Growing Pains: What One N.H. Farmer Is Doing To Make Local Food More Profitable

With almost 60 farmers markets across the state, demand for local food is growing. But local farmers still struggle to make a profit growing local food. In fact, about three quarters of all farms in New Hampshire gross less than $10,000 from sales each year. The first installment in a summer business series investigating how a changing market place is affecting New Hampshire farmers, from NHPR:

At the Concord Farmers’ Market on a Wednesday evening in July, an older woman peers over a table at some whimsical looking vegetables shaped like a curlicues. She asks a young farmer standing behind the table what to do with them. “You just put it wherever you’d use garlic, or chives,” the farmer explains. “They’re good.”

This is the first summer Concord has had not one, but two farmers’ markets. And over in Durham, the farmers market has gone from five to 25 vendors in just a few years. So while there’s little hard data, there’s also little doubt: consumer demand for local meat and produce is growing.

You might think that all that demand would lead to at least family-sustaining profits for local farmers, but Agriculture commissioner Lorraine Merrill says profitability is “the biggest challenge” to farm sustainability.

Young farming couple Mike Hvizda (pronounced “Vizda”) and Ryan Ferdinand are greeted by a chorus of pigs and ducks on their farm in Boscawen. But they’ve not only kept their day jobs. They’re scaling their farm back. The money, Vizda says, just isn’t there:

You’re working at profit margins that a grocer or a lawyer or a car mechanic would just absolutely laugh at, they just wouldn’t try to sell something at that kind of margin.

Commissioner Merrill explains land here is expensive, and labor too, but most of all, New Hampshire farms are just too small to take advantage of the economies of scale farms enjoy further west.

Which means meat and produce grown here often aren’t consistent in quality, or consistently available, or convenient for consumers.

It smells like sawdust and strawberries at the Heron Pond Farm stand, a large wooden cabin at the junction of 150 and 107 in Kensington, near the New Hampshire seacoast.

Here, Andre Cantelmo is trying to change the face of farming in New Hampshire with two $16,000  Cryovac freezers, and an industrial kitchen, which grants from the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund and the Fair Food Network helped him afford. He says he is developing a “model for farms to say ‘this is the maximum way to transfer your surplus into dollars.’”

Inside a 33 degree freezer in the basement of his souped-up farm stand, Cantelmo explains how the freezers increase profits by increasing efficiency. Read more…

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