Category Archives: Connecticut

Planning for Food and Agriculture in New England: An Interview with Cris Coffin, New England Director, American Farmland Trust

What brought you to American Farmland Trust (AFT) and has kept you engaged in your work over the past 11 years?

I was first introduced to AFT when our former president, Ralph Grossi, along with AFT Special Advisor Norm Berg, came to discuss Farm Bill conservation programs with my then boss, Senator Herb Kohl.  I was impressed that AFT clearly cared about both the environment and farmers—not just one or the other.    I continue to feel that way.  AFT fills an important niche in bridging the divide between the agriculture and environmental communities, and we are able to do that, in part, because we have a staff that knows and understands agriculture.   I have great colleagues,  and their  expertise and commitment to those things that AFT works on makes it a wonderful organization to work for.

What would you say one of your greatest accomplishments at AFT was in 2012?

This past year has been one where AFT has focused our work at the regional level.  We embarked on an exciting regional policy project with the Northeast Sustainable Working Group and the Conservation Law Foundation.   We finished a regional milkshed study that looks at ways consumers and policymakers can support our region’s dairy farms.  We organized a regional farmland protection convening attended by our land trust and state and federal agency partners around the region, and started planning for a larger regional farmland convening in 2013.  And we continued our work with Farm to Institution in New England to build new markets for New England farmers and spur investment in the region’s food system infrastructure.

It’s been an exciting year, with so much interest and energy around the region on building New England’s food system infrastructure and fostering economic development in agriculture.   And with each of the  New England states focused on planning for agriculture and the food system, it’s a great opportunity to think holistically about the region’s farmland base and what it will take not only to stem the loss of productive farmland, but to put additional land back into production to grow the region’s food production capacity.

Brian Donahue at Brandeis University is working on an exciting vision about New England’s food future that imagines New England meeting at least half of its food needs in 50 years.  Since we now produce only 10 percent of the fruits and vegetables we eat in New England, and less than 50 percent of the dairy products, this would be an enormous change, but one that could have a very positive impact on our food security, our economy and our environment.  How much land will we need to get to this type of vision?  And how do we work as a region to keep farmland in farming, reclaim land for agriculture in an environmentally sustainable way, and recognize that agriculture can play a critical role in our region’s economy and environment?

What are some of your most relevant findings thus far in AFT’s efforts to identify policies to improve regional food resilience?

Our two-year regional policy project with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Northeast Sustainable Ag Working Group is looking across the food system to identify both the most significant challenges and the policy levers that are going to be the most impactful. There are a few I would point out.

One significant challenge—and this is not new—is farm profitability.  There are some very significant hurdles that farm businesses face that we simply have to address if we want to encourage a next generation of farmers and increase food production in the region.  Farm labor is a huge hurdle.  Increased and complex regulations around food safety are another.   Reducing costs and increasing efficiencies—in energy and other farm inputs, in processing and distribution—are others.

We are also looking at opportunities to make land more accessible and affordable to both established and new farmers.  A lot of landowners, including towns and land trusts, rent land to farmers but don’t always appreciate that some of the constraints they put on the use of that land make it challenging to farm.  A lot of land that is protected in this region is protected in such a way as to make it difficult to farm.  And for young farmers especially who don’t often have the resources to be able to purchase land, are there ways that might allow them to build some equity in a farm business on land that they may not own?  There’s a lot of good thinking being done on this issue through Land For Good’s regional Land Access Project which we’ve been involved in, and we want to use this policy project to highlight and gain traction on some new policy ideas and tools. .

What are the most important steps moving forward in 2013 for your work in New England?

One of the things that we are very excited about is having a regional convening in the first quarter of 2013 around farmland specifically.  The convening offers an opportunity to brainstorm around   regional collaboration and to showcase state and regional policies and projects that are making a difference that we think might be replicated across the region.  That conversation, and the work leading up to it and coming out of it, I hope will produce a needed action plan for the region around farmland.

Similarly, our new Farmland Advisors program, which we are doing jointly with AFT’s New York office, will be gearing up with webinars next spring and a conference next fall.  This program will be training 80 participants—agricultural service providers, state agency staff, and land trust representatives—about farmland access and farm transfer tools and strategies.  This is a way of taking what we’re learning from our regional policy project and the Land Access Project and getting information into the hands of the people who are working directly with farmers and landowners.

