NH Made Local Stars Celebration Dinner

7 Jun

When I think of the “going local” movement, the first word that comes to my mind is unity.  Buying locally and supporting local businesses unifies so many people not only in the confines of our smaller town communities, but also the larger communities of the regions of New Hampshire, and the state itself.

Last night, Charlie Burke, President of the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection, was nice enough to invite me to a spot at his table at the New Hampshire Made Local Stars Celebration Dinner. Located at the Grappone Center in Concordphoto, a NHFRC Certified Local restaurant, Executive Chef Trish Taylor is no stranger to sourcing locally.  The menu included meats, vegetables, breads, and desserts from all over the state of New Hampshire.

Walking in, your picture was automatically snapped on a small read carpet leading to the main table. After picking up my name tag, I perused the auction table filled with various New Hampshire goods from craftsmen, farmers, smokehouses and the likes (the program with complete list of silent auction donors can be found at http://www.nhmade.com/Dinner%20Program%202013.pdf). Cocktail hour consisted of local cocktails, beers, and wines from Sea Hagg Distillery, Hermit Woods Winery, and many more. For those of us under the legal drinking age (by four short months) there was a selection of soft drinks from Squamscot Beverages, milk from Bartlett Dairy Farm, and water from Nh20 Spring Water Company. I filled my plate with an assortment of local cheeses and rustic flatbread crackers, stealing a mushroom and sausage tart and a mini quiche from the waitress.

After cocktail hour, Trish Ballantyne, NH Made Executive Director, had a brief welcome speech and sent us to the stations on each side of the room to begin venturing into each perfectly made local dish. I decided to make my way to the salad station to start, choosing fresh braised greens topped with strawberries, bacon, and feta cheese. So engaged by every station, I made the executive decision to drop off my salad and head for the carving station for the roast rib eye of beef with braised baby bok choy. I could not have been more delighted with my choice. The meat was perfectly pink, the bok choy perfectly braised, and the greens were fresh and flavorful.  After finishing my first plate, I moved on to the venison ragout and handcrafted rolls. The venison was so tender it practically fell apart in my mouth. After giving myself a few minutes to digest, I made my way to my favorite table, the dessert table. I have a ravenous sweet tooth, and the table was no disappointment. Unfortunately my eyes are much larger than my stomach and I decided to only have a small strawberry yogurt parfait and mini whoopie pie.

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After eating, NH author and humorist Rebecca Rule had the whole room laughing with her New Hampshire related jokes, poking fun at the small towns and funky dialect. Overall, last night showed that people from all areas love to come together over a plate of food and the sound of laughter to support local businesses and local people. Delicious food, great company, and an outstanding love for our little state brought everyone together, and left everyone fulfilled.

Mikaela DiGesu

 

Sustainable Food Systems: Framing Collaborative Research at UNH

6 Jun

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be able to attend a meeting at the Browne Center with the UNH Sustainability Institute for a meeting titled “Sustainable Food Systems: Framing Collaborative Research at UNH”, under the primary research pillar at the Sustainability Institute entitled the Sustainability Research Collaboratory (SRC).  The meeting began with an introduction to sustainable food systems by Dr. Tom Kelly, Chief Sustainability Officer and founding director of the Sustainability Institute, including an introduction to Food Solutions New England, a learning/action network focused on New England state food planning.

Brian Donahue, Associate Professor of American Environmental Studies at Brandeis University, presented ideas and findings on a New England food and farm vision as a kicking off point for group discussions. In Brian’s presentation he discussed the idea that it takes roughly 1 acre of land to feed each person, with beef and dairy the largest part.  He also discussed the fact that 5% of New England is in farming, producing 10-15% of our food, so in order to increase locally grown food; we must increase the amount of farmland that there actively is.

This vision is based off of 5 main assumptions:

1)   There will be a slow population growth to about 17 million, urban and suburban being the majority.

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2)   The diet eaten by this population will be a healthier diet—less meat, fewer calories, and more fruits and vegetables

3)   The energy used will be more expensive energy

4)   Sustainable farming will minimize negative impact on the environment, including intensive agriculture in urban and suburban areas

5)   The farmland will increase from 2 million to 6 million acres, tripling New England farmland to 15% of New England

The preliminary findings discussed were that with 6 million acres, all 17 million New Englanders could grow half of their food, using a diet Brian called the “omnivore’s delight”.  This vision had an end date goal of 2060.  With a vision stretching across almost 50 years, there was obviously a lot of discussion to be had.  We broke from the larger group and were divided into 5 smaller groups to form research questions pertaining to the presentation we had all just seen.

After a brief, and might I add delicious, lunch break where we were able to network with those not in our groups, we returned to a larger grouping to discuss the main research questions that each group thought of.

