Souhegan Valley food co-op topic of meeting

WILTON – A Souhegan Valley Food Cooperative is getting closer to reality.

“It will be somewhere in the Souhegan Valley,” Michael Conley said on Sunday, March 8, at a gathering at Roam Café. “We need a real reliable place where people can get local food and provide local food producers and artisans with a market,” a place that is open at least several days a week.

Conley, a member of the Souhegan Transition Network, said the biggest problem right now is how to make it financially viable.

About 35 people had gathered at Roam Café on Main Street to discuss the documentary “Grow” they had just watched at the Town Hall Theatre. The film chronicles the efforts of several groups of young, enthusiastic organic farmers in Georgia. It stresses the growing concern of people to know where the food they eat comes from, what is used to produce it, and the value of locally grown fresh produce.

After a welcome and overview from Conley, the group separated into three sub-groups: outreach, governance and finances.

“We need ways to engage the community,” Conley told his finance group, and must find ways to make more people aware of the farming community and what it has to offer, and to help those farmers find sustainable markets.

“There are 11 food co-ops in New Hampshire,” he said, with the Monadnock group the largest in the area.

The immediate plan is to do a feasibility study, and do it within a year, at a cost of about $30,000. “We have to have start-up money and a plan to present to people,” said Conley.

The biggest event currently being planned is a “Farm to Table” dinner, and the group is looking for sponsors.

Other events designed to engage the community include farm tours, field trips to various farms, and open house tours. Conley recently presented the idea to the Milford Rotary Club, which he found enthusiastic.

“We want to partner with local businesses,” he said.

In another group, Amy Conley said they need to take a survey “to see what people want. We need to do advertising, get the word out. Create fliers.”

Serafin Anderson, one of the Wilton promoters of the co-op, listed the needs for a board of directors, for by-laws, to be a professionally run project.

Noreen O’Connell of Butternut Farm in Milford, commented after the discussion by email. She and her husband Tim started the Milford farmers’ Market 38 years ago.

“Everything has a cycle. When we started the only place to get fresh, local farm products was outdoor markets.” Now there are many venues, she said.

“Families have changed. All parents are working outside the home and/or taxiing kids to outside activities. Schedules are so crazy so trying to time a visit to a market is often difficult. The next swing is to cooperatives to adjust to those schedules and still get fresh, local products to the consumer and to support local farms for all those benefits. Farms are always evolving and this is another evolution,” O’Connell said.

Butternut Farm, she added, has “evolved to goats as well as vegetables and flowers.”

Tim O’Connell added the a co-op open five days a week could offer more products.

“On the farmer side, especially with so many smaller farms, marketing two to three days a week at farmers markets, there is little time for the other things that need to be done. Plus many crops such as cucumbers and squash should be picked at least every other day. The idea of harvesting in a timely manner and being able to deliver to a co-op and heading back to the farm would be a great advantage, especially if you have little or no hired help,” he said.

Among the supporters of the plan is the Wilton Community Garden on Carnival Hill. Nicole
Colwin-Griffin has been shepherding the program for five years. Plots are available to residents to raise vegetables. The garden is organic: no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are permitted.

The co-op, in conjunction with the Souhegan Transition Network, supports community gardens, and Community Supported Agriculture. There are five CSAs in Hillsboro County, with the Temple-Wilton Community Farm at Four-
Corers Farm in Wilton the oldest such enterprise in the country.

Conley can be reached at Michael@michael

For information about the Wilton Community Garden contact eccentric