Agricultural Commission

The Commission meets on the second Tuesday of every month, at 7:00 PM in the Town Office
Rachael Patterson…………………………….Term Expires 2023

Val VanMeier, Chair…………………………Term Expires 2022

John Bunce………………………………………..Term Expires 2023

Mare-Anne Jarvela, alternate………..Term Expires 2022

Pat Rich……………………………………………..Term Expires 2021

Additional alternates:

Barbara Fraser

Nelson Agricultural Commission

At the 2011 Town Meeting, Nelson residents established an Agricultural Commission, as enabled by RSA 674:44. In so doing, Nelson joins a rapidly growing movement in the state, emphasizing the tradition of land use for agricultural purposes. In New Hampshire there are now over 25 municipalities with Agricultural Commissions, echoing similar such interest in other New England states. As more and more people are becoming aware of the importance of local agriculture, this movement can only continue to grow.

The members of Nelson’s Agriculture Commission each have experience in farming, gardening, and the production of food for sale. In selecting the membership, we have tried to strike a balance of age, gender, area of the town, and type of experience.

The Agricultural Commission is currently working on two projects. First is a presentation entitled “How Many MPG Does Your Garden Get?” in which Commission members will emphasize the connection between modern food production and energy consumption (and waste!), and offer several suggestions for simple, local alternatives. The presentation is part of the Nelson Library Summer Forum series, scheduled for July28 at 7:00 PM.

The second project underway is an initial directory of Nelson producers and their produce. If local food is important, why not buy as locally as possible? We hope to have this list available at the Forum presentation.

Other projects in development: an all-Nelson harvest supper; a recommended reading list on food-related issues; and various informational meetings to encourage and assist residents in agricultural production, however small! The Nelson Agricultural Commission invites all residents to participate in our activities.

Agriculture is Growing in Nelson!

Ag Facts:

The words “acre” and “agriculture” derive from the same Greek root, meaning “a field.” Agriculture is literally “the cultivation of the field.” The Latin word for farmer, “agricola,” meant “a field worker.”

In Medieval England, an acre was measured in terms of time, not size: it was the amount of field which a man could mow (using a hand-held scythe) in one day. However, later records show that a good mower could cut as many as two, three, or occasionally even four acres in one day. The “field worker” who could mow the most land was called “first in his field,” which is the origin of our modern expression. The next time we power-up our garden tractors to mow the lawn, we should try to imagine cutting it all by hand!

Most folks who have used a scythe remember the experience as hard, backbreaking work; this is because the typical American-style scythe is very heavy and cumbersome. By contrast, the European or Austrian-style scythe is a smaller, lightweight, and more maneuverable implement, with a hand-hammered blade. In earlier days, Americans were not able to import the better European tool, and so were forced to create blades out of heavy, stamped steel. The heavier blade, in turn, required a bigger, heavier handle (called a “snath”), resulting in a much bulkier tool.

Scythe mowing is best accomplished early in the day, when the grass is wet. This is because the stems contain more moisture earlier, before the sun climbs and dries them out; moisture-laden grass stands up straight and “presents” to the blade. A good mower would often start cutting before dawn, and plan to quit by noon. So, the timing of hand-mowing is the opposite of that for machine-mowing; in the latter, it is best to wait for the grass to dry out, so as to reduce clogging in the machinery.

As far as the grass itself is concerned, studies show that it is best to cut it on a 10-day cycle. This allows the grass to adequately rehabilitate itself before re-cutting (ask any local sheep-farmer about the “2/10 rule”). A longer cut-cycle means a longer lawn, of course: a possible hassle for a machine mower, but of no difference to a hand-scythe. In addition, a longer cut-cycle means a healthier lawn, which in turn means fewer chemical additives needed to keep that lawn “green.”

Wendell Berry, the popular author and agrarian philosopher, writes about using a hand-scythe in his collection of essays “The Gift of Good Land.” He lists several reasons why he prefers a scythe to a power-mower; among them is the fact that the scythe “requires no fuel or oil. It runs on what you ate for breakfast” (p. 173). I would only add, with a scythe you can cut the lawn and still hear the birds sing.

Hmmmm….what can our modern society learn from “the old ways?”