Celebrate Ag Day March 19 at the State House

3/16/2013 7:00 AM
By Lorraine Merrill New Hampshire Agriculture Commissioner

Join us for New Hampshire’s celebration of National Ag Day on Tuesday, March 19, on the State House Plaza in Concord from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The event is co-sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food, New Hampshire Farm Bureau, Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire and the Northeast Organic Farmers Association-New Hampshire (NOFA) and will highlight the diversity of our agriculture and the contributions of our farmers.

Legislators and members of the public can meet some farmers and learn about their farms. Along with the food for thought, Granite State Dairy Promotion and local farms will offer fresh milk and other locally grown and produced foods for sampling.

Orchard Hawk Watch

Farmers are stewards of nearly half a million acres of land in our state — land that provides valuable wildlife habitat and supports rich biological diversity.

Local and regional birders know this, and make farms and agricultural fields regular parts of their itineraries as they prowl for both usual and unusual bird sightings, and track avian trends. Avid birders are always ready to help novices learn how to identify new species, or offer youngsters a peek through their high-power spotting scopes.

But for one New Hampshire orchard, birding has become an integral aspect of agritourism and the apple-picking season.

Rob and Annette Larocque, owners of Carter Hill Orchard in Concord, have formed a special partnership with New Hampshire Audubon to welcome the public to the orchard as an official Hawk Watch Observatory during fall migration.

The orchard “draws thousands of visitors each fall to a setting where New Hampshire Audubon can interact with and educate this captive’ audience,” notes Audubon President Mike Bartlett.

Customers and visitors not only have access to pick-your-own apples, a farm store, and what Bartlett declares “the best cider donuts in town,” they can also visit an observation platform ideally situated for visitors of all ages to experience the thrill of raptor migration.

“Rob Larocque and his family have been extraordinarily generous over the past five years in sharing the orchard with New Hampshire Audubon,” Bartlett says, “allowing us to set up a research and education site for a two-month period of time during the height of the apple season — which is also the height of the hawk migration.”

The partnership yields multiple benefits to both parties, and to the many visitors who come away with an added bonus from a visit to Carter Hill Orchard during September and October.

A family outing to pick apples and get some freshly pressed cider is enhanced by live raptor demonstrations, the opportunity to hike in a beautiful setting, and the chance to view migrating hawks, eagles and falcons heading south for the winter.

Audubon recently released the Fall 2012 Report of the Carter Hill Raptor Observatory. Tens of thousands of people have visited the observation platform since Carter Hill became an official New Hampshire Audubon hawk watch site in 2008, the report notes.

Audubon staff and volunteers collect raptor and weather data for the international hawk migration database. Fall 2012 set new records for diversity and numbers of raptors. Record numbers were tallied for 14 of the 16 raptor species sighted at the orchard location. A total of 7,142 raptors were counted passing over Carter Hill. An impressive total 101 bird species of all sorts were observed from or below the observation platform over the two-month season.

The orchard is permanently protected through the federal Farmland Protection Program. A year-round, public-access trail connects to Concord’s West End Farm Trail linking Carter Hill Orchard, Rossview Farm and Dimond Hill Farm, and crossing seven miles to the bike path off Silk Farm Road near the Audubon center.

Lorraine Merrill is New Hampshire’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets & Food.

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