A1 A1
top story
City weighs request to use parking spots for patio seating
  • Updated

Machina Kitchen & ArtBar is seeking permission from the city of Keene to build a seasonal patio in front of its Court Street business, on top of three parallel parking spaces.

In a letter to Mayor George Hansel and the City Council, the popular downtown restaurant requested a long-term permit to construct a parklet — a patio that extends from the sidewalk and is often used for outdoor seating or green space — and to serve alcohol there. The parklet would allow for expanded outdoor dining space, something co-owner Danya Landis said has been vitally important during COVID-19.

“We believe that, as the restrictions loosen, people are still going to be in favor of outdoor dining, so it’s imperative to our business’s health that this is something that we offer,” she said during a meeting of the council’s Planning, Licenses and Development Committee on Wednesday. “But here’s the catch ... our sidewalk is narrow and has trees and poles that make it challenging for us to put tables up against our building without blocking public walking spaces.”

In May, restaurants were permitted to begin serving customers outdoors after being forced to close for in-person dining in March. But in Keene, some restaurants, including Machina, were not eligible to set up a patio due to the size and layout of their buildings.

However, the restaurant was able to secure a temporary permit after the city allowed more flexibility in where patio seating could be placed.

Landis said that with the restaurant’s current setup, in which tables are pushed up against the curb, the parallel parking spaces next to the tables must remain empty because car doors would hit the tables when opened. She said the parklet would enable the restaurant to make use of those parking spaces, which are sitting empty anyway.

Landis said the restaurant plans to construct a wooden deck that would be level with the curb and have a 4-foot fence around it. It would hold nine tables: five six-person tables and four four-person tables, according to the letter. Landis said the structure would be removed at the end of the outdoor dining season and reconstructed each year.

The restaurant’s current temporary permit allows the same number of tables, according to the letter. Under the proposal, most of the tables would be located on the parklet, but some could be staggered over the sidewalk, Landis told The Sentinel Sunday.

Keene Department of Public Works Director Kürt Blomquist said during the committee meeting that other downtown restaurants owners have expressed interest in parklets as well, but Machina is the first to initiate the process of getting one approved.

He asked that the request be tabled to allow staff to review several issues, including safety concerns related to the proximity of patrons to passing traffic. The committee voted unanimously to do so.

City Manager Elizabeth Dragon expressed support for the parklet concept but agreed that it needs to be fine-tuned before moving forward.

“I am very excited about this,” she said during the meeting. “It is a new concept; it will take us a little bit of work to figure it all out so that we can make sure that they are able to operate and that people are safe.”

Dragon said that while Machina has a temporary permit this year, a permanent solution will be needed once the state of emergency ends.

Some councilors on the committee were enthusiastic about the use of parklets, saying they could help businesses overcome the challenges of the pandemic.

“I look forward to seeing these kinds of things happen in our little city to help our small businesses get back on the road,” said Councilor Gladys Johnsen. “I look forward to this coming up for a vote next time, and I certainly support it.”

Councilor Mitch Greenwald, who owns a real-estate business on Main Street, said he is the property manager for the building block on the north side of Central Square — just around the corner from Machina — and the owner, Camille Helminski, has some concerns about the request.

Reached Sunday, Greenwald pointed to a shortage of parking downtown and said that taking those spots away would impact the upstairs tenants at the Central Square property, as well people who patronize the businesses on the first floor.

Greenwald — who said he won’t vote on the matter when it’s brought back due to his conflict of interest — said the parklet was a nice idea, but worried that it would become a trend the city can’t accommodate.

“How do you say no to Yahso or Timoleon’s when you say yes to Machina?” he asked.

top story
Jaffrey town meeting
Installing fiber has broad appeal at Jaffrey town meeting
  • Updated

JAFFREY — For the second year in a row, Jaffrey residents voted on the town warrant from the comfort of their cars during Saturday’s socially distanced town meeting.

One hundred twenty of the town’s 4,668 registered voters showed up to the Hope Fellowship Church parking lot on Prescott Road for the meeting.

Town officials spoke from a raised stage, while voters listened through open windows or tuned in to 87.9 FM, which broadcast the proceedings. To vote, people stuck red or green cards out of their car windows.

Anyone who wanted to speak to an article — an option few chose Saturday — could get out of their car and talk into a microphone.

