Agriculture Chief Hopes Grants Boost "Locally Grown"

May 13, 2013

The recent growth in farmer's markets in Connecticut speaks to the increasing popularity of locally grown food. Now the state's Department of Agriculture has big plans for Connecticut-grown produce to fuel the economy and create jobs. 

Out here on Valleyside Farm in Woodstock, it can be quite a challenge to keep an eye on each of the four hundred and twenty five cows. The diary farm has been in business since 1819 and supplies milk to Agri-Mark, maker of Cabot cheese. Owner Timothy Young says the land was deeded to his ancestors by the King of England. And now, after all these years, he’s giving technology a try by installing a computer cow activity system to monitor his herd, thanks to a matching $17,000 grant from the state Department of Agriculture. Each cow will be fitted with a collar that transmits its physical activity data to a central computer.

“If their movement is up and above what’s normal for them, it will stand out. If movement is below normal for them, it will show up.  So we’ll be able to ask the software certain questions.”

Activity level is indicative of a cow’s wellbeing and her ability to produce milk and to breed. Young says the technology will allow him to make better use of his employees’ time, intervene earlier if a cow needs medical treatment, and eventually increase production.

“Efficiency is everything today. Milk prices don’t really to the farmer go up that much so we have to keep sharpening the pencil. So the activity system will allow a 24-hour contact with the cows.”

The funding is part more than $800,000 in farm transition and farm viability grants awarded to 32 farms, agricultural nonprofits, and municipalities by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to expand the state’s agricultural industry. Commissioner Steven Reviczky.

“Our intent here is not only to create jobs over time by assisting in maintaining or growing the viability of those individual farms, but in the cases where they’re building infrastructure, new buildings and expanding the infrastructure on those farms is to create jobs during that construction process as well.”

By year 2020, Reviczky hopes at least five percent of consumer spending on food will fuel purchases of locally grown produce and farm products. His goal is to increase procurement by food service organizations, schools, universities, hospitals and state facilities.  

“We think that by increasing the amount of locally grown foods that are procured by those institutions, we can literally pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the state’s economy.”

That’s good news for local farmers at the Community Farm of Simsbury – CFS, looking to find new markets. The Department of Agriculture awarded the nonprofit organization a grant of $50,000, part of which would help fund an incubator program for first-time farmers. Tara Tranguch worked in the telecommunications industry in the U.S. and abroad for 15 years. She says she was drawn to eating healthy foods and farming because of the pollution she was exposed to while living in Shanghai. This is her first year as a farmer. She leases the land for a nominal fee from CFS and is growing more than 30 varieties of organic, mostly heirloom vegetables. She will sell her produce for the season to about 35 families and also at local farm stands.

“I don’t have the capital to buy my own land or to buy my own equipment, so this program provides all that. Second of all, I was still looking for some mentors, some people who could coach me and train me and provide me with knowledge and have a community of people to learn from.”

The grant will also help expand CFS’s food security and education programs, build vegetable wash stations and purchase equipment, says manager Maggie Saska.

“We’re looking to really build up the type of equipment that we have on the farm to make us kind of more modern and better farmers. And so number one on the list this year was a new tractor. We’re also looking at other types of equipment that will help us basically make a nicer seed bed for the farmers to use for planting. We’re looking at equipment that will help us manage our weeds better. And as organic farmers we also think about how we do things like cover cropping on the land.” 

Executive director Mark Nolan gives me a tour of the hen house. The chickens, calves and sheep are part of CFS’ interactive education program for school kids. Many high-school students volunteer to grow vegetables across the 90-acre farm, which donates produce to food service organizations.

“We donated in 2012 more than 15,000 pounds of certified organic produce to food security throughout the Greater Hartford area.”

The state grants were established in 2005 and funding is raised through a $40 fee collected from recording documents into municipal land records. The latest round of grants will help fund farm construction activities, promote farmers’ markets and increase the use of Connecticut-grown produce.