written by Matt Smetana, Community Engagement Coordinator for the Cheshire County Conservation District
The Monadnock Region community holds a deep appreciation for the special things that set this area apart. Whether it's the breathtaking beauty of our landscapes, our fondness for all things “local”, or our collective dedication to nurturing a vibrant community, we take pride in the distinctiveness that characterizes our region. Numerous local organizations join in celebrating these unique qualities that make our area and its residents truly special.
For more than 75 years, the Cheshire County Conservation District (CCCD) has been an important part of our community, reaching every corner—from local farms and veterans, to wildlife and families facing food insecurity. We are dedicated to promoting the conservation and responsible use of our county’s natural and agricultural resources through educational programs, public events, and technical assistance.
We are also committed to providing financial assistance to local growers and land stewards. In 2024, the CCCD is bringing back three highly sought-after grant programs and introducing a new one focusing on energy initiatives. We explore more about these opportunities and how they have benefitted our region and residents!
Growing local farms
In collaboration with the Monadnock Food Co-op, the Farm Fund helps local farm businesses grow their production for wholesale markets. Farmers can apply for grants ranging from $500 to $20,000 to support a range of projects, including the purchase of equipment and infrastructure, farmland conservation, packaging and labeling design needs, and technical assistance.
Since its start, the Farm Fund has awarded over $152,000 in grants to 19 local farms. When asked about the grant, farmers Jenna and Tyler Rich of Partners' Gardens in Nelson said,
"this grant provided us the opportunity to build a state of the art passive solar propagation house and helped us extend our season by adding a second movable high tunnel. This additional infrastructure drastically improved how we do business and the quality of our products."
The structures also lower the cost of their heating bills and their dependence on fossil fuels. Jenna mentioned "In times of ever-changing climate, we are so grateful for the support from our community and the conservation district. We truly wouldn’t be where we are today without it. Thank you to everyone who rounds up at the Monadnock Food Co-op!"
Supporting wildlife habitat
From the woodlot out back to your front yard, small lands can have big value for wildlife. The Conservation Opportunity Fund supports landowners and stewards of 25 acres or fewer to enhance wildlife habitat. This grant funds up to $1,500 for various projects, from the installation of pollinator habitat and riparian buffers, to the creation and enhancement of early successional habitat and beyond.
Emily Daigle of Keene, with the assistance of her two young children, transformed her front yard by installing native plants to support pollinators. Meanwhile, Leslie Casey of Sullivan enhanced shrubland habitat that benefits a diverse range of species, from songbirds to foxes.
Speaking about their project, Emily recalls
"by May our little pollinator habitat was blooming with bunchberries, phlox, and columbine. It continued to bloom well into fall, when my children and I collected and spread some of the seeds that had been produced. We are so excited to see how the habitat fills in and blossoms this spring and each season to come."
"We have enjoyed the many butterflies, bees, other insect life and birds we have attracted to our yard. If you have a small property, a wish to see and support more wildlife, and aren’t afraid of some gardening the Conservation Opportunity Fund is a great way to help get you there."
If you have ideas for projects that align with these goals, consider submitting your application by the February 1st deadline. Discover more on the Conservation Opportunity Fund!
Building Climate Resilience
The resilience of our community depends on the resilience of local agriculture. The ten New Hampshire Conservation Districts created the Climate Resilience Grant to improve the resilience of NH farms in the face of extreme weather events and a changing climate. This program funds up to $10,000 for projects that mitigate the impact of agriculture on climate change and enhance on-farm adaptations to projected climate conditions.
Since its launch in 2022, the NH Conservation Districts Climate Resilience Grant has provided over $345,000 to 49 farms across the state. Bob and Cindy Porter of Hilltop Farm in Claremont used funding to help install a solar tracker system to power their family farm. They talked about why this funding is crucial to the viability of their business
"this array is capable of producing enough electricity to power our farm under normal conditions. The “tracker” type array moves with the sun all day long and is 40% more efficient than a static solar array. Since installation, we have generated 198 kwh of power. We recognize that the cost of electric power from the grid is projected to increase going forward, and based on the data we are on track to get to a zero or near-zero power bill in the future."
"This is only a small contribution that we as a family can make towards mitigating the effects of climate change, but we are also setting an example that we hope many others will follow."
The deadline for applications is February 1st, offering farmers support for projects that contribute to the sustainability and adaptability of their operations in the face of evolving environmental challenges. Explore the Climate Resilience Grant!
Reducing Our Impacts
Agricultural production consumes significant amounts of energy and NH ranks sixth in the nation for average electricity costs. The new Energy Stipend program provides specialty crop growers with $2,000 to help lower energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions by funding energy efficiency and renewable projects.
Stipends can support a range of initiatives, including energy efficiency improvements to farm infrastructure, administrative costs from purchasing Community Supported Solar shares, and renewable energy projects like solar installations. They can be utilized for project costs, consulting with advisors, engaging with vendors and contractors, and compensating farmers for their time.
Interested participants are asked to submit their applications for this new program by February 15th. Check out the Energy Stipends!
At the Cheshire County Conservation District, we strongly believe in the power of local investments. Funding options like these grants can help sustain and boost the viability and biodiversity of our region. None of this would be possible without the collaborative efforts of local partners such as the Monadnock Food Co-op, the ten NH Conservation Districts, and countless others. Funding comes from the contributions of generous community members, private supporters, and federal funds like the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program from the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food.
If these grants don't align with your interests, the CCCD offers a diverse array of opportunities. From engaging community events like seasonal Birding on the Farm walks and the annual River Cleanup, to valuable resources such as our seed, tool, and outdoor gear libraries in partnership with the Keene Public Library, there's something for everyone to enjoy!
To discover more about how the Conservation District serves you, visit our homepage or connect with us on Instagram and Facebook at @CheshireCCD. Your involvement and support contribute to the collective well-being and sustainability of our vibrant local community.
A trimmed down version of this article was published in the January 4, 2024 ELF magazine, an edition of the Keene Sentinel.