The Monadnock Region of NH has a robust farm community that provides a variety of products to market in this rural area of 100,000+ people. While the region has more than 100 small farms and more than a dozen farmers’ markets, it is not easy for farmers to bring their produce to wholesale markets in the region, such as schools and assisted living facilities. On the consumer side, low-income residents have access difficulties in this spread-out region. According to Keene Housing, a local organization dedicated to providing safe and affordable accommodations for the elderly and low-income families, 63 percent of respondents to its recent survey did not have a personal vehicle; of those without a personal vehicle 70 percent said they were somewhat/very concerned about their ability to afford nutritious food for their family.
In 2014, Cheshire County Conservation District, a Healthy Monadnock partner, created Monadnock Menus, a project to get more local food to institutions and low-income families. The project consists of an online sales platform, trucking and a delivery schedule. Not only did institutions get a streamlined solution to ordering local food but Monadnock Menus’ recent Farm to Family Buying Club pilot program, created with the help of Keene Housing, is bringing affordable fresh local produce to low-income families. Families can use the buying club with another program, Granite State Market Match, to get $1 for every $1 they spend on local produce (up to $10 each week).
Monadnock Menus, now in its second year of operation, expected $50,000 in sales its first year; it reached $61,000. The target for 2015 is $100,000; it plans to exceed that amount. Participating producers are up by 25 percent over last year and now include school districts, hospitals, nursing homes, a correctional facility, local marketplaces and more. The project’s Farm to Family Buying Club pilot, launched this year, expected 10 families to participate; 45 families have registered. This program will not only give easy and affordable access of healthy food to low-income families, but it also provides a new untapped market for local farmers.
Local food is as popular as organic food, but getting affordable local food to a broader population is difficult. The lack of a streamlined ordering/delivery system makes it challenging for institutions to order local food efficiently and economically. The lack of transportation among low-income residents makes it difficult for low-income families to travel easily to farmers’ markets. Monadnock Menus has been successful in overcoming these obstacles by providing a streamlined method of ordering/delivery of wholesale produce to local institutions and low-income buying clubs.
Monadnock Menus is supported by grants from the NH Charitable Foundation, NH Department of Agriculture, USDA Rural Enterprise Grant, and the CDC. Monadnock Menus has a service fee of 15 percent, lower than the cost of traditional food distributors. It will become self-sufficient when sales reach $250,000 annually; it plans to reach that goal by year-end 2017. Monadnock Menus is using its next grant-supported years to upgrade its marketing, branding and outreach. It recently received a grant to survey its buyers to better understand their needs and to purchase equipment for farmers to lightly process produce for marketability.
“Using Monadnock Menus saves me time and resources …. It allows the farmer and small producers to spend more time growing, raising or creating their products and less time marketing and selling to individual businesses.” – Denise Meadows, buyer, Hannah Grimes Marketplace, Keene NH.
Next time you are eating out or in a cafeteria, be sure to choose locally grown food. Better yet, tell them about Monadnock Menus and get them on board supporting our local food systems.