The Cheshire County Conservation District will mark 75 years of protecting and promoting local natural resources during an anniversary event Tuesday night.
“It’s a celebration,” said Andy Pressman, who chairs the leadership board. “Seventy-five years — that’s an accomplishment. [And an opportunity] to show that we have such amazing dedication of our staff, board, volunteers and community.”
According to its website, the Walpole-based district has been protecting Cheshire County’s land and water resources since its inception.
“We are the voice at the local level to bring partner resources,” said Amanda Littleton, who has served as district manager for the past 13 years. “We focus on bringing resources into the county to serve local needs. That’s why we exist from the beginning.”
The organization was founded in 1945 by the federal government in response to the Dust Bowl, according to Littleton.
That event, which took place over several years in the 1930s, ranks among the most disastrous in U.S. history. A series of severe dust storms swept the Great Plains predominately, wreaking unprecedented damage to agriculture. That, coupled with longtime drought conditions and the overcultivation of the dry land, decimated millions of acres of farmland.
The government took measures to prevent such widespread loss in the future.
“The government set up conservation districts in every state,” said Littleton, who holds a graduate degree in environmental education from Antioch University New England in Keene. “Each was a little different. Every state has different needs, so they all have a different focus.”
The CCCD offers a variety of diverse programs, which Littleton said are entirely funded by grants and donations. They focus on conserving and fostering the viability of soil, water, wildlife and farms throughout Cheshire County.
One example is a farm equipment rental program that the district makes available to all farmers. This year, due to COVID-19, area dairy farmers — a group that is especially struggling to survive — can use the equipment for free. Another recent project involves high tunnels for local greenhouse growers to control crop disease and weeds without chemicals.
Littleton listens carefully to what farmers say they need, and develops initiatives accordingly.
“We have a longstanding relationship with farmers,” she said. “We try to reach new audiences to increase our outreach. Farmers now come to us when there is a need. We try to find grants and resources [to meet it] ... We rely on what landowners tell us about where we should be focusing our efforts.”
A big part of her job, she says, is grant writing and project management. She also builds relationships with local farmers, landowners and other organizations. In everything the district does, she notes, CCCD collaborates with partners, including Antioch University New England, the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, Cheshire Medical Center and other state and nonprofit entities.
Historically, the CCCD works with farms of all sizes, but recently has focused on several key small projects. In 2019, for example, the Farm Share Program was launched, with funding from Cheshire Medical. With the program now in its second year, individuals and families who usually could not afford to buy weekly CSA shares can now receive 50 percent discounts. Currently, about three dozen families benefit from the program.
A separate initiative lets government SNAP (food stamp) recipients purchase fresh produce at area farmers markets.
Beyond that, the district works on projects involving area waterways, and encourages the conservation and expansion of pollinator habitats.
“What can we do to provide more habitat for pollinators?” Littleton said, referring to insects such as bees and butterflies. “Pollinators are in backyard patios or porches — wherever you have plants — or on 100 acres. Everyone can do something to expand their habitats.”
Another recent endeavor is a community-supported solar array established on Sun Moon Farm in Rindge. The CCCD partnered with the Monadnock Sustainability Hub and ReVision Energy for the project. ReVision will install the array and provide local investors. Other farmers will be able to buy shares in the project to defray their electricity costs. The CCCD was awarded a grant from the Thomas W. Haas Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to help reduce the costs to farmers.
There is also a host of other programs, including conservation plant sales.
“[Our mission] is to make sure our land, our lakes and rivers and our wildlife habitats continue to function in a healthy manner,” Pressman said.
He works as the regional office director of National Center for Appropriate Technology — an agriculture education and training organization — and also owns a small, family-operated farm in Jaffrey.
Pressman and Littleton welcome volunteers from throughout Cheshire County to work on projects, or to serve on the CCCD’s supervisory board. And Pressman strongly encourages anyone who wants to learn more about the organization to attend Tuesday’s virtual online anniversary event.
The celebration, which runs concurrent with the CCCD’s annual meeting, is free and open to the public, and starts at 6 p.m.
It features keynote speaker Alan Rumrill of the Historical Society of Cheshire County discussing the past 75 years of agriculture in Cheshire County, along with award presentations.
The 2020 Educator of the Year is Steve Roberge of Peterborough. A University of New Hampshire graduate with a forestry degree, Roberge spent 13 years as Cheshire County forester. In March, he accepted the new position of University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension state forestry specialist.
The recipient of the 2020 Cooperator of the Year award is Wingate Farm in Hinsdale, which is owned and operated by Olivia Pettengill and Susie Park-Sutherland. They were chosen for the award because of the work they’ve done in the past year in the area of soil health as well as water quality and solar projects.
Pre-registration for the anniversary event is required for information to access various streaming platforms. To register visit cccd75th.eventbrite.com.
“We’re celebrating 75 years of conservation work in Cheshire County and in New Hampshire,” Pressman said. “It shows how much folks in the county cherish our natural resources.”