We will also stay involved in 2013 in both state and regional-level food system planning.  We’re excited that Massachusetts is about to embark on a statewide strategic food system planning effort, and that Connecticut will be rolling out its first recommendations associated with its agricultural planning efforts. Farmland loss has been significant in both these states, and we see these planning efforts as critical to building momentum for policies and investments that will help keep farmers on the land.

What do you think is one of the most critical parts of your work in New England?

We’re at an exciting point in time where policymakers and the general public want to support local farms and farming. We absolutely need to make the most of this opportunity.  We need to demonstrate that agriculture really can be an economic driver. We need to explain how investments in agriculture and farmland can be good for both the environment and for public health.  And in this age of competing demands on state, federal and private resources, we need especially to be strategic. How can we best leverage resources within and around the region?  What state and federal policies can we revamp to encourage smarter growth and less conversion of farmland? And what will really make the biggest difference in keeping farmers on the land over the next ten years? Fortunately, AFT has many great partners around New England, along with members and donors who share our vision and goals.  We look forward to working with them all in 2013!


About the Author: Cris Coffin is the New England Director for American Farmland Trust, where she leads efforts to promote farmland protection, farm viability and conservation practices in New England through research, outreach, advocacy and policy development at the local, state and national level.

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Growing Agriculture in the Provision State

Did you know that Connecticut was coined the “Provision State” by George Washington for the important role the state’s productive farms played in feeding the troops for the American Revolution?

Connecticut Valley farm and barnAgriculture is growing and changing in Connecticut again, with a need to reclaim pastures and cropland while rebuilding agricultural infrastructure. To help meet this need and boost the job creating activities associated with agriculture, the Connecticut Department of Agriculture will soon launch a new Farmland Restoration Program. Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky credits Governor Malloy for promoting the restoration provision, noting in his travels the number of overgrown fields were there were once productive farms.

In many parts of the state, there is great competition for the best farmland and little opportunity for beginning farmers to access land. The new program will help farmers and landowners restore private, state, municipal and land trust lands back into agricultural production. Up to $20,000 per project will be available (with a match required) to implement a number of different restoration and conservation practices. The restoration plan will be developed in consultation with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Connecticut Conservation District Specialists, with federal funds being leveraged for some of the conservation practices. Potential activities funded by the new program include the removal of invasive plants and brush, installation of fencing for reclamation areas to protect crops and wetlands, the renovation of farm ponds and the planting of streamside buffers.

The Farmland Restoration Program is expected to increase the acreage of farmland available to help new and existing farmers grow their businesses, thus creating jobs and providing fresh local products to meet growing consumer demands so the state can once again reclaim its name as “The Provision State.”

Details about the program and application materials are available at the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s website, www.CTGrown.gov (click on “Programs and Services”), or by calling 860-713-2511.


Kip Kolesinkskas, American Farmland Trust About the Author: Kip Kolesinskas is a consulting Conservation Scientist for the New England Office of American Farmland Trust.  For 20 years, he served as USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service State Soil Scientist for Connecticut and Rhode Island.

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New England: A Year of Progress

For many of us, this year will be remembered for its weather. The January blizzard and record winter snowfalls. The mind-boggling flooding that followed Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. The wild Halloween snowstorm and its ensuing power losses. We were reminded that things we take for granted—like the rich productive farmland soils that have been farmed for centuries along the Deerfield River in Massachusetts—can disappear in a day down a river. We were reminded, too, of how important it is to have effective programs and policies in place to help farmers manage the inherent risk in farming so they can stay profitable and remain stewards of our vital working landscape.

This year, we worked with a wide variety of partners in the region to promote the critical importance of farms and farmland to New England’s economy, environment, public health, community character and livability. Here are a few highlights from our work across the region:

New England farmCreating a Vision for Rhode Island Farms and Food

With the Rhode Island Agricultural Partnership, we presented a new strategic plan for the state’s farms to Governor Lincoln Chaffee and state lawmakers at Rhode Island’s Agriculture Day in May. The new five-year plan, A Vision for Rhode Island Agriculture—the culmination of a year’s outreach to Rhode Island’s diverse agricultural community—will guide consumers and officials in building a stronger and more resilient food system and farm economy.

Connecting Farmers with Land in Connecticut

Faced with some of the highest farm real estate values in the country, farmers in Connecticut—especially those just beginning—often struggle to find productive and affordable farmland. Farmland ConneCTions: A Guide for Connecticut Towns, Land Trusts, and Institutions Using or Leasing Farmland, published by American Farmland Trust and the University of Connecticut, helps towns, institutions and land trusts navigate the process of leasing land to farmers or managing it for agricultural use.

