Suzanne Brown, Founding Farmer & Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Agriculture and Forestry (“NHIAF”).
1. What is NHIAF? What exactly do you do/provide for the local community?
- NHIAF’s mission is to develop new farms, farmers, and markets for locally and sustainably/organically produced food and wood products. We provide consulting services for people who want to venture into the ag/forestry occupations; we work with existing farmers and forestry businesses to help them become more productive/profitable/organic/sustainable; we also help planners/towns/schools and other institutions move toward more food independence. An offshoot of NHIAF is our NH farm Fresh distribution service, which will probably be spun off as a for-profit enterprise this year. I also have a passion for technology and innovation and work toward finding sustainable efficiencies for agricultural production.
2. What is your background? How did you become involved with NHIAF? How long have you worked there?
- I grew up in southern NH on a small “hobby” farm and attended the US Naval Academy and while I was a Marine officer I completed an MBA at Pepperdine University. I left the service and went into software and real estate development and marketing. I wanted a career change and was very interested in organic farming. So our family moved back home to NH from CA 7 years ago and we started farming and established NHIAF to help our local ag/forestry industry, which was and in many ways still is antiquated and in decline.
3. What percentage of NH is forested; farm land? What is the most farmed product/ good in NH?
- About 86% of our state is forested, but back in the 1800’s much of that land was opened farm fields, hence all the stone walls. Our biggest farmed product(s) is actually not edible—horticultural greenhouse production of ornamentals and Christmas trees. After that, I believe milk, apples, and maple syrup.
4. Please describe your job generally, as well as you daily tasks?
- My job ranges from developing strategic plans at the top level to being out on pasture with the cattle, pigs, and sheep—feeding watering, observing. I also fix ALOT of broken things, especially in cold weather. Equipment, tools, water and electrical systems. Every single day the animals need food/water/shelter, so I need to make sure they have it no matter what it takes. My day normally starts and ends with deskwork (too much!) and then I try to be outside as much as possible. I also visit other farms quite a bit as part of my consulting work. I also do all the software development for our e-commerce website www.nhfarmfresh.com that is in the process of being overhauled.
5. What do you think of the plans for the overhaul of nutrition labels on US food packages in more than two decades, as unveiled recently by Mrs. Obama?
- Long overdue … good news for my business 🙂 I hope this is a precursor to GMO labeling.
6. What are the traits of an effective organizational leader?
- Well, I was a Marine officer, so my leadership values were instilled strongly at a young age. Integrity, a willingness to do whatever it takes to complete the mission, taking care of your people before yourself, etc. It works for managing myself, and my family, and they are also values that I find are sometimes missing from the agricultural community. My leadership style that worked well in software/tech/development, is culturally different from what I have found in agriculture. Ag is a slow-moving, often frustratingly recalcitrant-to-change industry. Unfortunately, many of the “old school” conventional farmers don’t like me.