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Connecticut farmers get much-needed support during pandemic

ctgrown It’s safe to say that Connecticut’s produce industry has never seen a year quite like 2020. During these tumultuous times the state has dedicated its efforts and resources to supporting farmers and providing people with healthy, high-quality fruits and vegetables during these unprecedented times.

With more than 5,500 farms covering about 440,000 acres, the Constitution State’s farms contribute nearly $4 billion to the economy while providing about 22,000 jobs. In order to support farms as the state quarantines to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the Connecticut Northeast Organic Farming Association and the state’s Department of Agriculture expanded the list of farms, farmers markets and farm stands beyond members of the association, it provides online, free of charge.

As farms and farm stands were deemed essential businesses during the pandemic, the Department of Agriculture has provided guidelines as to how they can maintain the safest and healthiest practices during this strange time. These include employees washing hands regularly and properly, wearing a mask or other face covering and maintaining social distancing. Other suggestions include providing daily health checks for workers, educating staff as to the symptoms of COVID-19 and how it spreads, sending home employees displaying any symptoms of the virus, and what steps to take if someone in the organization tests positive.

One initiative the department has undertaken to support farmers is a series of grants, known as Farm Transition Grants, that total $550,000 and are designed to strengthen the viability of Connecticut farmers and agricultural cooperatives that want to expand, diversify and improve their existing operations.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vulnerable our food system is,” said Bryan Hurlburt, Connecticut’s commissioner of agriculture. “This year’s Farm Transition Grant awards were used to expand and diversify our local food systems, generate on-farm energy production, and the traditional expansion of farm operations into new production. Connecticut farmers are innovative and entrepreneurial, and these awards will help them manage the risk in their expansion plans. Ultimately, these investments strengthen the agricultural economy and provide improved availability of Connecticut-grown products.”

Connecticut is renowned for popular produce including numerous apples such as Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold and Red Delicious, as well as sweet corn, but there is a lot of variety in what the state offers in terms of fresh fruits and vegetables. Take a tour of Connecticut’s pick-your-own farms and a treasure trove of delicious blueberries, strawberries, peaches and pears will be discovered. The state also is known for its lettuce, peas, beans, melons and pumpkins.

Farmers in Connecticut have also been encouraged to take the steps needed to receive financial help from the United States Department of Agriculture through the Coronavirus Food Assistance program, which is providing funds to deliver relief to farmers throughout the nation that are impacted by the pandemic. The program is designed to help farmers that have experienced a price decline of 5 percent or more or face other costs.

“This federal assistance is crucial for Connecticut’s farmers to continue their operations and maintain our state’s vibrant agricultural diversity,” said Governor Ned Lamont. “Throughout all of the market disruptions, producers have continued planting, growing, and caring for their animals in order to meet the needs of consumers for fresh, local food.”

Hurlburt is also encouraging residents to support local farmers during this difficult time by finding farms in their area at www.ctgrownmap.com.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how fragile our food system is,” he said. “We all know how important food is, but now many people understand how important it is to have a robust, local food system for people to access.”

The Department of Agriculture also is dedicated to preserving working farmlands by acquiring development rights to properties through the Farmland Preservation Program, which ensures land remains available only for agricultural purposes. The program has preserved about 45,000 acres of land on nearly 400 farms, a significant step toward its goal of preserving 130,000 acres.

The voluntary program offers farms an alternative to selling their land for development and gives those interested in owning a farm the chance to buy land at affordable prices. It also provides farm owns working capital and helps them with estate-planning issues. It’s all about promoting a healthy agriculture environment in the state — and providing people with healthy fruits and vegetables.

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