Saturday August 3, 2013

WALPOLE, N.H. -- U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., recently announced that the Cheshire County Conservation District will receive a $40,000 federal grant to support locally grown food and create jobs for growers around the Monadnock Region.

The grant, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), comes through the agency's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program (RBEG), which helps support emerging rural businesses around the country. The conservation district will use the money to support the Monadnock Menus program, an aggregation and food distribution service aiming to connect growers with institutional and wholesale buyers.

The program was launched earlier this year, through other USDA funds, as a way to help local farmers and food producers market and distribute their products to local schools, businesses and other institutions. District Manager Amanda Littleton said the USDA grant will help administrators grow the program by developing business and marketing plans, among other strategies to help reach new customers.

"It helps take the barriers away for the buyers because it makes it really easy and convenient," she told the Reformer, adding that area catering services, nursing homes, summer camps and the Cheshire County Department of Corrections all utilize Monadnock Menus. "We're looking to really grow the buyer base. We want to make it a one-stop shopping experience for folks."

Littleton said a portion of the grant money will also be used to figure out what legal status makes the most sense for the program, whether it be a limited liability company (LLC) or something else, and to try to form an advisory board.

According to a statement from Kuster, the money will also help local growers create or retain as many as 40 jobs around the region.

"Not only does New Hampshire produce some of the best food in the country, but locally grown products create jobs and support the state economy," she said. "This grant will help local food growers reach new customers and make sure others get a taste of what New Hampshire has to offer."

RBEG grants are available to towns, state agencies, community groups and other entities to support rural construction, renovation and development projects, among others. Additional information on the RBEG program is available at www.rurdev.usda.gov.

The Cheshire County Conservation District has also planned an event to explain how gleaning, the act of collecting leftover crops on fields that have been harvested or that are not economically profitable to harvest, can tackle hunger, reduce food waste, support local growers and build a healthy community. The event, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 6, will last from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Keene Public Library's Kay Fox Room.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.