From Sherry Young, Small and Beginner Farmers of NH (SBFNH):
I know you're all pretty busy at the moment but wonder if you could help me by putting your two cents in. I'm working on a grant proposal this week for a Specialty Crops grant. Specialty Crops are plants that require "intensive cultivation" and are useful for food, medicinal or aesthetic purposes. They're pretty much what we all grow here in NH. Our topography and urbanization make growing waving fields of commodity grains unfeasible for most of us.
The proposal is for a series of workshops. The first would be as centrally located as we can make it in this tall, skinny state. It would be a kind of kick off to talk about what a specialty crop is, why they're important to NH's–and your–agricultural bottom line and provide some examples of ideas of specialty crops people might want to grow but aren't sure about or things most of us haven't considered.
We're thinking about having a (lightly) moderated discussion with all the participants, partly to give everyone a chance to swap notes and partly to shape the rest of the series so it's useful for people.
Finally, a short segment on marketing.
Next we'd like to hold several shorter workshops around the state, using the results of the round table discussion to shape the topics and towns in which to hold them. For example, I know the North Country folks would like to learn more about growing winter greens. Most of our most active members up there are in the Colebrook area and I know from living up there that it's easier to travel from Berlin to Colebrook than down to Concord. That means it's kind of a no brainer to hold one of these workshops in Colebrook. We need to hear from them as to the topic.
The final workshop would be on marketing. I'd like to see some information on doing simple market research, establishing a customer base, using social media, the importance of branding (For example, I bought beef last summer to try out different vendors before making a commitment to a half side order. Some of them had no label so I didn't know who raised that beef! Too bad for both of us if it had been really, really good.), why and when you should consider paying a graphic artist to work their magic on your logo/packaging, etc.
So… here are my questions to all of you:
1) What time of year should we do this? Winter brings bad travel, summer lots of busyness. I'm not a farmer so I need some advice about any possible slackish times. For example, is July a time when things are planted, growing and not in a massive harvest rush? We won't find out if we got the grant until this December.
2) Where should we site the first and last daylong (or nearly so) workshops? I'm thinking Plymouth. When I look at the map it really is the center of the state.
3) Regarding the regional workshops (please include your town in your response):
– Should they be twilight meetings? Day time? Saturday mornings/afternoons?
– Topics? (Suggestions: winter greens; melons; mushrooms; sweet potatoes; ground cherries; apples/peaches/berries; flowers for cutting and/or drying; medicinal or culinary herbs; Belgian endive; just about anything organic; growing odd things like rhubarb under cover, whatever you can think of that you'd like to learn how to grow and market successfully)
4) Got any ideas for good speakers? Anyone you've heard or would like to hear?
I really, really, REALLY would find your opinions helpful in shaping this proposal. Really. I cannot promise to shoehorn everyone's ideas into the proposal but we want the series to serve our members.
By the way, I was talking to an ag statistic guy yesterday and discovered about 1/3 of the farmers in NH have been on their current farm 9 years or less–meaning there are lots and lots of beginner farmers out there. Also, when you put our acreage/income into a national context, just about every NH farm is considered "small."
There are lots of us in it together, folks.
Have a great day. Feel free to respond on the list or privately (email@example.com). The grant's due soon so don't be shy.