Protecting NH’s working farms

The last working farm in Nashua could remain protected indefinitely if the city finalizes its agreement with the multigenerational landowners.

Municipal officials, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the owners of Sullivan Farm, a 50-acre property on Coburn Avenue, are working out the details on a purchase and sales deal worth at least seven figures to keep the property as agricultural land.

Forest society staff would monitor the land if an agreement is reached, although it may be not until early 2018. An easement would ensure the land is protected "against subdivision and development that isn’t associated with agricultural use," according to the forest society.

The farm was acquired in 1911 by Joseph Sedlewicz and was used for dairy cows and vegetable farming. His son planted an orchard along Howe Road, which is now overseen by Sedlewicz’s granddaughter.

Lorraine Stuart Merrill, state commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food, said Sullivan Farm is one of about 4,400 individual operations managing 470,000 acres.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts a national agriculture census every five years – the next will take place in 2017 – and counts any venture that produces at least $1,000 in sales as a working farm. As expected, the vast majority of them are very small operations, although the number has been steadily rising.

"We have seen in New Hampshire that the number of farms had constantly been going down for years, but over the last 10-15 years, the trend has been coming back up," Merrill said. "So we actually have been gaining farm numbers."

The major challenge for New Hampshire’s working farms is the disappearing land here. The state was ranked in the top five in percentage of farmland lost.

Merrill said about 7 percent is usable farmland.

New Hampshire is blessed with stunning mountains, lovely forests and beautiful lakes, she noted, but "Mother Nature has given us a limited amount (of farmland), and we already have converted much of it to development."

Sullivan Farm is a great example of what state and local governments can do to protect our agriculture sector. Selling a conservation easement equals giving up the rights forever to develop the land.

"Farming would be the main value and use for that land," Merrill said.

We have a long, proud agricultural heritage. As much as visitors flock here for tax-free shopping in the southern tier and our White Mountains in the North Country, there is still a strong pull in the autumn for farm-fresh apple cider and the desire among young children to feed billy goats and heifers.

Agritourism has grown from 16 farms and $265,000 of reported income in 2002 to 190 farms and $3.8 million just 10 years later, according to the federal agriculture department.

The growing economic benefits, both in terms of agritourism and the local produce, is further evidence we need to protect our remaining farms at all costs.