By Jess Skinner
From the top of Mt. Monadnock looking South-West, you can catch a glimpse of a farm that has attracted families and farmers to the Monadnock Region since the mid-1800’s. Since establishing as a farm in 1785 and building the farmhouse and inn in the 1800’s, East Hill Farm has been a family destination hot spot for over a century.
The Inn at East Hill Farm today fills a unique niche in our community. Visitors come from all over the country to stay at the farm and enjoy the pond, the hiking on nearby trails and the direct farm experience. Naturalist workshops are offered including a mushroom walk with David Wichland of Wichland Woods Mushrooms, cheese making with Farmer Dave and traditional farm crafts such as candle making.
While at the farm, visitors sit down to as many as three meals a day, all prepared fresh at the farm. The typical menu ranges from homemade soup to freshly baked bread that melts in your mouth, roast turkey and mashed potatoes. What’s unique about this menu is that it not only uses some of the products from the farm, but purchases produce and other value-added products from local farms and businesses.
When asked whether the Inn is hoping to shift their menu to include more fresh produce and local items, the owner, Sheri St. Laurent, commented that there are significant efforts being made to buy more local products. They currently purchase seasonal produce from Tracie’s Community Farm in Fitzwilliam, produce and corn from Coll’s Market in Jaffrey, berries and fruit from Monadnock Berries in Troy, milk from Manning Hill Farm in Winchester, and sausage, hamburger, eggs and ham all come from their own backyard at East Hill Farm.
What is unique about the Inn is that they aren’t just selling meals like many of the Monadnock Menus member restaurants. They are attracting people to come stay in the Inn andenjoy an authentic, relaxing family vacation- the food is just one element of the visit.
“We have made the commitment to buying local because it feels right. It feels right because it is beneficial to everyone involved. Consuming as much locally produced anything makes sense” says Sheri when asked why they make the commitment to buying local. “Its not easy to change the menus for our visitors based on available produce because many people appreciate the regularity of the menu”. As a resort location, the Inn is trying to think of ways to increase the amount of local food being served to visitors while keeping everyone’s favorite meals on their plates.
One way they hope to go about doing this is by creating a Local Farm Fare dinner one night per week where they focus on the ingredients within the meal and try to source as many of the items within the meal from nearby farms as possible. Jennifer Murray, Sheri’s sister, who is an integral part to the Inn’s operation and marketing, hopes to post a sign next to the menu in the dining hall with a list of locally sourced items and where they came from, as well as post the local menus online with links to the farmers and businesses. The Inn hosts a Growers Dinner as a part of the NH Farm to Restaurant program each year, and both Sherri and Jen want to see this type of local food enthusiasm at the farm more often.
One of the challenges to buying locally is simply balancing the cost, but the Inn has found success through attending community events and being a part of local food networks, such as the Monadnock Farm and Community Connection’s Matchmaker Event. “Network, network, network!” Sherri emphasizes the importance of being a part of events such as the Matchmaker and making an effort to meet with farmers and community members that are acting as food advocates. They met David Wichland at the Matchmaker, as well as connected with Cheshire Gardens, located in Winchester NH. They met Tracie of Tracie’s Community Farm at a community forum in Keene and regularly receive updates from the Conservation District about upcoming events and opportunities to connect.
Excitement over local food and farms is increasing in the Monadnock Region and around the United States. Here in the Monadnock Region, we want to continue making connections between our local farms, food establishments and consumers. The Inn at East Hill Farm is yet another great example of a family owned business that is not only taking the step to feed their customers high quality, fresh products, but they’re connecting everyone they touch with the source for where it came from. “If you can, buy in season. Just do it !”
Until next time, keep your eyes out for the Monadnock Menus logo and encourage your local food establishments to “Get Local on the Menus!”