2/8/2014 7:00 AM
By Sarah L. Hamby Connecticut Correspondent
HARTFORD, Conn. — Having made a strong comeback from the brink of deactivation, Connecticut’s Department of Agriculture is moving forward with many new initiatives under new gubernatorial leadership, according to Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky.
On Jan. 29 at the State Capitol in Hartford, the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development invited farmers and agricultural stakeholders to discuss the state’s ag priorities for 2014.
After working together through 2013, the council, which is made up of a dozen of the state’s most active agricultural representatives, agreed that this year’s focus should be on four key elements, which were listed in a December report: food safety requirements; innovation, research and producer education; infrastructure and wholesale markets; and marketing.
In early January, working groups were formed to engage and discuss assignments that would be priorities in the new year.
The Jan. 29 event began with food safety, with questions about the cost of complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FSMA, and other food safety regulations. One farmer spoke on the economic disadvantage some producers might face meeting new food safety regulations. Consumers, he said, should take some responsibility.
“You have to keep cold things cold and hot things hot wash your hands like your mother told you,” the farmer said.
Another grower said: “I’m not a producer, I’m a grower,” she said. “These rules and regulations coming down for a small grower, it’s not physically or financially possible to do this. It’s just simply not feasible. What options do small growers have?”
There are more expectations “but less support,” she said. “I understand the necessity of food safety, but ” The grower went on to ask how local farmers, already concerned about high prices when compared to larger supermarkets, could explain even higher prices being passed along to their customers due to compliance costs.
The second half of the morning addressed infrastructure and wholesale markets, with Connecticut producer Joe Geremia of Geremia Farms in Wallingford. Geremia, who was named the nation’s Outstanding Young Farmer in 2010, has been working in a greenhouse since he was halfway through high school. He now has more than six acres of sustainable greenhouses.
Stacia Monahan of Stone Garden Farms in Shelton also addressed the crowd, sharing the story of her continued success with a community supported agriculture venture, or CSA. What began as a seasonal venture eventually grew into a direct-to-consumer operation that provides consumers with the ability to have out-of-season vegetables all year long.
“Sweet corn roots and squash it’s like a taste of summer in the cold, dark days of winter,” Monahan said.
After lunch, the conversation shifted to production, education and innovation. Kevin Sullivan of Chestnut Hill Nursery LLC in Stafford, who sits on the council, took a few moments to share his excitement and enthusiasm for Connecticut agriculture as well as his approval of the state’s interest in pursuing modern, innovative farming.
“The governor is so pro-ag,” Sullivan said. “He wants us all to excel. He has been in the field. He has spent hours, days trying to understand our complex needs.”
Sullivan said while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is interested in moving agriculture forward, he also wants to hear solutions from producers.
“He does not want to hear complaints and he has been so gracious to the nursery industry because we are putting forth solutions. He wants us to continue to put forth solutions,” he said.
While new grants and opportunities are now available to the state’s producers as the state revamps its Department of Agriculture and rededicates itself to farming, Sullivan said: “It’s not a candy store. Work on modern solutions. We’re being challenged.”
He acknowledged some of the challenges facing the industry including the cost of doing business and lack of representation. The state’s agricultural workforce makes up only 0.6 percent of the working population. Sullivan thinks money should be invested in the science and engineering of farming. But he’s not ready to give up as a farmer.
“There are two key components constantly overlooked in agricultural work,” he said, “passion and perseverance.”
Peter Orr, a founding member of The Farmer’s Cow, a cooperative made up of six of the state’s dairy farms, and chairman of Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, is a member of the council’s marketing working group.
He said the council was seeking input regarding how to better market the state’s agriculture and products grown in the state. The current CT Grown program has existed for more than 30 years and has been an effective means of advertising. But Orr said members want a more fresh approach.
“Connecticut is a very diverse agricultural state. We all need to adapt and change with the marketplace,” Orr said.
For more information about the Connecticut Department of Agriculture or to download the full Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development 2013 report, visit www.ct.gov/doag.