Last year, the town opted for the same format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than continuing with its traditional meeting setup indoors.

On Saturday morning, voters approved the entire warrant, which yielded minimal discussion from the crowd.

One of those articles raises $1,229,020 to install a fiber-optic broadband network throughout town, all of which will be financed through a bond. There will be no impact on taxation, as the bond will be paid for with Consolidated Communications user fees.

The dollar amount was amended from $2.5 million by the selectboard to better reflect the plan’s true costs.

Town Manager John Frederick told The Sentinel after the meeting that when the article was written, the town hadn’t yet picked out a vendor, so officials put a higher figure down to ensure it allotted enough money for the project.

The article, which needed a three-fifths majority to pass, was approved 116-0.

Voters also accepted the town’s operating budget of $6,494,493, which is down $97,391, or 1.5 percent, from the budget approved last year. The town’s proposed water and sewer budget of $2,904,220 was also approved.

Other approved articles established a road-paving capital reserve fund — which the selectboard will have the power to spend from — and put $575,000 into it, and added funding to several other capital reserve funds.

Residents also gave the green light to 10 articles submitted by petition, a majority of which involved donating funds to various area nonprofit organizations.

These allotments are $17,000 for Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services; $8,000 for Monadnock Community Early Learning Center; $7,500 for The Community Kitchen; $6,821 for Monadnock Family Services; $5,413 for Southwestern Community Services; $4,000 for the Jaffrey Civic Center; $2,000 for the Community Volunteer Transportation Center; $1,500 for The River Center Family and Community Resource Center; $5,000 for Hundred Nights; and $11,873 for Reality Check.

The pandemic-spurred interest in raising chickens faces a lack of processing plants

Farming livestock is a good way to celebrate life, but it also requires dealing with death. That can be a problem for small-scale and beginning farmers, including the many people who decided to start raising chickens during the pandemic.

“There’s a Facebook group for New Hampshire backyard poultry, and there’s always people, every day, asking ‘who can process my birds?’ It’s a hot topic right now, for sure,” said Elaina Enzien, food and agriculture field specialist for UNH Cooperative Extension.

Processing farm animals, whether cows, pigs, sheep or poultry, has long been a problem in New Hampshire because of a shortage of licensed facilities to kill animals, remove their fur, feathers and skin, cut them up and package the meat. Things have gotten harder for poultry farmers because a major state-licensed facility, Granite State Poultry in Milford, shut earlier this year for personal reasons.

“We know lots of folks who don’t want to process their chickens or turkeys, and Granite State was a great resource for those folks,” said Steve Forde of Hop N Hen Farm in Henniker. “The bigger problem is that for there to be more people who can do poultry in New Hampshire — locally raised chicken, turkey, other animals — there needs to be places you can bring them.”

Since livestock can make or break the finances of a small farm, lack of processing can hamper growth in local food production.

The pandemic has produced a burst of stay-at-home workers trying backyard farming, often with chickens. It has been extremely difficult to buy chicks for the past year because they sell so fast.

“Since COVID hit, when you couldn’t find chicken on the shelf for a little while, people started to panic,” said Cindy Shea of Purely Wholesome Farm in Loudon. “The nice thing about meat birds is you can process them within six weeks” of getting chicks, due to the fast growth rate of modern birds. “It’s a quick turnaround investment. But they do eat a lot, and the price of grain is going through the roof at the moment, so the input cost is starting to creep up.”

Building a new processing plant to meet the need of all these farmers isn’t easy, as Concord learned in 2015. That’s when plans to build the state’s only federally licensed poultry processing plant near Exit 16 was nixed by the city, partly because of neighborhood complaints.

The processing shortage prompted New Hampshire Food Alliance to hold a webinar last month titled “Bottlenecks & Policies, Local Meat in New Hampshire,” in which farmers and regulators discussed the issue. Lawmakers have taken note, too. A bill to establish a committee “to study the shortage of animal slaughter and meat processing facilities in New Hampshire and the implementation of the meat inspection program” seems likely to pass.

Food safety

Meat processing is covered by a host of laws and regulations relating to food safety, some at the federal and some at the state level. Farmers who want to sell meat need to use the proper facility, which depends on whether they’re selling it themselves on the farm or at farmers markets, or through stores.

