Farmland soils and protecting local agronomy, including in Wilton

To the Editor:

Driving down that peaceful New Hampshire road flanked with giant sugar maples a stone wall and a field on the opposite side with a view we think, my, what a great place for a house. It’s a common thought that has all too often become a reality.

More and more people in New Hampshire are taking another look and seeing it for what it is. It’s a piece of our heritage. It’s an agricultural field that has likely produced crops of various types and grazed sheep in earlier years when the woolen mills were dominant along the Merrimack River. We have lost a tremendous amount of our agricultural land and farmland soils to development since the 1980s. My neighbor owns a significant amount of farm fields and land around me in Weare and when I asked him why he hadn’t sold any, he responded, “Because you can’t make new land once it’s gone.” How true.

I have been in the soils profession since 1986 and have seen first-hand the loss of farmland soils and land that we may need in the future for agronomy. We all eat and most of us enjoy good food and appreciate fresh vegetables from the “local farm.” There are community supported agriculture farms popping up everywhere. Why? Because we are finally coming around to realizing the need to know how your food is grown and what is being used to produce it.

The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, formerly the Soil Conservation Service, now has a Farm and Ranchland Protection program that assists with financial grant money to protect prime farmland soils, Farmland soils of state importance and farmland soils of local importance. They will match up to 50 percent of the fair market value of the conservation easement on qualifying land. The required soil map must substantiate the soils as being prime, state or of local importance. The rest of the money for the easement has to come from the owner, municipality or other raised funds.

Prime farmland consists of specific soil types on gentle slopes that are known to be beneficial for crop production. I have had the opportunity to work on several of these conservation projects with The Russell Foundation. Most recently, we initiated through the FRPP process, an opportunity for High Mowing School in Wilton to preserve some of their land and Frye Family land in permanent agricultural easement.

This is a special project because not only does it preserve prime and farmland soil of state and local importance, the High Mowing School is expanding its curriculum to include small-scale organic crop production and local farming. This is a great opportunity for the student body to learn the old ways of small scale agriculture farming with new technology and bring it to us as they grow up and open those farm stands we all enjoy.

Local farming is on the come back from mass production agriculture. As demands grow on the Midwest and southern states for food, more and more chemicals are being used, genetic engineering is being done to make drought-resistant sub-species and we are less sure what exactly is on our plate. My personal garden has grown every year for 20 years and now I have two of them. We support ourselves with six-plus months of lettuce, potatoes and onions and a year of canned tomatoes and various peppers, not to mention all of the seasonal veggies. But not everyone has the time, space or desire to weed and care for personal gardens. This is why local farming and farming education is important.

Support local farms, farming education and opportunities to preserve our existing farm land. After all, it’s what’s for dinner!