Preserving Farms. Supporting Sustainable Farmer Livelihoods.
Over the last decade, New Milford has seen renewed interest in farming. The kind of farming now emerging is very different: more intensely managed and more diversified, yet smaller-scaled than the large family tobacco and dairy farms that covered hundreds of acres in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And it is being taken seriously once again as a potential economic driver and creator of sustainable livelihoods.
The emphasis is on potential, however. For farming to become an actual economic driver in our community calls for overcoming the kind of structural hurdles faced by farmers in any US town anywhere that watched as most of its rich farmland was replaced by residential development in the 20th century.
Land valuations in Litchfield County make cost of entry for young farmers prohibitively expensive, much of the agricultural infrastructure has disappeared, farming on a small scale pushes up production costs, farm labor is scarce and hauling poultry, pigs and cattle to be processed at the nearest reliable USDA-certified facility can mean long, expensive round trips to New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania or Vermont. All this could render farming uncompetitive. And these are just a few of the challenges our farmers face. It is not uncommon for them to take on other full-time jobs just so they can continue to farm.
Recognizing the urgency of saving our rapidly disappearing farms, Mayor Patricia Murphy established the New Milford Farmland & Forest Preservation Committee (NMFFP) in 2006. She charged it with preserving and protecting the remaining farms and helping to find ways of ensuring sustainable livings for our farm families. In partnership with our farmers and with generous funding support from our town, the state and the federal government, NMFFP has made strides on both.
In 2010, almost 90% of New Milford respondents surveyed in conjunction with the 2010 update of our town’s Plan of Conservation and Development agreed that New Milford should preserve its surviving farms. Over 75% responded that the town should set aside funds to do so.
Since NMFFP was founded, it has seen almost 800 acres of largely fallow lands in New Milford returned to active small-scale farming of everything from organic produce and heritage grains to hay, cattle, Christmas trees, sheep, chicken layers and broilers and micro-greens.
For example, the 210-acre Smyrski Farm, owned by the regional land trust Weantinoge Heritage, Inc, has been leased to Greyledge Farm, a grass-fed Black Angus cattle farm operation in neighboring Bridgewater. Fort Hill Farm, one of Connecticut’s largest, most successful CSAs thrives on 20 acres of Nature Conservancy-Sunny Valley Preserve land nestled against a hill among 20th century sub-divisions.
A study released by the University of Nebraska in 2009, Sustaining Agriculture in Urbanizing Counties noted that over 60% of farming today in the US takes place at the urban edge. New Milford is on its way to demonstrating that this can be done successfully.