Getting Back to Our Roots
‘Karen and Jay share thoughts on the value of enjoying all that is local.’
There is something special about ‘local.’ Shopping local. Growing local. Eating local. Living your life around being ‘local.’ There is a sense of community. A depth of relationships. And, just a plain goodness and feeling of being connected.
Take for example the story of a local woman, Gail McWilliam Jellie. Back in the late 90’s, Gail had just started a new job with the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture. In her role, she was tasked with helping farmers from across the state face some of the economic and ecological challenges they faced. In conversation after conversation, the one resounding answer she received from farmers was that they’d like to be able to sell directly to restaurants, but they didn’t have the relationships or resources to do so. As Gail put it, you’d find it tough to go to a restaurant in the state and find a salad with New Hampshire grown green. Connecting these farmers with local and regional restaurants wouldn’t necessarily be easy, but Gail was up to the task.
Around this time, a movement in the world of restaurants was growing called ‘Farm-to-Table,’ aimed at reconnecting folks with the ingredients that go into their food and the people that grow them. Perhaps you’ve heard of it or even eaten at a restaurant that considers itself farm-to-table. In New Hampshire, Gail started what is known as the New Hampshire ‘Farm to Restaurant Connection,’ a network that links New Hampshire farms and food businesses with New Hampshire restaurants. Still operating today, their work celebrates New Hampshire’s rural heritage and open spaces, helps to protect the environment and looks to sustain local economies through promotion of our agricultural products and education of the public on the importance of local food security.
And why is this work so important? In a state not necessarily known for its farming, New Hampshire still has an impressive 3,100 farms. In the age of big commercial farming and in the wake of the pandemic, our local farms represent such an incredible part of our communities and our state, not just from an economic perspective, but a human one. This becomes obvious every so often when I venture down to the local farmers market in Portsmouth. The passion of the local purveyors selling their goods is second to none. Not to mention the quality of their ingredients will improve any meal you put together and there’s nothing better than an amazing meal. As Dan Barber, one of the thought leaders of the farm to table movement, once said, “food is a process, a web of relationships, not an individual ingredient or commodity.” While we may not be able to locally buy all of our needed provisions, by doing so when we can, we not only support our neighbors, we support our community, and ultimately the values we cherish right here in New Hampshire.
Strawbery Banke – New Hampshire’s Oldest Neighborhood
The Strawbery Banke museum located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is a living museum that preserves the founding of our state. Over 110,000 people visit this site every year to learn more about life in the bygone era. We are fortunate to have this local treasure to enjoy because it barely escaped destruction in an incident that few people would be aware of today.
Strawbery Banke is based in the Puddle Dock neighborhood in Portsmouth and in 1950 was targeted for urban renewal as many of the buildings and houses in the area were dilapidated. Despite an honest, well-meaning intent to revitalize a deteriorating section of town, in effect, the initiative began tearing down buildings built in the 1600’s. At first, no one seemed to notice or care about the destruction until a local librarian raised the issue that they might be erasing our history, our past. This librarian went to her local rotary club to raise the alarm. Suddenly awakened, the local community got behind her idea that while the neighborhood did need to be revitalized, it was also critical to protect our heritage. Thus, Strawbery Banke was born!
Strawbery Banke sits near the water and was (and still is) the oldest neighborhood in New Hampshire going back to its founding in 1630 by Captain Walter Neale. The location gets its name (surprise!) because of all of the berries that were growing along the Piscataqua River and became a foothold for European settlers as they expanded into New Hampshire and what would become the United States.
Today, Strawbery Banke boasts 37 buildings with all but two on their original foundation and are centered around a now filled-in water way, hence the name ‘Puddle Dock.’ With costumed historians and era-correct furniture, this 10-acre time capsule is one of New Hampshire’s best learning opportunities and a great way to honor and remember our past!
Farmers Markets 2.0
Evolution: Every day, we are evolving. Thus, no surprise. Our wonderful Farmers Markets are evolving as well. What started as vegetable stands on the side of the road have now evolved to as scheduled events in the spring and summer where small businesses and local produce sellers can come together and sell their fabulous fruits, vegetables and more. This has become such a widespread phenomenon that today there are nearly 8,700 farmers markets in the United States, and in 2015, more than 167,000 local farms sold products direct to consumers totaling $8.7 billion in sales.
Here in New Hampshire, we are seeing the exciting beginnings of some additional evolution. . Recently, the Granite State has introduced a series known as the ‘Winter’s Farmers Markets.’ That’s right, during the winter months, the show now still goes on. During the end of 2020 and through the first quarter of 2021, nearly a dozen winter farmer’s markets took place across the state.
Another innovation has recently been introduced in in Newfields, NH, near the seacoast, where the Vernon Family Farm is doing something awesome. Traditionally, the farm would promote and sell their products including poultry at the Seacoast Farmers Market. Today, however, the farm is hosting live events on-premise featuring their products which you can purchase and eat right there while enjoying live music and enjoy as they say: “a ‘boot stomping’ fun time on the farm.” Patrons can enjoy freshly cooked BBQ or fried chicken that is to die for!
I invite you to learn more about the exciting progress happening on our farms by visiting www.agriculture.nh.gov And the next time you're out on the seacoast, take a swing over to the www.vernonfamiilyfarm.com and enjoy some amazing food and entertainment. Hope to see you there!
Positive Profile of the Week: Doug Scamman
I am delighted to highlight a great friend and selfless public servant this week, Doug Scamman. In addition to serving many years in state and elective office, Doug has also distinguished himself as a successful businessman and leader in the agricultural community. A true Granite State public servant, not everyone knows that Doug grew up on a 13-generation farm in Stratham, NH.
With public service in his family’s history, Doug’s father served as Speaker of the House and was a candidate for Governor in 1952. Subsequently, as a very young man, Doug served in the New Hampshire State Legislature while still in college at UNH, where he also met his wonderful wife Stella. Interestingly, Doug went on to be elected as Speaker of the New Hampshire House ovr two separate spans of time. First, serving as Speaker for two back-to-back terms from 1986 to 1990. Then, again in the early 2000’s (2004-2006) when he and Stella both got elected from Stratham to serve the people of New Hampshire.
Interestingly, Doug’s career of public service for New Hampshire has also extended beyond his role as elected legislator. In 1993, Governor Steve Merrill appointed Doug to serve as his Budget Director. Later on, Doug would also go on to serve as the Director of Administration in the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.
Back home in Stratham, Doug has also been a steward of our history and our environment. In 1999, he turned over control of the family farm to the next generation while also preserving over 400 acres of land.
And when it comes to politics, there is no better place to visit then the Scamman home. Doug and Stella have opened the grounds to host so many. President Bush visited the farm in 2004, Mitt Romney launched his 2012 bid for the White House at the farm, Scott Brown rallied the 2014 Republican ticket together there, and for years the annual Seacoast Federation of Republican Women has held their immensely popular ‘Chili Fest’ on the Scamman farm grounds.
We offer great thanks and pay tribute to Doug for his many decades of honest and selfless service to our state. I am especially grateful to have known him as a wonderful friend and colleague for all these many years.
Quotes of the Week: Farmers
“As long as there’s a few farmers out there, we’ll keep fighting for them.” – Willie Nelson
“When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.” – Daniel Webster
“Agriculture is our wisest pursuit, because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson
“The farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” – John F. Kennedy
“The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” – Will Rogers