In July 2010, a group of Lakes Region citizens came together to envision a possible future for the former Laconia State School property, which was once part of a productive farm. They advocated for a portion of the property to return to its agricultural roots, perhaps through the establishment of an agricultural training center to prepare people for jobs in New Hampshire’s $935 million/year (and growing) agricultural sector, which includes forestry, horticulture, fruit production, fiber production, and tourism.
The group, known as Back to Farming at Laconia State School, gathered information about similar projects and developed supportive rationales for their vision. With continued research, members became increasingly concerned with the weaknesses in the current food system and excited by the possibilities inherent in localized food systems. As a result, the group expanded its focus to the larger issues of community food security and localized food systems, while also maintaining interest in the future of the StateSchool property.
On September 30, 2011, the group sponsored a community event — What’s on Your Plate? A Community Conversation About Our Lakes Region Food System. More than 30 community members attended and, throughout the course of the discussion, a wide range of issues and action ideas relative to community food security and the current food system were identified. These issues fell into the following general categories:
- System Change
- Education & Skill Development
- Health & Safety
- Affordability & Access
- Environment & Energy
A summary of the community conversation was crafted into an educational booklet entitled What’s on Your Plate? and used as a guide for the next community conversation, which was held on April 3, 2012. This event was funded by a New England Grassroots Environmental Fund “SEED” grant, which allowed for booklet printing, a mailing of invitations to selected individuals, and the renting of a much larger event space. Unlike the first event, April 3rd was designed to capture information relevant to the seven issue areas regarding current food system-related projects and to determine needs of food network constituents. From the information gathered, it was apparent that many of the key issues were being addressed by individual projects, yet a more formalized approach was needed for networking, communication, and information sharing among constituents.
From here, the Back to Farming group organized two Visioning Sessions, held on July 31 and August 7, 2012, to help shape the networking, communication, and information sharing entity that has become the “Lakes Region Food Network.” While the Lakes Region Food Network (LRFN) is still in its infancy, it is hard at work developing the infrastructure necessary to support a successful local food network. Initiatives include updating the What’s on Your Plate? booklet to include information gathered from the April 3rd event, hosting this website for networking and information-sharing purposes, in addition to planning an information gathering survey of all businesses and organizations working on food issues in the Lakes Region.