by Edith Tucker
EAST BARNSTEAD, NH – Gov. Chris Sununu proclaimed the first week of August as the 21st Annual New Hampshire Farmers Market Week while visiting the Barnstead Farmers Market on Saturday, Aug. 8.
The Granite State’s recognition coincided with the 2020 National Farmers Market Week that’s celebrated across the country.
The governor earlier proclaimed all of August as the state’s annual Eat Local Month, designed to highlight NH’s food and agricultural production. August is the peak of the summer growing season, when a variety of foods are harvested.
Sununu, together with Commissioner of Agriculture Shawn Jasper, visited three farmers markets that week: Rochester, Concord and Barnstead. Jasper also visited Lebanon’s farmers market.
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared an emergency, Sununu designated farmers markets as essential businesses. This recognition spurred all involved into making adaptations to provide shoppers with safe access to locally grown foods. The NH Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food distributed signs to farmers markets across the state to help customers become aware of common sense safety precautions. “Let us help you with your items” and “Avoid touching products you don’t intend to buy; tell us what you want, and we’ll gather them and bag them for you” some read.
“Farmers markets provide an important venue for farmers to market their freshly picked produce,” explained Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the Division of Agricultural Development, who also visited Barnstead. “These markets also connect farmers directly to customers, offering them the opportunity to converse with those who grow the fresh and nutritious products they sell.”
Sununu stated in his official proclamation that “New Hampshire has nearly 65 farmers markets in communities throughout the state, including more than 20 winter-season markets, which offer farm-fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs and dairy products, maple syrup and plants.” He touted the fact that during the pandemic many of these local markets were set up so SNAP benefits could be redeemed.
“The Barnstead Farmers Market was developed in 2016, responding to producers’ desire to create an awareness of the large number of farms in the community,” explained market manager Lori Mahar, who also serves on Barnstead’s Board of Selectmen. “It’s nonprofit; it’s a 501(c)3, with a dedicated board of trustees. Our market is open on Saturday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon for 16 weeks, mid-June through Columbus Day weekend.
“A variety of vendors are represented, including organic farms and locally grown vegetables, USDA meats, maple syrup, honey, jams and jellies, flowers, herbs, baked goods, barbecue sauces and soaps,” she said.
UNH junior Cassandra Fern, a dietetics major who is interning as the market coordinator, welcomed shoppers as they arrived, offering them masks if they did not already have one on.
The Barnstead Farmers Market rents space each week to the nonprofit Fresh Start Farms, opening up the opportunity for a variety of refugee and immigrant farmers to sell their produce on a rotating basis. Farmers markets in Amherst, Concord, Rochester, Bedford, Manchester, Nashua, Newmarket and Salem also rent space to the nonprofit. The Organization for Refugee and Immigrant Success, a registered nonprofit corporation, is the umbrella organization that aids new Americans who want to grow and sell fresh produce. Sununu bought some carrots from Fresh Start farmer Godance Ndabumvirubusa of Concord.
Speaking briefly, Sununu praised the Barnstead Farmers Market volunteers “who dug their heels deep” despite the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic and declared that they would not be deterred from continuing their important work. The governor noted, “You know the importance of micro-businesses in your community and their connection with townspeople.”