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January 07. 2013 7:33PM

'Buy local' effort to help NH farmers sell directly to consumers


Holly Gowdy hopes a new community marketing campaign will help her increase direct sales to consumers from her Walpole farm. (MELANIE PLENDA PHOTO)

KEENE - It used to be that the only thing that tweeted on a farm was the birds.

"You sold your produce and your livestock to people who would buy it, and you made your living and you got by," said Jillian Garcia, program coordinator for the Hannah Grimes Center, a business incubator in Keene. "Now, it's a little agribusiness. And with that comes your business planning, your sales planning and financial planning, and farmers just don't have time to do that."

Hannah Grimes, Cheshire County Conservation District, Antioch New England and a Manchester marketing firm are teaming up to help Cheshire County farmers increase their direct sales by teaching them how to get the message out to people that they exist and the benefits of buying local. The project will last for two years and is funded by a $62,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.

"The business end of farming is a challenge, and marketing is a big part of that," said Amanda Costello, district manager for the Conservation District, which is leading the project. Walpole farmer Holly Gowdy said she's in favor of the project since there are still people in the community who don't know how to go about eating and buying locally.

"We now have a really good, solid core of the population in Cheshire County who are savvy enough to understand a local economy and the importance of buying direct from a farmer," she said. "We need for that to continue to grow, and we need to reach into other segments of the population."

But it has not really been done before, said David Deziel, president of Nebesek Marketing and Communication of Manchester. Deziel's firm is developing the campaign, which is the first step in the process.

"People are really starting to think of buy local as a legitimate option increasingly," Deziel said. "At the same time, there are a lot of active, producing farms in Cheshire County growing terrific food. We just need to raise consumer awareness and start talking about food as it relates to taste and affordability."

He said the strategy will include breaking down the notion that buying fresh, local food is more expensive.

"In many, many cases, if you eat seasonally, and if you are a little more thoughtful in putting together your recipes, I think that it's a matter of pennies," Deziel said.

Deziel said they hope to have the campaign under way by early spring.

As for the Hannah Grimes Center, Garcia said workshops will be offered to farmers so they can better sell themselves and develop the skills they need to be successful beyond the marketing campaign. Some of these workshops may include how to build and maintain a website, social media tutorials and marketing basics, as well as how to build cooperatives among the farms.

Finally, Antioch University New England will work with low- to moderate-income families and individuals throughout the region to teach them how to cook with seasonal local and regional food.

Libby McCann, director of the Environmental Studies Department at Antioch New England, already helps local social service agencies get fresh food to low- and moderate-income families as part of the school's Community Garden Connections program. McCann said that as part of the farm marketing project, Antioch will hold cooking classes for these same families to promote buying from local farms and farmers markets.

For more information on the project, visit the Cheshire County Conservation District website at cheshireconservation.org.

mplenda@newstote.com



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