Farming is hard. Small family farms struggle. Debt is strangling. Markets are on the decline.
We hear it a lot. These things are all true, and make no mistake- small farms in our region are feeling the pinch, especially in this summer of drought and baking sun. But, there is a more nuanced story to tell – and here is one of those stories, featuring growth, investment, and yes- a good portion of the struggle and risk we hear so much about.
Phil and Becky Brand started Brandmoore Farm, a certified organic operation, on a parcel of conserved land in Rollinsford in 2012. There was a home, several barns and buildings, some equipment, and land for farming and grazing. The space had a history of agricultural use, most recently by Brookford Farm who called Rollinsford home before expanding to a new property in Canterbury, NH.
In the very beginning, the young couple milked only 4 cows by hand. They had a vision, Becky remembers, of being “a place where people can come, where they can find diversified products, connect to community, and support multiple businesses.”
Five years on, that vision has largely come to fruition and continues to grow. Along with the growth of the farm, their family has also grown! Becky and Phil welcomed their first child, a son, last winter.
Brandmoore Farm offers a CSA; attends summer (Exeter) and winter (Exeter and Rollinsford) farmers’ markets; manages an on-site farm store; and produces a wide variety of organic products from flowers to pork, beef, the spectrum of vegetables and the dairy products like yogurt and raw milk that they are known for. In keeping with that original vision of diversity and partnership, Brandmoore Farm has teamed up with Embers Bakery to offer a bread add-on to their CSA and is also a pickup location for New Hampshire Community Seafood’s fish share program.
With growth, though, comes significant investment and loans to finance the costs of equipment and infrastructure. While the farm is on track to pay off its initial loan for start-up costs next year, there have been many changes, upgrades and investments in their 5 years of business.
More cows (now up to 53 total animals) means more production, but also greater need for bulk tank space, pasteurization capacity and large equipment to support hay harvesting. Since starting operation, Brandmoore Farm has invested in a hay tedder, large tractor, increases in their herd size, a bulk tank and a vat pasteurizer.
Becky Brand describes these investments as part of their business philosophy, “Staying here and remaining in operation means continuing to invest and grow. Otherwise, any capital you have or loan you take goes towards repairs on outdated equipment that can’t grow with you.”
While the overall picture of growth and continued investment is certainly one to celebrate (to Phil and Becky’s credit), there are always unforeseen factors causing negative impacts on their, and often on other, farms. Two summers of drought have taken their toll on many vegetable crops across the seacoast. In addition to impacting market vegetables, drought reduces hay yields – meaning less available feed for their certified organic dairy animals. Organic certified hay is not only costly, but often difficult to find. Less volume or lower quality hay impacted by drought also has the potential of decreasing milk production at the time of year when production levels are already lower, but the farm sees the most foot traffic.
Beyond weather, human factors also have the potential to negatively impact farms, including Brandmoore. Generally, farmers’ market attendance and sales have been down for markets and producers across the region. There’s ongoing talk of the farmers’ market ‘bubble’ having burst.
So, in the midst of adverse climate factors and market variability, what’s a farm to do?
In part, keep investing in and committing to the community that has helped them grow thus far.
Brandmoore Farm’s latest investment over this past winter was a new, larger vat pasteurizer as well as renovations to their barn that will allow for cheese production and storage. “It was a natural next step,” Becky explains, “We were ready for something new and customers have always asked us about cheese. This step will allow us to add new products and make the best, most efficient use of our resources.”
What then, can the average consumer do to support Brandmoore and other family farms like it scattered across the Seacoast?
In this specific instance:
- Brandmoore Farm offers credit options for their farm store for those who don’t feel able to commit to a full CSA. Purchase credit in the amount that feels right for you.
- Consider their CSA program (and the add-ons) for next year. Sign up in February during Seacoast Eat Local CSA Days!
- Stop by the farm store for a range of available, certified organic, meat, vegetable and dairy products
- Contribute to Brandmoore Farm’s kickstarter campaign, geared towards helping them pay down some of the debt incurred for their new cheesemaking room and vat pasteurizer. Show them some cheese, so they can make some for you! Support them today!
- Purchase a CSA or Farm Store Credit: CSAs help farmers plan and invest in their future crop just at the time when they need it most but have the least amount of expendable income. CSAs come in many shapes and sizes. To learn more, visit our informational page: http://seacoasteatlocal.org/find-local-food/csas/
- Shop the market: Farmers need you out there, every week, supporting what they do and helping to make sure that they can sell everything they grow. Every little bit helps.