Published: 02.07.2021 5:15:41 PM

One of the changes the pandemic brought to New Hampshire was the increase in appreciation for local food, as shown by a new UNH study and results in farmers markets and farm stalls.

The question is whether the new habits will last when grocery stores and food supplies return to pre-pandemic levels.

“I hope this continues, even though things are open,” said Gail McWilliam Jellie, director of the Agricultural Development Division. “I hope people who have never made a purchase in the country, or made it minimally, learn that food quality is worth continuing to buy in farmers’ markets and farm stalls.”

One reason for optimism, she said, is that coping with the changes brought about by COVID-19 prompted many local manufacturers to make some long-discussed improvements, particularly adding turnaround and online ordering, which will be easy to continue.

Of course, people seem to like it.

Half of New Hampshire residents say they buy “local farm food” at least a few times a month, according to an online Granite State Survey of 903 residents in May. Not surprisingly locally sourced food was most popular among people in the three counties in the Connecticut River Valley, which has the state’s best and least popular farmland north of the White Mountains but Merrimack County also did well : 68% of respondents there bought local farm food at least occasionally.

They were more likely to report that it was easy to find traditional sales models such as farm stalls, physical stores, and farmers markets.

The survey, by the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH, also saw much room for improvement. For example, only about 30% of people said CSAs, in which customers paid in advance for access to seasonal crops from a farm, were “easily accessible” and less than a quarter knew about online local food platforms.

People in the study were recruited from randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers.

New Hampshire has worked to expand domestic production for decades, with reasons ranging from increased food security to job security to the addition of tourist attractions. Direct sales to consumers, such as on farm stalls, have increased significantly in recent decades, but it has proven difficult to maintain agricultural infrastructure, such as points of sale for tractors or meat processing facilities for cows, sheep. and chickens.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)