Groups 2 and 4 thought of ideas pertaining to the larger, state level changes that need to take place.  Group 2 worded their question as follows “What are the local, state, and federal policies and practices that impact the food system?” Group 4 asked, “What shifts are needed in the structure and/or function of systems (market, policy, financial/capital, distribution, education, health, etc.) to implement the plan?” Both of these groups focused on how a new food system in New England must include policy makers and a larger systematic change.

Group 3, the group I was actively in, asked the question “How much urban/suburban/periurban land is available for food production (plants and animals) and how much is currently used in comparison to how much was used in the past. Who can or will provide the services of these new farms (and who is now)”. During our smaller group discussion, we discussed the idea of victory gardens during the war, and how self-sustainability was achieved in those times to a larger extent than it is now.

Group 1 presented us with the hypothesis that “Managing food system waste will improve food access, availability, productivity, and environmental resilience.”  This point sparked a larger discussion about the idea of having a more focused meeting on this topic.

Group 5 brought up the idea of community food producer co-ops (CSA, CSF, food hubs). They discussed what has worked, what hasn’t worked, how these co-ops can be made more efficient and effective, what education and support is needed, and the opportunity for a “co-ops’ co-op”. Further explained, this would be a place where groups keep local feel and independence by benefit from economies of scale such as purchasing, marketing, and data management.
This collaboration of ideas allowed for a grouping of people from all different areas to focus on one issue and attack it from different angles.  From environmental historians to economists, professors to Seacoast Eat Local members, it shed light on an issue that is important to all and proved that through collaboration, systemic change is possible. As my first “official” meeting setting, it was interesting to have a group discussion dynamic where all ideas were heard and deliberation took place. I’m anxious to attend other meetings with the Sustainability Institute in the future with progress being made.
Mikaela DiGesu

About the Author: Mikaela DiGesu, NHFRC Summer Intern

4 Jun

Hey Everyone!

I’m a rising junior at the University of New Hampshire and this summer I was lucky enough to be chosen as a Carsey Social Innovation Intern and to be placed under the amazing New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection. At UNH, I am majoring in Economics with a dual major in EcoGastronomy.  For those of you thinking, “EcoGast-what?!”, allow me to explain.  EcoGastronomy is an interdisciplinary dual major focusing on sustainable agriculture, hospitality management, and nutrition, teaching us how to integrate the idea of farm to fork into our every day lives, and the important social, environmental, and economic impacts that eating locally can have.

In my past year at UNH, I’ve become much more involved in the local food movement. I’ve become an active member of Slow Food UNH, where I’ve had the opportunity to participate in the creation of a cookbook, taken a trip up to Sugarmomma’s Maple Farm for NH Maple Weekend, and much more.  More recently, I have become the secretary of UNH’s Organic Garden Club, where I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the actual production aspect of local foods and attend the NH Northeast Organic Farming Association winter conference.

I can barely contain my excitement to be able to work with such an important and inspiring organization working towards true systemic change in our food system.

Thank you!

Mikaela DiGesu

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NHFRC attends “What’s On Your Plate?” food networking event

9 Apr

It was a last-minute decision for me to attend the “What’s On Your Plate?” event Tuesday morning, but boy am I glad I did. The event held at Pitman’s Freight Room in Laconia, NH was all about bringing like-minded individuals together to talk about their ideas for improving the current food system. The event was organized by an organization called Back to Farming at Laconia State School.

The morning began with a delicious, locally sourced breakfast donated and prepared by the owner of  Laconia Village Bakery, who donated food along with the Woodshed Coffee Roasting Company. After opening remarks by local food movement supporter, Karen Barker and Lorraine Merrill the New Hampshire Commissioner of Agriculture, everyone was asked to write down simple ideas about the food system and what they are doing to help the cause on post-its to share with those attending. I was excited to share with everyone that NHFRC is currently creating a list of farmers and local food producers that are interested in supplying food to restaurants and that we have a Certified Local program in progress as a way to recognize the efforts of New Hampshire restaurants and chefs.

After stuttering through introducing myself to the six others at my table, I was really able to open up and find a way to connect with each and every person I was sitting with. I met Chris Rueffert,  a Dietician at Lakes Region General Hospital . Chris was instrumental in arranging locally sourced cafeteria meals and Farmers Markets at LRGH and Franklin Hospital last year.  I also met a women by the name of Carol from Wolfboro who along with a business partner plans to open Cafe O.L.E.(Organic, Local, Edible) this September.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Leslie, the owner of Tavern 27 in Laconia, NH who shared with me her forward thinking ideas on our food system. I will defiantly be eating at Tavern27 soon!

By the end of the morning I was well on my way to having a great network of people from the Laconia area who are interested in the progress of our current food system in the Lakes Region.

Check out this poster everyone was given at the event: Everybody Eats! It has some really great ideas!