Selling in stores requires processing by federal U.S. Department of Agriculture plants. New Hampshire has four USDA plants for beef, pork and sheep but needs more because, aside from Lemay & Sons in Goffstown, they are small and usually handle a few farms at most.

The state has no USDA plants at all for poultry, so New Hampshire has an exception, and chickens can be sold at stores if they’ve been processed in state-licensed plants. But even those are hard to find.

Hop N Hen Farm is typical of mid-sized and large poultry farms in that it does its own processing of chickens, roughly 600 a year. It sends a small number of turkeys to a plant out of state because they, like geese and waterfowl, are much harder to process.

One solution is mobile units. Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire, a largely volunteer organization, rents out three poultry-processing units for chicken farmers to do it on site, including a 1,500-watt plucker that shakes and washes the feathers off a carcass.

“The ones down here get used almost on a weekly basis, at least throughout spring, summer, fall,” said Shea of Purely Wholesome Farm, who is leader of the group. “Because we don’t have USDA poultry processing, you can sell direct to consumers. The state provides classes that you can take to get a certificate, and then you can sell to restaurants and stores or markets.”

Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire has been passing out flyers and putting up rack cards at Agways and other farm-related stores telling newbies about them, and will hold a class May 29 on how to process your own birds. See the website at sbfnh.org for details.

Purely Wholesome Farm raises Nubian goats for milk and has “about 140-150 birds,” Shea said. They produce around 5 pounds of meat apiece with a wholesale price of $2 or $3 a pound, she said, so it’s strictly supplemental income.

“Most of the people I know process enough birds to provide their own meat and sell to a few others, especially at farmers markets,” she said.

Most backyard farmers raise chickens for their eggs, which involves different breeds than birds raised for their meat. But layers die or need to be killed after a couple of years when their egg production declines, so processing is still needed.

And then there’s the problem of roosters. It’s extremely difficult to tell the sex of a young chick, and it’s common for people who buy young chickens to end up with some unwanted males, to the annoyance of neighbors.

Old layers and roosters make poor eating, so they’re mostly used to make chicken broth or stews. “If we have an ornery rooster on the farm he usually ends up in the pot,” said Shea.

Workforce issues

The reason there isn’t more meat processing around is partly financial, because the equipment isn’t cheap even when dealing with chickens, which are the easiest farmyard animal to process. Other obstacles are a trained workforce and the state’s volume of production.

“The issue right now is getting skilled labor that knows how to break down an animal – not just final cuts, a lot of people do that in stores,” said Eric Sawtelle of Pinewood Yankee Farm during the Food Alliance webinar. He was discussing beef processing but it applies to all livestock. “You need people who want to get the training, and that’s the biggest issue right now. It’s working in a cold environment, a lot of heavy work … Second is finding a training facility … The third is finding trainers.”

New Hampshire’s scattered farm economy doesn’t help. The state has lots of very small farms – more than 4,000 of them if you count everybody who sells at least $5,000 worth of agricultural products a year, and that was before the pandemic. But we have few large farms that can send a consistent supply of animals to a processing plant.

“Livestock production is seasonal; in spring and summer we’re not so busy. It’s not as simple as just getting more processing facilities in the state. The slow months mean they can’t keep labor on and there are limits to cold storage,” said Enzien of Coop Extension. Access to funding is also a problem for building a new plant.

Among the possible solutions being tried around the country are meat-processing cooperatives, which tend to have difficulty maintaining consistency compared to a professional slaughterhouse, more and new types of mobile facilities, and the tweaking of rules to allow which types of processing can be used for which types of sales. Meat from rabbits can be sold through stores even if processed yourself, for example.

None of these changes are perfect, however, even if they happen.

“This is going to be a problem for a while, I’m afraid,” said Enzien.

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.

The end of US mass vaccination is coming sooner than later

After three months of vaccination across the U.S., a majority of American adults have gotten shots, and the effort will soon shift from mass inoculation to mop-up.

As of Saturday, 138.6 million people in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot. About 1.3 million more are getting a first dose every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the rate of new vaccinators is declining, even if were immediately cut in half, it would mean that six weeks from now more than half of the population of the U.S. and its territories will have had a dose.

Almost all of those who get a first dose are likely to get their second, according to one CDC study. On top of that, more than 80 percent of people age 60 or over — the most vulnerable group — have had a dose and will likewise complete vaccination.

