BERLIN — Interest in locally produced food and agritoursim is soaring nationally—and so are visitors to the region. Over six million people visit the White Mountain National Forest annually. In response to these trends and the growth in members representing the local food and farm cluster, the Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network is expanding their focus on supporting these enterprises. WREN already hosts farmers’ markets in Bethlehem and Berlin and sell value-added products in the stores, so expanding the program is a natural fit.
With support that includes the Neil and Louise Tillotson Fund, Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare Foundation, N.H. Charitable Foundation, USDA Rural Development, and Wholesome Wave; WREN will be offering one-on-one coaching to farms and businesses, increasing access to fresh food for families, and participating in the development of the regional food system. This winter, WREN will host webinars in season extension, farm food safety, accessing new markets, and diversifying a farm operation.
The goal is simply to improve lives and livelihoods by helping farms and local food businesses grow and access new markets, such as tourists. Other benefits to this region include better diets for residents, preservation of farmland, job creation, and more dollars circulating in the local economy.
Some opportunities already exist, such as the farmers’ markets around the region and the Littleton Coop. WREN is part of a group that is exploring providing locally grown food to hospitals. WREN helps farms evaluate new opportunities and bring them cutting edge technologies, resources, and market research. The University of New Hampshire is studying best practices for growing spinach in tunnels, for example. This type of research addresses the North Country challenge of a short growing season and lack of winter availability of produce. According to Home Grown, a study by the N.H. Department of Agriculture, residents only produce six percent of the food in the state. There’s lots of room for additional production.