When you are asked to consider what drives New England’s economy, your thoughts may turn to high tech, biotech, manufacturing, and institutions of higher learning, with a bit of tourism mixed in, but farming is still an important piece of the pie. In 2012, New England cash receipts from farm sales totaled $2.702 billion. Maine placed first in the region with $703 million in sales, Vermont placed second with $699, and, to my surprise, my state of Connecticut placed third, with $544 million (a slight increase over 2011’s proceeds). Greenhouse and nursery products comprised 43% of Connecticut’s cash sales, with revenue from milk coming in next. Massachusetts was fourth ($510 million), followed by New Hampshire ($184 million), and Rhode Island ($62.1 million).
Most farms in my state are family farms, some of which have been in the same family for generations. Family farmers work particularly hard. Like all farmers they have to worry about the vagaries of the weather, pests, and disease, as well as the threat of major storms. For them there is no guaranteed pay check each week, and, in fact, many farmers work a second job to make ends meet. The USDA reported that in 2012, over 70% of the principal operators of farms derived less than 25% of their household income from farming; 61% of them worked some days off the farm and over 52% had a primary occupation other than farming. It is easy to understand why the total number of US farmers declined over 3% between 2007 and 2012.
The State of Connecticut recognizes the importance of family farmers and and has launched a number of initiatives to help support them now and to preserve their farms for the future. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture, in collaboration with the Connecticut Grown campaign, has developed a series of consumer guides, available in print and online, to promote both the purchase of Connecticut farm products and agritourism.
Some of these include guides for: The Connecticut Wine Trail, Pick Your Own Crops , Farmers’ Markets, and Dairy Products.
This past spring, BuyCTGrown launched the Buy 10% CT Pledge urging residents of Connecticut to spend 10% of their food and gardening dollars locally.
It’s harvest time in New England. With the dry, sunny, weather we enjoyed for most of the summer It has been a banner year for tomatoes. Corn, peaches, and raspberries are at their peak, to be followed soon by apples. In October, winter squash will be piled high in the produce bins. These late crops in particular are easy to cook and freeze for later use. You can find local kale and root vegetables well into the cold weather months. Here is a link to a seasonal guide to produce in Connecticut.
If you decide you’d like to give the Buy 10% Pledge a try, here are some ways to get started:
- Take an outing to pick your own produce
- Shop at a local farm stand or farmers’ market
- Eat some local produce now
- Cook and freeze some for later
- Hit the Connecticut Wine Trail
- Enjoy a meal at a Farm to Table restaurant
Even if you do most of your shopping at the supermarket, there are still ways to support your Connecticut farmers.
- Look for the Connecticut Grown symbol or shop the locally grown section of the produce aisle.
- Look for products from local farms, such as Farmer’s Cow, in the dairy section.
The Farmer’s Cow is a co-op of six Connecticut family-owned dairy farms whose offerings include milk, cream, ice cream and half & half from their farms. They also sell Connecticut-sourced eggs, apple cider, summer beverages. Locally roasted coffee is the newest addition to the line. Farmer’s Cow farmers DO NOT use rBST on their cows. Their products are sold across the state; use their store locator to find the one nearest to you.
Maybe taking the Pledge is not as daunting as you first thought.
Even if you don’t hit 10%, with each purchase you are helping
- a family farmer
- the CT economy
- the preservation of open spaces
Think about that the next time your fridge is looking a little bare.
Happy Monday. Have a great week!
On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”