Feb 21, 2014
03:17 PMConnecticut Today
Most Exciting (Tastiest) Connecticut Trend? May Be Farming's Resurgence
Arethusa Farm Dairy in Litchfield, one of the more notable additions to the Connecticut farming landscape in recent years.
As farming vanishes from Connecticut, the popularity of country fairs, with events from jam judging to oxen pulls, is booming … the amount of land used for farming in Connecticut fell by about 30,000 acres, to 464,000 acres in 1987 from 491,000 in 1982.
That was the opening of a July 1990 story in The New York Times, Agriculture May Be Vanishing, but Farmers' Fairs Are Booming.
What a difference a couple of decades makes.
Released Thursday, the USDA’s preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture Report shows that while the loss of farmland in Connecticut continued, reaching a total acreage of 405,616 as of the 2007 census—or a decline of 58, 384 acres in a 20-year period—land devoted to farming in the state is now on the rise.
In fact, between 2007 and 2012, the total acreage dedicated to farming in Connecticut is back up to 436,406, a 7.5 percent increase, and even more impressive is that fact that the number of farms in the state is up 22 percent in the five-year census period, from 4,916 in 2007 to 5,977 in 2012.
The state even has a Farm Map Website with an interactive map boasting more than 200 destinations where folks “can discover an array of farms, stables, greenhouses and pastoral scenery," along with the popular guide to pick-your-own farms.
“Taste some Connecticut-made ice cream," the Farm Map Website invites. Wander through colorful local nurseries. Visit a nearby farmers’ market for the freshest produce and artisanal foods. Sip our Connecticut vintners’ award winning wines. Boost the local farm economy and enjoy the open space."
The recent farming growth prompted an effusive press release from Gov. Dannel Malloy, which said, in part, “Not long ago, people in this state were worried about farms disappearing in Connecticut. We have come a long way in a few short years. I remain committed to the growth of this industry and to the hard working farm families of Connecticut, as does [Agriculture] Commissioner [Steven] Reviczky and his team. We have helped agriculture turn the curve in this state, and I look forward to doing more to keep it growing.”
And it’s not just the numbers that look good. The last decade, especially, has seen the burgeoning of farmers markets featuring local and often organic produce, meats and dairy products from hometown farms, not to mention baked goods and other staples of a locavore lifestyle. It’s now possible once again to stock the pantry and refrigerator entirely with foods raised nearby.
With that trend, the types and caliber of farms has risen, too. One notable example is Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, the passion of Manolo Blahnik USA owners George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis. Arethusa produces milk, ice cream, yogurts, cheeses and more that are made in a creamery in a former firehouse in the Bantam section of Litchfield and sold in retail shop there. Next door is the relatively new and highly-acclaimed Arethusa al tavolo, where many of the products figure into the wine bar’s four-star cuisine.
Helping shepherd the movement in Connecticut toward a better farming future is CT NOFA, the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the practices of ecologically sound farming and gardening, and to the development of local sustainable agriculture.
In a bit of serendipitous timing, on the heels of the release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture data by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, CTNOFA is holding on March 1 its 2014 Winter Conference, billed as “Connecticut's largest food, agriculture and sustainability conference [that] brings into focus the challenges of the next generation of farmers and how they affect all of us.” (More on that in a bit.)
““I am pleased—but not surprised—by these results showing Connecticut’s 22 percent increase in number of farms over the last five years is the highest in New England,” Governor Malloy said of the new farm data. “Despite an overall decline in farm numbers nationally, Connecticut has made great strides in this area. The figures released by USDA today confirm that the work that I have done with Commissioner Reviczky, his team at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development to build a long-range, strategic pathway to grow Connecticut farms is working.”
“Agriculture is a significant industry in our state,” the governor said, while also referencing the role played by his Connecticut’s Farmland Restoration Program. “Estimates based on USDA’s 2007 Census showed agriculture contributes $3.5 billion to Connecticut’s economy and provides nearly 28,000 jobs. These numbers clearly are on the rise. Agriculture also provides fresh, nutritious food and beautiful working landscapes for our residents and visitors. On top of that, farms have been shown to use less than they pay into municipal services, so they reduce property taxes.
For more on the vibrant state of farming in Connecticut is available on the state Department of Agriculture website at www.CTGrown.gov.
As for CT NOFA, “a growing community of farmers, gardeners, land care professionals, businesses and consumers that encourages a healthy relationship to the natural world,” its conference at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury will be an all-day event for “farmers, gardeners, foodies, environmentalist, chefs and families.”
The keynote speaker is Fred Kirschenmann (below), a Distinguished Fellow for the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, New York. The title of his talk is Tomorrow's Farmer & You.
Those who attend will be able to participate in workshops for all levels and interests, such as GMO Labeling—Taking Back Our Food, Our Government, and Our Children's Future: Creating a Transparent Food Supply.
There are many workshops that cater to DIY folks, such as learning how to start your own garden, learning about edible weeds, and building and learning how to use cobb ovens and other outdoor cookstoves, along with wine-making at home.
In between workshops, attendees can visit with over 50 vendors and exhibitors featuring local foods, crafts, books, and sustainability initiatives. There’s also a raffle with prizes that include garden supplies, Connecticut grown and crafted goods, exciting services and more.
“Not only do we have great workshops but attendees will also have the opportunity to sample from some of the best farm-to-table restaurants in Connecticut,” a CT NOFA volunteer said in touting the conference, which goes from 8:30 am to 5 p.m.
Fine restaurants that will be represented include Barcelona in South Norwalk, LeFarm in Westport, Bar Sugo in Norwalk, Kibberia of Danbury, Green Leaf Organic Bakery in Wilton, and Swoon in Ridgefield.
Registration is open at www.ctnofa.org or by calling the CT NOFA office at (203) 308-2584. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged, but walk-ins are also welcome. For more information, see the website at http://ctnofa.org/winterconference/index.html