That may be sufficient, at least to see a significant impact on U.S. caseloads. The U.S. is currently about where Israel’s vaccine campaign was in mid-February, three weeks before cases there began to plunge. (Israel has, in total, vaccinated just under 60 percent of its population.)

But in the next few weeks, what the vaccine campaign is going to look like is going to change dramatically. The Biden administration is pursuing a strategy of abundance, which the White House has referred to as an “overwhelm the problem” approach. That means that there will likely still be widespread shipping of vaccines to pharmacies and health centers, inoculation clinics and mobile vaccine resources.

But what’s likely to disappear are lines and scarcity.

“It’s OK if there’s not a long line of 1,000 people,” Natalie Quillian, the White House’s deputy coordinator of its COVID-19 response, told Bloomberg. “That’s good; that was the plan.”

There are many signs that’s already happening. In New York City, which had some of the tightest vaccine availability at the start of the rollout, the health department announced Friday that appointments were no longer needed at city sites and people could walk in for shots.

All of this points to a U.S. mass vaccine campaign that’s closer to the end than the beginning.

For more than three months now, the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker has published a daily figure of how many doses were reported administered in the U.S. After months of mostly going up, that figure is now starting to decline. The goal of a vaccine campaign is to run out of people to vaccinate. That’s where the country is now headed.

That doesn’t mean an end to the vaccine efforts; it just means that they look different. Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said on Friday that the vaccine campaign is entering its “next phase.”

“Going forward, we expect daily vaccination rates will moderate and fluctuate,” he said at a briefing in Washington. “We’ve gotten vaccinations to the most at-risk and those most eager to get vaccinated as quickly as possible. And we will continue those efforts, but we know reaching other populations will take time and focus.”

It also means that how the vaccine rollout has been measured so far will be different. There will likely be no more days of 4 million doses administered. On Saturday, the U.S. tallied 3 million doses administered, the lowest Saturday total since March 20. Success will mean chipping away at the increasingly small group of people who haven’t gotten a shot yet. If that effort is working, the daily vaccine rates should continue to fall as health workers run out of people who need to be vaccinated.

It also means a looser supply chain.

The U.S. is now reasonably assured of having enough vaccine. It has contracted for 600 million shots from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., and the drugmakers are delivering those doses faster than they are being used. About 28 million shots are being shipped a week, and 21 million are being used.

Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine was on a brief safety hold after concerns about rare blood clots. Given how much Pfizer and Moderna is being shipped versus how much is being consumed, J&J’s shot may end up as a comparatively niche product, or be used mostly abroad, or reworked as a booster shot.

There are just under 10 million J&J doses that have been delivered but are still unused, according to CDC data. At the current rates of delivery and use of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s shots, about 7 million doses a week of those vaccines are building up, as well.

Measuring the vaccine rollout in May the way it was measured in March gives the wrong picture. In the early days of the rollout, having 7 million doses a week go unused would have been a failure. Now it’s more of a necessity. If you want to get to hard-to-reach, potentially reluctant people, you need to make it easy for them. That means lots of vaccine on standby, sitting around on a shelf.

But it doesn’t make for a razor-thin supply chain. Bloomberg has tracked the percentage of shots used over the course of the U.S. effort. At the peak of demand, some states were reporting that well over 90 percent of every dose delivered to them was being used, often within a few days of delivery.

Those days will disappear, and those use-ratios will fall. Mass-vaccine clinics filled with eager shot-seekers are great at injecting every last dose at the start of a rollout. They’re far less useful in attracting what one of Maine’s top health officials, Nirav Shah, referred to this week as the “not able,” the “not right now” and the “not ever.”

Reaching those remaining unvaccinated people will be more of a steady grind. Many may get a dose at a doctor’s office during a visit for another condition. Others will be vaccinated at work, at a mobile clinic, or when they get another scheduled vaccination, like a flu shot.

But those efforts are likely to begin to fade into the background hum of the day-to-day operations of U.S. health care. Public health can go back to being boring again.The start of the vaccine campaign was like a blockbuster movie that millions of people saw in theaters (remember those?).

Now we’re heading for the phase when the people who missed it on the big screen are streaming it at home: Oh, you finally got your shot? Yeah, I got it when it came out.