While farms in many states across the nation have decreased in number, the latest 2012 Census of Agriculture survey reports that New England states have all seen a growth in number of farms and the amount of land from 2007 to 2012. Connecticut specifically saw a 22 percent increase in the number of farms.
In 2012, the number of Connecticut farms was 5,977, compared to 4,916 in 2007, according to the Associated Press. Farm size also saw an 8 percent increase.
The Connecticut Farm Association reports that there are nearly 800 farms in the 29 towns of Hartford County. The market value of the county's production ranks number one in the state, producing 95 percent of Connecticut's shade tobacco and half of the state's sweet corn. The popularity of agri-tourism is also drawing in consumers of wine, honey, ice cream and maple.
George Krivda, legislative program manager of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, said the increase in the number of farms is in part due to the rising demand for locally grown food. "All of it is great, and it all speaks to the average consumer who's more in touch with where food comes," he said.
Several pick-your-own farms reside in East Windsor and its surrounding towns, including Draghi Farm, on 379 Scantic Rd. in East Windsor; Gilson Farm Greenhouses, at 57 Wapping Rd. in Windsorville; Dzen Blueberry Hill and Dzen Strawberry hill, on the East Windsor/South Windsor town line at 87 Barber Hill Rd.; Dzen Tree Farm in South Windsor; Easy Pickin's Orchard in Enfield and Brown's Harvest in Windsor. The state's Northeast Organic Farming Association (CTNOFA) also endorses Melrose Place Farm & Gardens at 12 Pease Rd. in Broad Brook and Plum Gully Farm in South Windsor.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also partially attributes the small boost nationally in the number of younger farmers to increased interest and government support for locally grown foods and a thriving export market. Vilsack expressed a desire to aggressively recruit and retain younger farmers, as one-third of the farmers in 2012 were older than age 65.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement that he was pleased but not surprised by the farm growth in the state. "The figures released by USDA today confirm that the work that I have done with Commissioner Reviczky, his team at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, and the Governor's Council for Agricultural Development to build a long-range, strategic pathway to grow Connecticut farms is working," he said.
Malloy said he expects the trend to continue as additional land is brought into production due to the Farmland Restoration Program that Malloy initiated in 2011. The program provides matching support to farmers for reclaiming fallow farmland and bringing it back into agricultural production.
Malloy pointed to 2007 USDA Census records that highlighted the importance of agriculture to the state, bringing in $3.5 billion to its economy and providing 28,000 job.
"Not long ago, people in this state were worried about farms disappearing in Connecticut," he said. "We have helped agriculture turn the curve in this state, and I look forward to doing more to keep it growing."
According to the AP, Krivda and state officials are cautious about the survey results, which might be slightly off. However, there is cause for optimism. "It's validation that we're on the right track," said Krivda.
The Census of Agriculture survey is taken every five years and was released on Thursday. Nationally, the market value of crops, livestock and total agriculture products have skyrocketed to record highs. In 2012, U.S. farms sold nearly $395 billion in products, a third more than five years earlier. Meanwhile, the amount of farmland across the U.S. is in a state of decline.