New Hampshire’s Contoocook Valley could turn into one enormous subdivision. Or it could become, as some of Antioch University New England (AUNE) students and faculty envision it, a model of sustainable agriculture within a resilient landscape.
Charles Curtin, former AUNE faculty member, who, along with Alesia Maltz, a core faculty member in AUNE’s Department of Environmental Studies, is leading efforts to move the valley in that direction with a series of projects bringing together students and the Contoocook Valley communities. Jessica Parker, an AUNE PhD student in Environmental Studies, is serving as community liaison and project coordinator.
As part of the initiative, AUNE helped coordinate Greenerborough, New England’s Green Living Expo and Festival, an annual event, held this year on May 4 in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Some of the projects AUNE is working on:
• Mapping the valley with GIS, in collaboration with the Hillsborough County Conservation District. The project will help map the location of prime agricultural soils, describe historical land use, and outline some options for the region’s future.
• Helping communities envision their futures, a project in partnership with the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, New Hampshire.
• Working with Kathi Beratan, research assistant professor of forestry and natural resources at North Carolina State University, to develop a working diagram of the valley’s watershed that includes each economic sector’s contribution to food security and factors influencing producers and consumers. Beratan spoke at Greenerborough.
• Positioning AUNE as a facilitator to help communities frame more food-secure futures. For example, as a lecturer with the Peterborough Grange, Parker plans to study soils and livestock-grazing history, and interview farmers using pasture-based practices. She will also do an ecological study to measure indicators of grazing practices on the landscape.
With the data she intends to help farmers form a meat producers’ cooperative, based on grazing. Producers would agree on production standards and develop a label that shows that they follow grazing practices. “The response from farmers has been overwhelmingly positive,” Parker said.
Parker is also connected with two conservation districts and nonprofit organizations Land for Good and the Cornucopia Project.
Passing on Agricultural Knowledge
Maltz and her students are researching agricultural history in the valley. The project connects experienced farmers with younger ones to explore how local agricultural knowledge is passed from one generation to the next and what that means for farm succession. Doctoral student Dyanna Smith is involving local farmers in participatory video and collective narrative. She engages farmers in shooting and editing video about their sustainable agricultural practices.
The seeds of the Contoocook Valley vision go back several years, to when Peggy Eppig, an ES doctoral student at AUNE, got wind of a letter to the editor from Charles Daloz, who ran a CSA in the town of Hancock, challenging the community to become more food secure. At the same time, Curtin was seeking an area with strong local leaders where students could help communities work on issues of sustainable agriculture and food security. The Contoocook Valley fit the bill. In 2010, Curtin’s Landscape Ecology class began working in the region, which they defined as the area from Peterborough to Antrim—large enough to be dynamic but small enough for a manageable project.
Last year, Curtin stepped back to take a long view of AUNE’s progress: a framework and vision of a region with a resilient social and ecological system based on sustainable agriculture. “One thing we found out is how little the community knew about AUNE, and the community wondered why AUNE wasn’t a presence there. So it’s a good place to invest,” Curtin said.
By summer, Curtin hopes that AUNE students will have completed a systems diagram and map, in conjunction with the Harris Center, and will have started meeting with producers about grazing practices. He plans to match up AUNE students with community development projects in the region. “It’s a great microcosm of food security issues in the region – the land could become a subdivision or a wonderful agricultural area.”