WALPOLE, N.H. — Each year the Cheshire County Conservation District honors an individual, business or organization with the “Cooperator of the Year” award. This is done to celebrate the efforts the recipient has undertaken to steward the natural resources on their land in cooperation with the Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). This year we are happy to announce Sun Moon Farm of Rindge, NH as our 2021 Cooperator of the Year.
Sun Moon Farm is owned and operated by Craig and Megan Jensen. They have six acres of gardens and sell vegetable and flower shares through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) model to 130 members. 2021 is their eleventh year offering a CSA in Rindge on land that has been continuously farmed since 1787. Prior to the Jensens it was owned and operated by the Meeting School, an educational institution and diversified farm that utilized the animals they raised to teach about stewardship, and historically it was the Thomas Farm starting out as a dairy. The Jensens have a strong love of this place. They met and were married on the land where they now dedicate their days growing vegetables, heirloom dahlias, and a strong community. They see their real work as growing community and the farm is an avenue to bring people together to cultivate strong relationships.
One way they build community is through a positive volunteer culture. Each Friday CSA members are welcomed to the farm to offer their time as volunteers and connect with the land and other people. Another way is creating a space for people to gather, whether it be through community meals, music events, or celebrations. They also value education and each year they hire a small crew of four or five interns who live with them for the season and work on the farm to learn more about local food systems and agriculture.
The Jensens transitioned the land from pasture to what it is today. They built the needed infrastructure and acquired the tools to be 12 month growers with both of them on the farm full time. The third farmer is their six year old son Fox who helps out and is immersed in much of the goings on at the farm. 80% of their business is the CSA but they also sell some alliums and winter greens wholesale to the Monadnock Food Co-op. Beyond this they also partner with a small Heirloom Bulb Company to grow about 3,000 tubers of heirloom dahlias, particularly commercially extinct varieties from before the 1950s. This company is based in Megan’s hometown in Michigan.
Both Megan and Craig moved to NH to teach at the Meeting School. When the Meeting School went out of business they agreed to continue the stewardship of the land through staring a CSA farm. When the property came up for sale they didn’t want to see it developed so they brought together people and resources to purchase the 130 acres and seven homes. This is how they started both Sun Moon Farm and the South of Monadnock Community which is a co-housing community. “All places have challenges and joys but we dig in. We have made a commitment to this place, property, and the community around it” shared Megan.
They are also committed to ensuring that the land can be transferred to the next generation of farmers. They want to create a strong business with a resilient natural resources base that will persist beyond them.
The Jensens think a lot about the future and the challenges that our changing climate will pose. Having open space and active agriculture to grow food will be important for all communities. They have invested a lot of time and resources to improving the natural resources on the farm through partnerships with both the Conservation District and NRCS. Mary Ellen Cannon, their Conservation planner created a very positive experience for them to get engaged with USDA. She was a supportive advocate who took the time to get to know them and their goals and looked for all possible ways to strengthen the farm.
Since 2014 they have worked with NRCS to construct a seasonal high tunnel, established pollinator plantings, including the use of insectary strips for beneficial insects, expanded cover cropping, planted trees and shrubs of benefit to wildlife, and improved their irrigation system. They continue to work with NRCS today to meet their conservation goals.
The Jensens have also sited a 100kw solar array on their property in partnership with the Conservation District as part of the Community Supported Solar for Farms project. This array ‘s installation is a great example of their commitment to renewable energy and also to supporting other farmers. It is sized large enough to support the energy needs of many other farm businesses and farms are invited to purchase a share and net-meter to it.
The Jensens were instrumental in creating the informal organization “Farmers Helping Farmers” in the region. This was out of a desire for cooperation over competition. The group comes together to share ideas and support each other. Once a month the group of farmers get together on the farm and have a ½ day work day and share a meal. They offer each other practical help and expert advice.
This is also the group that reached out to the Conservation District to create the Monadnock Farm Share program that provides low-cost vegetable CSA shares for limited income residents of the region. This is directly in line with Craig and Megan’s commitment to Food Access. Craig serves as a Board Member at the Rindge Food Pantry. Both he and Megan are both regular volunteers at the pantry and they make significant food and flower donations there weekly all season long. They also offer ½ priced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shares in partnership with the Conservation District and the Granite State Market Match program.
Craig and Megan always welcome cooperation. They seek new partners and opportunities to improve their farm and create a positive impact on the community. We are thankful to call The Jensens and Sun Moon Farm our partners and it is with great honor that the Cheshire County Conservation District presents them with the 2021 Cooperator of the Year Award.
–Cheshire County Conservation District