Originally published in
June 9, 2006
How to Support Your Local
- Toward the end of the "I Love Lucy" television series, which ran
from 1951 to 1957, the Ricardo family moved from New York City
to "the country" — Westport, to be exact — and Lucy started
raising chickens. From then on, all of America saw Connecticut
as "the country."
enough, that moment marked the beginning of the mass exodus of
upwardly mobile New Yorkers to the suburbs of the metropolitan
region — and the beginning of the end of animal agriculture in
moved to Woodstock in 1978 as a large-animal veterinarian, I
marveled at the beauty and fertility of Connecticut. But it was
immediately obvious that what had happened to farms in Fairfield
County during the previous 20 years was sure to creep diagonally
to the northeastern part of the state.
approximately 1,000 dairy farms in the state in the late 1970's,
169 remain. But while skyrocketing land values are an acute
problem for farmers, the biggest threat to animal agriculture in
Connecticut is not development, it's the loss of businesses like
slaughterhouses, feed stores, milk processors, veterinarians,
tractor dealers and refrigeration technicians that support
agriculture. Recently, the owner of Franklin Mushroom Farm in
North Franklin announced plans to move the company to Reading,
Pa., largely because such businesses are disappearing.
to blame? Aggressive real estate agents? Greedy developers?
Consumers who want strawberries in January? While we can try to
place blame, it's not productive. The system is what it is, and
farmers have struggled to adapt to it.
an old saying in New England: "Farmers live poor and die rich."
Given the poor profitability of Northeast farming these days,
land is no longer the family legacy — farmers sell to finance
their retirement, the children who inherit sell because there's
no money in farming. We all lose out in the end.
farming in New England profitable is the only way to make
agriculture sustainable. And consumers who care about the
quality of food, the way animals are raised and the conservation
of farmland have the power to bring farming back to life in this
state. Proof of that comes from the recent introduction and
success of the Farmer's Cow, a higher-priced milk brand produced
by a Connecticut farmers' cooperative, in the face of falling
national milk prices.
grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, my
university is collaborating with the University of Connecticut
and other New England state colleges to create branded livestock
products produced by local farmers for local consumption. The
goal is to give consumers the opportunity to support local
agriculture directly with their food dollars while enjoying the
best fruits of our farmers' labors.
master brand is called Azuluna, and we are using production
methods more typical of 1950 than 2006, getting the animals back
outside grazing instead of cutting the feed and bringing it to
them in the barn and letting calves raised for veal nurse from
cows on pasture rather than confining them and feeding them milk
replacer. These kinds of animal husbandry procedures from our
grandparents' era create the highest-quality, best-tasting
products on the market.
animals in this program spend their lives with access to fresh
air and sunshine while consuming a balanced diet. We are now
test-marketing Azuluna pork from pigs rooting in fields, lamb
fattened outdoors on the farm of their birth with grain and
mother's milk and blue-shelled eggs from chickens that are truly
free-range, not simply cage-free, which usually means kept on
the floor of the barn instead of in cages.
tests prove successful, we are recruiting New England farmers to
adopt similar practices and earn premium prices for their
products. We'll then encourage these high-quality producers to
form a private cooperative and negotiate equitable prices with
distributors, helping make agriculture in our region financially
local governments and Connecticut residents can support farmers
in a number of ways. Even in tight budget years, legislators
must provide enough money for our vocational agriculture
education system, which we depend upon for the next generation
of farm owners and employees, and parents should be proud to
send their children to these excellent schools.
planning and zoning boards should recruit and accommodate
businesses that directly support agriculture. For example, if a
landowner requests a zoning change from agricultural to
commercial for a parcel to build a farm supply store, the
proposal should be viewed as supportive of farmers, not as a
ploy to sell out to Wal-Mart. State grants, tax incentives and
other forms of assistance could be created to attract and retain
more of those businesses.
want locally produced meats, we need local slaughterhouses and
meat cutters, and the state should offer tax breaks, initial
financing and training to people interested in creating these
kinds of small businesses and pursuing these jobs.
Unfortunately, there's a sense among the agriculture community
that it's too late to save our farms and that soon all our meat
and dairy products will be trucked in from out of state. But I'm
here to say that it's not too late — we just need a little more
optimism and some good old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity.
Saperstein is the chairman of the Department of Environmental
and Population Health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
at Tufts University.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company