Published: 6/30/2020 6:20:15 AM
As organizations dedicated to building healthy, just, and resilient local food systems here in New Hampshire, we feel compelled to advocate for our state’s small and mid-sized farms.
Small and mid-sized farms have been unfairly overlooked in the distribution of COVID-19 Emergency Funds, as these are presently being allocated. By distributing a $1.5 million federal infusion only to farms that grossed $50,000 in 2019, the plan excludes almost 90% of the over 4,100 farms in the Granite State.
We voiced our concerns early on; the GOFERR Stakeholder Advisory Board requested testimony from NOFA-NH and other local farm or food organizations. To inform our comments we conducted a survey, to which two-thirds of the farmer respondents (40) reported negative financial impact from the public health crisis. However, a majority also reported an increase in demand for their farm products. These data were among the information we submitted to GOFERR, yet at the actual hearing on May 14 there was no mention of our input.
When GOFERR announced that the eligibility requirements would mean only the largest farms would receive the federal funds, we immediately took action. We made our concerns known through a letter sent to Gov. Chris Sununu, Agricultural Commissioner Shawn Jasper, and GOFERR Stakeholder Advisory Board member Scott Mason. Only Jasper responded, and he stated the N.H. Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food does not have the resources available to deal with “potentially thousands of applications” if the funds were opened up to all sized farms.
Jasper assumes that all New Hampshire farms would apply for these funds; however, we know that not all farms have experienced negative financial impacts from the pandemic. There are many farms (particularly those already geared toward direct-to-consumer distribution) that have seen an uptick in their sales due to greater consumer interest in buying local.
Lack of administrative capacity is a poor justification to deny a farm in need of a financial boost to help them weather these unprecedented times. Jasper was specifically asked by the GOFERR Stakeholder Advisory Board at the May 14 hearing whether his department had the capacity to distribute the CARES Act funds, and Jasper stated, “I’m now confident that we can process the paperwork to get the checks cut by the state treasurer.” He did not mention that they would only be capable of distributing the funds if 90% of New Hampshire farmers were excluded.
CARES Act funding could help many more of our state’s farms mitigate losses. There is still an opportunity to make this right; $4 million has been reserved for “emergency grants to ensure stability in the food supply.” Perhaps GOFERR would like to reconsider how vital New Hampshire’s small and mid-sized farms are in creating a robust food system, and open up those funds to helping them do just that.
(Colleen O’Brien, NOFA-NH board member, wrote this columnn on behalf of Gorhan Public Health Consulting, Greater Nashua Food Council, Hungry Bear Farm, Lost Nation Orchard, Main Street Cheese, LLC, Mountain Heartbeet, NOFA-NH (Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Hampshire), Peterborough Agricultural Commission, Seacoast Eat Local, Seacoast NH Permaculture, Stonewall Farm, and the Town of Durham Agricultural Commission.)