Land is a natural economic resource for Connecticut
Agriculture has been very important to the state of
Connecticut throughout its history. At one point, about half
the entire land of the state was farmed. We’ve come a long way
since then, but one thing has remained constant and that is the
economic importance of agriculture. Agriculture is an
approximately $2 billion industry in the state of Connecticut.
Technology has certainly changed in farming. However, there’s
still a need for land, and we have to take a look at land as a
natural resource, not just simply as vacant, open space waiting
for development. Land has been an economic resource for
agriculture and for the state of Connecticut.
We’ve seen many changes in terms of agriculture having to
adapt to development. A lot of farms that have remained
economically viable have been encroached upon by housing
developments. And folks will complain about the odor of cow
manure, or chicken manure, things that naturally go with farms
and have for hundreds of years. But, that situation hasn’t come
because of the practices in agriculture. The situation has come
because of the encroachment, the development, which we have seen
at a dramatic pace in the state.
Unfortunately, I think, in Connecticut as well as elsewhere,
we’ve looked at the changing patterns of development – housing
developments, business, commercial, strip mall development, etc.
– as progress, as a natural evolution in the course of our
Unfortunately, in years past we’ve had more economic
incentives through property taxes for towns to develop farmland
where the land becomes improved, you put structures on it, you
put businesses or homes on it, and you have a more significant
tax base that generates more revenue for the town. So, there’s
actually been a disincentive from a town tax policy point of
view to preserve farmland.
We know now, looking back, that we lost a great deal of
farmland and agricultural land that should have been preserved.
Luckily we did step in, a few decades ago to begin a program of
preserving farmland. But, even though we have made good faith
efforts, Connecticut continues to lose farm land at a faster
rate than any other state in the country.
It’s very important that we pay attention to agriculture,
because I think in recent years agriculture has not been given
the credit that it’s due in the state of Connecticut – either as
an economic force that contributes $2 billion dollars to the
state economy or as a cultural force that connects us with our
history and our heritage.
So, we put together a task force of legislators and citizens,
advocates in the agricultural community, to come up with ideas
to help preserve our farmland and do a better job of that in the
future, and to do the important work of ensuring that
agriculture is economically viable in the future. The two have
to go hand in hand for the preservation of agriculture.
Staunching the loss of farmland to developers
Farmland preservation funding has been dependent upon the
state allocating a certain amount of bond money each year.
Sometimes that’s been forthcoming, sometimes it’s not been. As
a result, there has not been a consistent policy or program to
preserve the farms. We’ve actually lost the opportunity to
preserve farms because we could not get the funding to close the
deal. We’ve had farmers willing to put their land into trust,
to sell the development rights, and yet the state has not been
able to come forward with the funds in a timely manner to do
that. As a result, they’ve had to sell off to developers.
That’s a tremendous loss for the state.
This year we were able to successfully pass legislation that,
for the first time, has put together a pay-as-you-go system. A
fee on certain land documents recorded, will contribute about $6
million to $7 million each year for farmland preservation, and
another $6 million to $7 million to open space preservation, so
that we can have a steady, reliable funding source every single
Our goal is to have not only the stable year-to-year funding
we’ve achieved with this year’s legislation but also to continue
with bonding that can provide $10 million or more per year. If
we can live up to both of those commitments, then I’m confident
we’ll be able to preserve the farmland that’s necessary in
I can say that if we were to be able to put together $15
million to $20 million a year for farmland preservation on an
annual basis and live up to that, that would be a commitment
unlike any we’ve seen in the state of Connecticut. It might
not meet all of our dreams and expectations, but it would take
us far down the road to preserving the farms that we must
preserve at this point.
We need to do a much better job of helping agriculture in
terms of marketing so it’s economically viable. And, then,
connecting that to town planning and municipal planning so that
when municipal planners drive by corn fields they don’t see just
vacant land for development but understand it’s an economic
resource for the town.
