Connecticut may be the third smallest state in the nation, but it has a large agricultural presence – which led to the state being featured recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the federal agency’s website.
Bucking the national trend, USDA reports, Connecticut farming has been growing for the past two decades. The state – based on the 2012 Census of Agriculture – has nearly 6,000 farms, which is a remarkable 60 percent increase from the 3,754 farms in Connecticut in 1982. At the same time, the state’s farmland acreage remained relatively stable, which means that the size of an average farm has been trending down, to an average of 73 acres.
More than 900 Connecticut farms harvested vegetables for sale in 2012, with bell peppers being the most popular crop. To meet the needs of East Coast homeowners and landscapers, in 2012, 880 of Connecticut’s nurseries, greenhouses, floriculture and sod farms grew and sold almost $253 million worth of those crops.
In addition, Connecticut’s coastal area has hosted shellfish farms since Colonial times. In 2012, the state’s aquaculture industry sold nearly $20 million worth of seafood, primarily shellfish from Long Island Sound. There is livestock as well, USDA notes, with 774 farms in Connecticut raising cattle and calves. Most of the sales on the livestock end come from milk, however. In 2012, the state’s farms sold nearly $70 million worth of milk from cows.
Contrary to history and stereotype, in 2012 more than 25 percent of all Connecticut farms were operated by women as principal operators. That is an incremental increase from 23 percent in 2007. Overall, the 2012 Census counted more than 3,700 women farmers in the state.
Connecticut farmers have also stepped up their efforts to get agricultural products into consumers’ hands, the USDA report indicated. With the growing “buy local” movement, nearly a quarter of Connecticut farms market human food products directly to consumers. About 10 percent of the farms in the state now market their products directly to retail outlets such as restaurants, stores, and institutions; and at the same time, 218 of our farms participate in community-supported agriculture programs allowing local residents to partake in their harvest.
Although the USDA did not specifically mention the longstanding “Connecticut Grows” campaign from the state’s Department of Agriculture, it has served as a lynchpin for intensified efforts using technology.
The CT Grown Program was developed in 1986, during the administration of former Gov. William A. O’Neill, when the now-familiar green and blue logo was created to identify agricultural products grown in the state. During nearly three decades, the CT Grown Program has blossomed into a multifaceted campaign that promotes these products through a diverse array of avenues in local, regional, national and international markets.
It now features CT Grown producer listings and brochures, connections to farmers markets, the CT Seafood Council, CT Farm Wine Development Council, CT Food Policy Council, CT Milk Promotions Board, and other related councils and commissions.
More recently, the website www.buyctgrown.com was established as “a place to connect people who are ready to discover CT Grown foods and experience Connecticut agriculture.” buyCTgrown is a program of the non-profit CitySeed and receives support from our partners including UConn Extension, CT Farm Bureau, CT NOFA, and the CT Department of Agriculture.
The website’s “CT 10% Campaign” asks people to spend 10 percent of their existing food and gardening dollars on locally grown goods.” Individuals and businesses can sign up to “take the pledge” on the website, and will receive ongoing information about locally grown products.