New research from the University of New Hampshire shows many towns outside the I-93 corridor lack access to grocery stores and farm stands.
That’s among the findings of a new report from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy that maps every grocery store and farmers market across the state.
The report’s author, Jess Carson, says many towns, particularly in Coos and Grafton counties, have no grocery stores at all.
“And of course there are much smaller populations there but that said that doesn't mean that people don't live there and that doesn't mean that people who live there don't need access to groceries as well,” says Carson.
There are also gaps for people who rely on government food assistance programs like SNAP and WIC. Carson found several towns around the state that have no food retailers which accept food stamps.
The research also challenges the notion that fresh farm food is abundant throughout the state. It found only two farmers markets north of the White Mountains. Pockets in the southern part of the state lack access to CSAs and farm stands.
“There are certainly large swaths of the northern and western part of the state and even a few areas in the southern part of the state that really don't have a good density of farm retail food sources.”
Carson says she hopes communities will use the data to identify the food gaps that exist in their town.
“For example if a community in the state looks and realizes 'hey we don't have any place that accepts food-stamps in our town,' that's something that's easy for a layperson to inquire about.
Some North Country farmers have taken issue with the report's characterization of access to farm food in their communities.
Joyce Brady, vice president of the New Hampshire Farm Bureau and co-founder of CJEJ Farm in Stratford, says the study doesn't tell the whole story of access to farm food in the North Country. Brady says there are farmers markets not listed on the map and she says more farms have been opening up in recent years -- though they aren't always widely publicized.
“If they want and if they know where to go, yes, I believe there's access," says Brady, "but the hard part is getting the word out.”
For those in the know, Brady says, there's plenty of fresh farm food to go around.
“If people are coming up to visit, leave your food at home," says Brady. "Try to pick up as much as you can up here while you're here.”
Note: This story has been updated to include reactions to the UNH study.