Successful food and farm businesses are critical to our region’s economy, environment, and ability to keep everyone fed and healthy. This blog series looks at some of the hardworking, enterprising people in this sector and how they have been helped by the Agricultural Viability Alliance, of which Vital Communities is a partner.
By Cameron Huftalen, Upper Valley Everyone Eats Project Manager
Kate McNamee of Clover Meadow Farm graciously walked me around her flower beds in the rain as we chatted about her experience working with the Agricultural Viability Alliance (AVA). Clover Meadow Farm is a “u-pick” flower farm in Claremont, NH, that focuses on community-building, growing without pesticides, and improving pollinator and soil health.
“We’re growing slowly,” she told me, but she has a lot of projects in the works and big ideas for the farm to go along with that sentiment. As we walked around she pointed out what she’s planted where, and what sorts of things she’s been doing to help improve soil health on the farm. She has garlic planted for the upcoming year and is hoping to have some more vegetables for kids to pick next season in order to help them connect to where their food comes from (though she’s had some battles with critters like gray squirrels along the way). On top of that, she is looking to move into the dried flower and dried flower wreath market next fall.
One of the aspects of AVA’s assistance that Kate mentioned finding very helpful was the flexibility of the program and the ability to customize the help to her business’s needs. Though the flower farm is Kate’s true passion, it’s still in addition to a full-time job. Comparing AVA to other grant funding and assistance options such as National Resources for Conservation Service, Kate and husband Tom McNamee both commented that NRCS “has been great” and was helpful to talk with, but the organization’s very thorough grant application process wasn’t a good fit in the way AVA’s application process was.
Two areas that Kate highlighted as we talked about her experience with AVA were the customized business coaching and web design. The business planning sessions gave her a structure which she and Tom could use to figure out their goals for the business and the roles each of them would play. This, Kate said, gave them space to see that they weren’t actually looking to be exactly equal partners in the business. Rather, Tom wanted to support Kate while she took the reins on the farm.
Furthermore, the assistance with developing a website helped to simplify the load on Kate’s plate. In this era of heightened digital communication, a well-built and branded website is almost essential to a successful business. However, most folks already have enough going on with running said business – and in Kate’s case, a full-time job outside of the farm – and don’t have the time or capacity to deal with figuring out how to develop a user-friendly website out of whole cloth. This is why website development and online commerce systems assistance has become one of the more utilized services that AVA offers food and farm businesses.
With things like web design and some helpful business coaching conversations to guide Clover Meadow Farm, Kate now has a pathway toward even more exciting opportunities for the farm. Over the coming year, she’d like to have more on-farm workshops, continue providing the unique experience of helping customers to pick their own customized bouquets, and is looking into partnering with other local businesses like berry farms and cheesemakers to consider putting together joint gift baskets. We’re excited to see what 2023 has in store for Kate and Clover Meadow Farm!
The Alliance strives to equip farm and food businesses with the resources to take their endeavors to the next level. We seek to support these businesses in a number of ways, including financial assessments and planning, whole farm and business planning, recordkeeping, targeted goal setting, land purchasing, succession planning, and more. With partners from Vital Communities, Land for Good, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, NCAT/ATTRA, UNH Extension, Farm Credit East, and the Center for an Agricultural Economy, our partners cover a variety of expertise.