There has never been more community support of – or need for – local farms and organizations such as the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition. The high unemployment rate, prompted by the pandemic, is leading to financial hardships for families. From falling behind on bills to ensuring there’s enough food to feed the family… things are tougher than they’ve been in decades.

“There’s nothing like a pandemic to accelerate what’s needed in a community,” said Roe-Ann Tasoulas, director of the Walpole-based Monadnock coalition. “We’ve always promoted resilience in relation to climate change and things like that. But we’ve kind of hit a whole other level. We, like everyone else, certainly didn’t see this coming.”

But now that we’re in the thick of it, the coalition is stepping up its charge. It’s continuing to work with farms and other organizations in the region, as it has since the group’s establishment in 2013, to aid struggling families. According to Tasoulas, many children and families rely on food programs offered at school for breakfast and lunch. With schools temporarily closed, food insecurity – already a critical problem locally – has been exacerbated by the pandemic-related shutdown.

“We want to get food on the plates of all local families,” she said, adding that there needs to be a more robust, sustainable, equitable food system in the Monadnock region.

The coalition, via groups that meet regularly, partners with a number of similar organizations in the region – the New Hampshire Food Alliance among them – to identify what is really needed and what needs to happen in the community. Programs such as New Hampshire Farm to School, which works with school districts to “introduce new local foods in the schools … [and] establish new connections with growers and schools” throughout the state, are helping to strengthen the infrastructure for food systems within the region.

Food Connects, based in Brattleboro, delivers locally grown and produced food around the community, and also offers “educational and consulting services aimed at transforming the local food system.” The Community Kitchen Food Pantry in Keene is another resource for residents. It relies on a local food donation fund, Tasoulas said, which is used to purchase food from farms throughout the region for distribution at the pantry.

“It’s all about better distribution of food that’s grown here,” she said, noting that education is key.

The coalition’s working groups are continually developing “listening sessions” with families to learn how and where they access and purchase food, with the intent of getting them to rely more on local foods. It’s also growing the capacity for the Monadnock Food Collaborative, a commercial kitchen, storage and processing facility in Keene that also promotes local farms.

Lessons, courses and other educational programs are helping people learn how to grow and maintain their own backyard gardens, promoting sustainability and more independence. In addition to such programs, a community garden is available through Keene Housing, providing residents the opportunity to grow their own food and also learn about healthy food choices. Tasoulas noted that CSA (community supported agriculture) shares in the region have increased this year as well.

A webinar workshop – via Farm to School and offered free thanks to the Master Gardener program at the University of Rhode Island – will be held on June 16, 7-8 p.m., with a focus on using your own backyard as an outdoor learning center. It will cover topics including seed collecting and dispersal as well as utilizing compost in gardening.

For more information about the Monadnock Farm and Community Coalition, and its collaborating organizations, farms and educational programs, visit mfcommunitycoalition.org.