A subcommittee of the Master Plan Implementation Committee is considering a variety of proposals, both public and private, that have the potential to boost agritourism in Londonderry.
Among the ideas discussed at the subcommittee’s meeting on Sept. 23 were establishing and implementing a farmer’s market in the Town Center, and small, private projects that would bring families from Massachusetts and beyond to learn about and participate in the farming experience in Londonderry.
Local developer Richard Flier, who is building two homes for his family on properties he purchased on Adams Road, told the subcommittee he is considering the possibility of transforming a portion of the farmland into a series of small bungalows with farm plots where such vacationers could stay.
“I don’t think a farmer’s market is the only answer. We should look at other forms of agritourism, and other ways to present ourselves as an agricultural community, and bring in types of agritourism that could bring in substantial income for farms in town, things that would attract people from Massachusetts or Vermont, things that are unique,” Flier said.
In addition to the farm experience-focused vacations, Flier said he is also considering creating somewhere around 200 well-managed farm plots with access to water and bathrooms that people could purchase to visit and help manage throughout the summer season.
The gardens would present the opportunity for employees of local farms to find supplemental work, helping to manage the plots and teaching guests about agricultural practices.
Additionally, Flier said local farmers and other experts in agriculture could provide workshops and tours to guests enjoying extended vacations in the bungalows.
“If we don’t look at what’s really being done with agritourism, we’ll miss the boat. We should be looking at how to strengthen the backbones of the farms that are here,” he said.
“As a town, there’s no volunteer that will work all hours of the week. I think the Town should piggyback off private efforts,” member Tim Siekmann agreed.
In addition to the private ventures Flier shared with fellow members, the subcommittee also discussed the potential to hold a weekly farmer’s market at the Lions Hall, directly across the street from the Town Common, where concurrent artisan markets would further boost traffic and generate interest in gathering in the Town Center for activities.
Chairman Deb Paul, who is publisher of the Londonderry Times, described the success of the Summer Finale event at the Morrison House, at which local artisans sold goods in a small market, and shared her vision for a weekly farmer’s market in the Town Center that would be complemented by an artisans market on the Town Common.
Paul also advocated for Andy Mack Sr.’s vision of expanding the trails to neighborhoods surrounding the Town Center to facilitate foot traffic to such events, in addition to enabling more children in town to walk to school.
At the Morrison House, Paul said many artisans who participated in the Summer Finale said they loved the location.
“Everyone in the artists’ group was beaming about how perfect the setting was, particularly the musicians,” Flier agreed.
Paul said many of the artists expressed interest in setting up another small market in the barn on the property.
However, the deconstructed Rev. Morrison House is being stored inside the barn, which the Londonderry Historical Society estimates will cost around $500,000 to raise.
“We have a bunch of RFPs (Requests for Proposals) coming in, and we’re thinking about doing a citizen’s petition to put it on the warrant,” Paul said.
To support markets in the Town Center, Paul proposed considering portable “tiny houses” she has seen used in other communities for such events, which could be constructed for farmers and artisans to use.
However, Flier expressed concern that the lack of existing traffic in the Town Center could put a strain on such markets.
“I’m really afraid of having a structure, because standing on its own, the vendor has to come and make considerable money. When you sell $3 worth of corn or pears, you really have to have a lot of people buying them. I would think Woodmont (Commons) would be a great place for a market. We need to think about the actual real estate cost in maintenance and how much cash it will take to support it,” he said. “We should think like a retailer and go backwards in terms of location and cost.”
Flier also advised that the subcommittee should hold a meeting with farmers in town, at which the local business owners could advise the group on where and when such a market would be most beneficial to them, if at all.
“If we had a focus group with farmers in town, they would give some good advice. You have to go at it with an economic point of view,” he said.
“I agree with Richard, the first thing we should do is sit down with our key farmers in town to determine how we should set this up,” member Mike Speltz said.
“A good farmer’s market is a quality thing,” Flier said. “I think we should hear from our farmers what the market is.”
In addition to the markets and other agritourism opportunities discussed during the workshop, the subcommittee plans to review the Town’s land use ordinances and regulations to determine if the Town is “farm friendly.”
Geographic Information Services (GIS) Manager John Vogl said another way the subcommittee could promote agritourism in Londonderry is by ensuring the Town’s ordinances facilitate such opportunities.
The Subcommittee, which is tasked with reporting back to the Master Plan Implementation Committee, plans to hold an additional meeting in hopes of hearing more input from the public and local farmers.
Additionally, the Subcommittee discussed establishing an Agricultural Commission in town, by which local farmers and other connected volunteers would represent the interests of local farms and advise the town on matters affecting them.