Farmers and fishermen say something's got to give at food forum

Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard takes questions from moderator Megan Grocki at the Food Solutions Forum at the University of New Hampshire on Tuesday.

DURHAM -- Granite Staters spend about $4 billion each year purchasing food sourced from outside the state. Meanwhile, New Hampshire farmers lose $8 million each year raising crops and livestock that together are worth $234 million.

Challenges facing the state’s farmers, fishermen and restaurant owners were discussed during a Food Solutions Forum at the University of New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Local fishermen harvest $35 million in seafood but are still facing market challenges due to global competition since most of the fish people eat in America is imported, according to those who attended the forum.

During a providers panel Tuesday morning, Eleanor Kane, owner of Brasen Hill Farm in Barrington, said either things need to change or something is going to give.

“We’re coming into a time in America where there’s a student debt crisis, a shrinking middle class, lack of wage growth. There’s this giant pinch on the folks who are typically supportive of the local food movement and a question we’ve been really asking ourselves is, ‘As wealth continues to consolidate, is there enough of a customer base to keep local farms afloat?’” Kane said.

According to a new report published by the Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, if each New Hampshire resident bought $5 of food each week from a local farm, these farms would earn $349 million in income, which is 1.5 times their current sales.

Those in the fishing industry agreed that something needs to change, and quickly.

Capt. David Goethel, a commercial fisherman from Hampton who has battled the federal government over at-sea monitoring costs, and Andrea Tomlinson, general manager of New Hampshire Community Seafood, said they are down to seven groundfishermen in the state.

Goethel, 66, says he has cut back to working 75 hours a week. He said people who are interested in the fishing industry in New Hampshire are not choosing the same path he did because the financial incentive is not there due to regulations.

Tomlinson said that means that in five years, there may not be a groundfishing industry in the region.

“Because we don’t have any what we call ‘young blood’ coming into the system, I’m seeing down the pike in five years that we may be a shellfish community supported fishery. We have a lot of oyster farmers here in Great Bay. We have a very productive scallop fishery. We have the Jonah crabs and we have lobsters,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson and her organization work to promote all the different species of groundfish caught off the coast, but she says a majority of Americans eat tuna fish from a can, salmon, shrimp and some tilapia, most of which she says is imported.

Annette Lee, co-founder of Throwback Brewery in North Hampton, and Kathleen Menegozzi, a social entrepreneur from New York who is working with a pizza parlor in the Lakes Region as it goes through an ownership change, talked about some of the challenges that face their industries.

Lee said the brewery tries to buy 60% of the malt it needs from within 200 miles of the brewery, but said there are challenges in pricing the food and beer so it is obtainable for people.

Menegozzi said while the supply chain is something the pizzeria is thinking about, the largest challenge is the fact that there are serious problems in the restaurant industry when it comes to how employees are treated.

Menegozzi said predatory sexual behavior and harassment of both women and men, psychological abuse, discrimination and long hours without overtime are stressors on local restaurant workers who provide the food to patrons.

Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was the only presidential candidate to participate in the forum. Gabbard said that as a U.S. representative from Hawaii, she has been trying to find ways to incentivize and empower local farmers and sustainable farming, even in urban communities.

Gabbard sais she is a supporter of next-generation educational programs for those interested in the food industry and said through farm and trade policies, farmers and fishermen can support the needs of their local communities once again.

In 2017, the milk industry in New Hampshire made $52.5 million, vegetables pulled in $18 million, maple syrup numbers were at $6 million and Christmas trees saw $3.3 million in sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

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