State School food group

Mary Macdonald, center, describes how some of the land and buildings at the former Laconia State School property could be used to promote agriculture and related enterprises. Also shown are Deb Avery of the state's Business and Economic Affairs office, John Porter of UNH Cooperative Extension, Charlene Andersen of the NH Community Loan Fund and Donna Hepp of the Belknap County Conservation District. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — The vision of redeveloping part of the old Laconia State School complex as a center of activity for making food was the focus of a meeting attended by those interested in the concept.

Nearly 20 people were on hand Wednesday to hear about plans for The Belknap Foodshed, a combination of land, resources, and channels designed to contribute to the flow of food from farm to fork.

The various components of the vision were laid out by Mary Macdonald, co-owner of Genuine Local, which helps area farmers and other food entrepreneurs become stable, self-sufficient businesses.

The meeting offered an opportunity to describe the Foodshed’s potential, which Macdonald said is sixfold:

• Cultivate food and preserve open agricultural land.

• Facilitate the gathering and distribution of food products, as well as create access to retail markets.

• Help local start-up food companies.

• Foster business development and job creation.

• Create educational and training opportunities.

• Establish retail and restaurant facilities for locally grown or produced food.

The project would involve using about 20 acres of the 235-acre state-owned property, Macdonald said. The land faces North Main Street (Route 106) near what once was the State School’s dairy barn. Between nine and 15 acres would be farmland.

Macdonald said the next step is to put together a comprehensive plan and to hire a consultant who would draw up a proposal for how to implement the plan.

In addition they plan to prioritize the initial steps to get the project rolling as well as identifying potential partners.

Meanwhile, Foodshed backers will be working to build support of a bill that would create a governing body with the authority that would direct redevelopment of the entire State School complex. Macdonald said the creation of the Lakes Region Development Authority is essential to any redevelopment on the site, including the Foodshed.

The venture would include a farmstand selling fresh produce, flowers and herbs, in addition to locally made food and food-related items. Space for food production space, as well as a cafe, event space and a restaurant, are also envisioned as being part of the venture.

In addition to growing crops on site, the project would also support independent farmers, particularly those in the Lakes Region by giving them access to the retail market directly at The Belknap Foodshed, as well as the opportunity to have their foods featured in on-site restaurants.

Those attending Wednesday’s meeting included those involved in agriculture, planning and economic development, representatives of the Belknap County Conservation Commission, and Cooperative Extension Service, and Lakeshore Redevelopment Planning Commission, who was representing the commission Agriculture Subcommittee.

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