Please check out the Back to Farming at Laconia State School initiative by visiting their Facebook page.

Let’s keep the conversation going! Please let us know what your ideas are involving a sustainable local food system. Are you doing anything to help the cause?  If so, please share with everyone what you are doing!

New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection Creating Statewide List of Farms and Food Producers

28 Mar

It was at one of the first certification meetings of the New Hampshire Farm to Restaurant Connection that I was able to hear a chef speak first hand about the challenges of sourcing locally. I had no idea how strapped for time chefs could be until this meeting. The word “research” kept coming up in the conversation. What could a chef possibly need to “research”, I thought, besides recipes.

After visiting multiple restaurants during the certification process, I realized the need for a regionalized, statewide list of farms and food producers  willing to sell to restaurants, schools, hospitals and retailers. If we make it easier for the chefs to find local farm products, the expectation is that more will add them to their menus.

I started by listing farms and food producers that we knew from our work promoting New Hampshire farms and organizing these farms into regions. We also utilized listings of local farms by local food organizations, such as Our Table Monadnock, however the listings are far from complete.

We wish to grow this list so that it is current and extensive. Both farms and restaurants will benefit from partnerships created by these regionalized lists. If you are a farmer or food producer interested in being listed, please email us at farmtorestaurantstaff@gmail.com with the following information:

farm name

specialty products

contact person

email address

phone number

address

website (if applicable)

We want you on our list. Let’s finally provide easy statewide access to New Hampshire farm products for chefs, schools, hospitals, retailers and, of course, the general public.

Jennifer Aldrich, Plymouth State University, Tourism Management and Policy, Institute for New Hampshire Studies

Intern, NHFRC

The Margarita Grill of Glen, NH

26 Mar

After receiving an application from Margarita Grill in January, Charlie(president/volunteer of NHFRC), Rachelle(NHFRC volunteer) and I set out on a beautiful drive to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Upon arriving at the restaurant early, we found owner Corrine Rober meeting with a local soda distributor, who carries Squamscot Soda, to develop a relationship with him to list these sodas on the menu.  After spending only a few minutes with Corrine it was easy to see her passion for serving local cusine and even more for educating the public about the importance of eating local.

Corrine told of us her constant efforts to research and develop relationships with local farmers and food suppliers. She also told of us the efforts her husband was making to pick up the food from a farm outside of town.

I was delighted to find that the local food/wine was even promoted in the restroom on a small chalk board.  “Ask about our Week Of Mead!” was written on a chalk board. Visit the Margarita Grill Facebook page to keep up with the frequent special event weeks featuring local cuisine.

Margarita grill is now Certified Local! After evaluating the restaurant using our point system the HIGH score reflected their strong efforts in sourcing locally, promoting local artisans and musicians, and focusing on green and sustainable practices. The grill is also certified at the highest level by the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association’s Sustainability Program.

If you are in the area, stop on in for a taste of Southwestern style cuisine with local fare and look for our certified local stickers!

Heirloom Harvest Project

28 Feb

Last week Charlie and I visited the Portsmouth Brewery (the Brewery’s Chef, Todd Sweet is in the center of photo at left) which hosted a meeting of farmers and chefs sponsored by Chefs Collaborative. The meeting was run by Chef Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet Bistro and Josh Jennings of Meadow’s Mirth Farm in Stratham, NH. Both are members of a not for profit organization called  the Heirloom Harvest Project. The main reason for the meeting was to establish new relationships between farmers and chefs, focusing on matching local farms to particular chefs needs.

I had heard about genetically modified foods and how they are found in much of the food in the grocery store. Until this meeting I really didn’t know that there was such an easy way to avoid them. The Heirloom Harvest Project’s mission is to build public awareness about locally raised heirloom produce and heritage meats while highlighting the connections among farmers, chefs, and consumers through educational food-related events.

Wikipedia has helped me to understand this a little better:

An heirloom plant, heirloom variety, heritage fruit , heirloom vegetable is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings.

Essentially what we choose to eat creates a demand in the market and this is what farmers grow or raise. When we do not create enough demand for a particular variety of a food or species of animal, farmers are unable to profitably grow or raise it. Unless consumer demand changes, these plant and animal species will become extinct. New Hampshire is fortunate to have such a  wonderful organization fighting for variety in our food. You can show your support for the movement by attending  food events the Heirloom Harvest Project puts on each year or by purchasing some heirloom seeds to grow on your farm or in your garden.

The Heirloom Harvest Project two main food events:

Barn Dinner (Sept. 23rd): On-farm formal, several-course gourmet meal featuring locally grown heirloom produce (and locally raised meats)

Farmecue (July 15th): casual, family-friendly barbecue featuring locally raised heritage meats (and locally grown produce)

Please follow them on Facebook for details of upcoming events.

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