‘A Call to Farms’
Farming is about faith and a sense of optimism. One of our crops is Christmas trees. Two hundred acres of fragrant evergreens thrive on our rocky hillsides and provide opportunities for family harvest adventures each December. We grow our trees from seed. Recently my father Philip, my son Jamie, and I sowed seeds for trees that will be harvested around the year, 2020. Sifting the tiny seeds into the rich soil of our seedbeds, I thought about our faith in tomorrow. When today’s sprouting seeds are ready to harvest, Philip will be 101. And, the high school student workers who are planting with us this spring will be bringing their children to our farm for their Christmas harvest.
This Earth Day, 2004, I want to share with you a farmer’s vision for Connecticut. It is a vision tempered by a lifetime of patiently coaxing trees, vines, and bushes to bear fruit and bring happiness to families that visit our farm and savor what we grow. It is a vision cradled in the tradition of our family’s love for the land. It is time to wake up and begin thinking beyond tomorrow so we leave our children a legacy of opportunities for a green and healthy environment.
Imagine for a moment those special places in Connecticut that make us want to live here. Likely, the fields and forests of our farms are part of your vision. They are a cornucopia. They feed our bodies and they nurture our spirits. And they are vanishing! Nine thousand acres each year grow their final “crops”: asphalt, houses, malls, and office buildings. Yet thousands of urban acres lay fallow – underutilized “brownfields” – waiting opportunities to be recycled into attractive places to live and work.
In 1776 our patriot forbearers saw their basic freedoms threatened. They stepped forward and issued a call to arms! With wisdom and sometimes with their lives and fortunes, they laid down the foundations for our United States of America. I say to you in 2004, we must think beyond tomorrow. If we want our Connecticut landscape to be green, growing food and providing wholesome experiences for our families, we must step forth and issue a Call to Farms! That call must echo across our neighborhoods, through our municipal chambers, and rattle and shake the hallways of our state capitol! Sustaining a diverse and healthy agriculture should be at the heart of our public policy. We need to favor balanced growth so farms can compete with sprawl.
…A Call to Farms! Did you know:
▪ Our Connecticut Department of Agriculture is slated to close on June 30 of this year. This cabinet level agency is ‘the little engine that could.’ For every $1,000 of your state tax dollars spent annually, only 39¢ goes to its operation.
▪ We are investing a few pennies per capita per year for farmland preservation – lowest among the Northeast states. New Jersey invests almost $10.00! Although our legislature has allocated funds for farmland preservation, 18 months have passed since the bond commission has released them! This poor record may cause Connecticut to lose millions of dollars in federal cost sharing for voluntary programs to protect family farms with conservation easements.
▪ ‘Bio-security’ and ‘Homeland Security’ involve protecting our food supply. The food grown by our state’s farmers is a treasure and wise public policy should encourage production and consumption of “Connecticut Grown”. Yale University’s dining hall at Berkley College is using Connecticut Grown farm products and the students are raving about the food!
▪ Connecticut has some of the world’s best agricultural soils. We have sun and water. The rain we all complained about earlier this April would be liquid gold to the farmers and ranchers of the drought stricken West.
▪ Connecticut’s 3,900 farms directly contribute $2 billion to our economy, but their contribution to our environmental quality and economic development is even greater!
▪ Agriculture makes an enormous contribution to tourism, a leading part of Connecticut’s economy. If tourism is to remain strong in Connecticut, we must maintain a landscape of working farms, forests, clean rivers, lakes, and streams, and preserved placed of historic interest. This natural beauty makes our state attractive to visitors and residents alike!
Connecticut farms are not just another industry crying for help, not merely an economic impact statement to tout. Farms are part of our heritage. Like our rivers, lakes, and our shoreline, their fields and forests are integral to our ‘quality of life’.
A Call to Farms! For the sake of our children and grandchildren we must think beyond tomorrow. May we have the wisdom to grow our communities with a balance and diversity that sustains a healthy quality of life, places of beauty, and the vitality of the human spirit. A Call to Farms – let this be our gift to the next generations.
Terry Jones is a fifth generation farmer on his family’s Connecticut farm.