I'm a localvore. And I support localvores. This is a story about how I helped them. And about several unique ways in which N.H. leads the country.
What is a localvore? It's someone who consciously buys & eats locally sourced food. Farm-to-table. It's about food grown by local farmers, purchased at farm stands or farmer markets or grocery stores, eaten in local restaurants or at home. But today I wasn't focused on helping a localvore by consumption. Today I supported this growing movement (couldn't resist) by directly helping the farmer.
It's autumn in New England and we're still in a pre-permanent frost time of year. This means farmers can still plant in preparation for next season. Today I helped by planting bulbs, garlic cloves actually.
It's not as if I was just helping at the farm myself. Today was a garlic planting party of sorts. Some 15 or 20 people showed up to help the farm in exchange for a lunch served up after the planting. It helps that the farmer isn't farming as a primary business, but doing so to supply fresh, local organic food to her restaurant, Blue Moon Evolution. So lunch was delicious!
So our job? First, while it's possible to plant an entire head of garlic at once, apparently the resulting plant is awkwardly bunched up as it sprouts & grows. The first task is to split garlic heads into individual cloves. Hundreds & Hundreds of garlic heads.
How many did we split? It's difficult to determine a count, but consider this: If we split 600 heads of garlic and each one is comprised of just 5 cloves, that's 3,000 cloves we then planted. It seems the heads actually hold more than 5 cloves; the average could actually be closer to 8 or 10, which means we may have planted as many as 6,000 cloves. Ha - our hands smelled great after this afternoon.
The second task is the actual planting of the cloves. This is the labor intensive part of the planting, as we need to dig a hole for each individual clove, place it butt-end down (there is a top to each clove) and fill in the hole.
The planting itself doesn't complete the process. The freshly planted bed needs to be covered, in this case with two layers. The third step is to lay some form of fertilizer, seaweed was used in this case to provide a nitrogen rich supplement.
The fourth & final step was to layer straw over the seaweed.
All in, 15-20 of us working for 2 hours represents a lot of planting time. This represents almost an entire work-week of effort. ...and hence the New England way of getting through the considerable effort this rite of fall planting represents is with a bit of neighborly help.
It turns out that New England leads the nation in localvore efforts. Vermont, Maine & New Hampshire specifically are the three states ranked highest. Yes - there is indeed a ranking system published by local food advocacy group, Strolling the Heifers. This is not just a New England state tooting it's own, or the general, New England horn. This trend is getting attention across the country, as you can see from this San Jose story.
But they're not the only ones tracking this upsurge in locally produced and consumed food. Local news source, Fosters.com, recently published an article about New Hampshire's growing local farm community. As the number of farms, measured nationally, has dropped by 4% since 2007, the number of farms operating in N.H. has increased by 5% over the last five years.
So New Hampshire is bucking the national downturn in farming! The U.S. Dep't of Agriculture figures N.H. farms bring in $275 million in (farming/non-tourist) revenues. Some 25% of NH farmers report most profits come from direct-to-consumer sales. In fact, NH ranks #1 in the country in this category of direct-to-consumer farm sales!
The same USDA survey ranks New Hampshire farms as #1 for organic sales as a percentage of total sales. ...and of course another unique aspect of NH farm ownership: #2 in the country, behind Arizona, in percentage of farms operated by women. These farming efforts are made all the more fascinating when you consider the state of New Hampshire is covered by the highest percentage of timberland of any state in the entire country.
For farmers, consumers and restauranteurs, it's not just about the revenue. As, [NH Farm to Restaurant](http://www.nhfarmtorestaurant.com/vote-with-your-fork/) explains, it's about the health benefits which local food brings in the form of higher nutrient content. Another benefit of local sourcing is advocated by Steve Holt writing for [Take Part](http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/04/04/can-new-england-source-half-its-food-locally-2060) about the climate friendly nature of locally produced food.
On the other side of the country, Washington based, Agrilicious not only espouses the same values, but tracks farms and markets involved in the movement. If you're curious, try their local search, for example, this one showing what's within 5 miles of Newmarket.
And it's not simply a grass-roots (another irresistible pun) effort. Government and business, such as Farm to Institution are fomenting organized collaboration efforts. Closer to home, seacoast efforts are pushed by Seacoast Eat Local. Boston-based, Conservation Law Foundation seems to have conducted quite an extensive study about this topic as well.
So dropping cloves into the soil is not just about garlic planting. It's really part of a movement, an effort to improve & sustain and plantings such as this are a small way to be a part and contribute.
A few other resources;
- Parenting NH
All photos - iPhone 6