easily accessible” and less than a quarter knew of online platforms for local food.

People in the survey were recruited from randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers.

New Hampshire has been working to enlarge local production for decades, with reasons ranging from increasing food security to providing jobs to adding tourism attractions. Direct sales to consumers, such as through farm stands, have grown sharply over the past few decades, but it has proven difficult to maintain the infrastructure for agriculture, such as sales outlets for tractors or meat processing facilities for cows, sheep and chickens.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)

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