Developing state policy
We need to change state policy; we need change town policy. I
was first selectman of a town before becoming state senator and
I remember the last real estate boom in the 1980s when I was a
selectman. We were looking at changing our planning and zoning
laws. And, there was tremendous resistance to any change that
would encourage cluster housing, for example, and preserve open
space – just because we’ve never done it like that before.
I think we need to move to more creative development
strategies so that we don’t have continued Levittown development
that just chew up acreage and really don’t provide the type of
communities where people are connected, which have worked so
well in decades past.
We have to have an economic policy that realizes that when it
comes to business and industrial development, let’s put it in
concentrated areas connected to transportation infrastructure.
Right now we’ve embarked on a policy that encourages sprawl
development, chases business and industry out of our urban areas
that are traditionally connected to that transportation
infrastructure out into the suburbs, out into the rural areas
where it’s not unusual now to find factories or office parks.
That’s the wrong way to go, and especially with the energy
crunch that we’re facing right now, the transportation crisis
that we have in Southwestern Connecticut that’s ready to come to
other parts of the state. We have to be much smarter in those
types of development.
All of that speaks to being smarter about preserving farm land
and open space. If we can take the steps that we need to take
to have the economic development concentrated in those areas . .
. . I mean, they had this figured out 150 years ago. You know,
you concentrate your factories, your business centers. You
locate them near those hubs for transportation at the time. It
was either on a river or the railroads coming in. Today it
would be major interstate connections. But, we need to
revitalize those rail connections for both passenger and
freight. If we do that, then it’s much easier to have the
sensible kind of development that will preserve farmland and
open space, with less pressure from sprawl and pushing our
development into rural areas.
Helping farmers go to market
We also know that in order to have viable agriculture, we’ve
got to connect agriculture to markets. We’ve got to do a much
better job of marketing, whether it’s horticulture, which has
done very well, or our traditional farm or other agricultural
Let’s take advantage of the fact that we’re smack dab in the
middle of one of the most densely populated parts of the United
States. We’ve got New York City to the south, Boston and
Providence. Also the New England market and the greater New
York/New Jersey markets. We’re right here in the middle of all
that with a lot of population, a lot of tremendous restaurants
and a great opportunity for connecting agriculture to the
markets. We haven’t done a very good job of doing that in the
past. We’ve left farmers on their own to make their own
connections. I think with a revitalized department of
agriculture, we can make progress to that end in the future.
We understand the importance of the tax credits and tax
policies we have on the books right now that provide benefits
for farmers. We understand not to backslide there on any tax
reforms in the future. At the same time, we know that
agriculture is a tough, tough business. When you depend on the
weather – whether you have a wet season or a dry season or
whatever – to make ends meet, it’s a little unpredictable.
What we can do is help farmers – not only connecting them to
the markets in terms of the outreach in the Connecticut growing
programs and those types of marketing efforts – but we can help
connect farmers to other farmers so that they can become the
I’m thinking of an example in Eastern Connecticut, something
called The Farmer’s Cow, which is a consortium of dairy farmers
who were taking a look at the price they were being paid for
milk by wholesalers and realizing that they were never going to
get ahead. They were not going to be able to survive if they
went down that path for the foreseeable future.
So, what they decided, “We need to get together. We need to
figure out how we can cut out that middle man, how we can become
the entrepreneurs. And, they’re in the process of establishing
a Connecticut brand of milk that will spell out to consumers
that these are the farms, right here in Connecticut, where this
milk came from. And, I think what they will find is what we
already know from certain surveys: The public wants to buy
locally grown products. People will even pay a little bit more,
sometimes a lot more for products that they know are local and
are higher in quality. That’s also been proven by surveys that
We can help facilitate those types of efforts and
relationships. In terms of economic policy, when a consortium
of farmers comes together like that, we ought to take them as
seriously as an economic force and as a business enterprise as
we would any other group of business folks coming in with a