Working Lands Alliance Secures Funding for Farmland Protection

With new governors in four of the six New England states, we worked to educate incoming administrations about the importance of state and federal funding for farmland protection, including—through the Working Lands Alliance—Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy. We were thrilled when Gov. Malloy and state lawmakers enacted a two-year bond package with $20 million for farmland protection, allowing continued progress toward the state’s goal of protecting 130,000 acres.

Cultivating Local Farms in Maine

In partnership with Maine Farmland Trust and the Mainewatch Institute, we produced a new guide to give communities practical ways to support local farms and keep farmland in farming. Cultivating Maine’s Agricultural Future provides examples of actions local officials and residents can take to protect farmland and make their towns more farm-friendly. Please contact Peggy McCabe in our New England Office at pmccabe@farmland.org for a free printed copy of the guide.

Scaling Up the Region’s Institutional Markets

New England’s 14 million consumers are demanding more locally grown foods, and the region’s institutions—including public and private schools, universities and hospitals—are looking for ways to meet that demand. This year, we were excited to help launch a new effort, the Farm to Institution in New England (FINE) project, taking a region-wide approach to expanding processing capacity, identifying distribution channels and best practices, and increasing institutional procurement of New England-grown foods.

A Look Ahead

Agriculture is rooted in New England’s history and is a critical force in guiding the region’s future. As we look to 2012, we will continue to work to support thriving farms throughout New England while improving access to healthy foods and growing the resiliency of our region’s farm and food system.


About the Author: Cris Coffin is the New England Director for American Farmland Trust, where she leads efforts to promote farmland protection, farm viability and conservation practices in New England through research, outreach, advocacy and policy development at the local, state and national level.

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Protecting Farmland, One Scoop at a Time

Few things celebrate summer more than a bowl of ice cream. And what better way to enjoy the tasty treat than go straight to the source for Sundaes on the Farm?

On Sunday, August 21, Graywall Farms and the Farmer’s Cow hosted a special event to raise awareness about the need to save Connecticut’s most valuable and vulnerable resource: our farmland. The event drew 120 supporters and raised $4,500 to support the ongoing work of the Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust.

Our farms and farmland provide much more than the sweet ingredients for a creamy summer treat. Agriculture in Connecticut is essential for a healthy economy, a healthy environment and the preservation of the state’s rich history and culture. But sadly, like much of the nation, Connecticut has seen a rapid loss of farmland due to rising development, with approximately 85 percent of Connecticut’s farmland unprotected.

Sundae on the Farm featured Connecticut fresh ice cream, horse-drawn wagon rides, locally grown roasted sweet corn, and bluegrass music. The event also highlighted the rich history and contributions of agriculture and other rural livelihoods in Connecticut. Not only was it an excellent way for families to have a great day out and enjoy the best of the state, but it also gave attendees the opportunity to support the state’s leading advocacy group for farmland preservation.

The event was a collaborative effort between the Farmer’s Cow and the Working Lands Alliance. Behind the mission “Local is Fresh,” the Farmer’s Cow is a group of six Connecticut dairy farms that produce fresh, local dairy products (including ice cream) for southern New England. The Farmer’s Cow products are pasteurized the “traditional way” and are never ultra-pasteurized. The group also sells Connecticut-sourced all-natural eggs, apple cider and seasonal beverages. The Working Lands Alliance, a project of American Farmland Trust, is a statewide coalition of individuals and more than 200 organizations and businesses working together to help save Connecticut’s valuable and vanishing farmland.

Facts about Connecticut Farms and Farmland

  • Connecticut’s prime farmland is some of the most productive land in the world.
  • There are 321,393 acres of cropland, pasture and woodland on Connecticut’s 4,916 farms.
  • The state has 163,686 acres of cropland, 32,832 acres of pasture and 124,875 acres of farm woodland.
  • Connecticut has 862,822 acres of “prime and important soils”—that’s 27 percent of all state land—which have the potential to be used for agriculture.
  • Sixty-four percent of Connecticut’s farms are fewer than 50 acres.

Working Lands Alliance was grateful to have the incredible support of our sponsors, including Farm Credit East, Jones Family Farms, T.W. Henry Real Estate and Appraisals, CME Engineering, Rockville Bank, and Cooper Whitney Cochran and Francois Attorneys of New Haven. We were also delighted to serve ice cream from the Farmer’s Cow, and roasted sweet corn from Cushman Farm. Prizes from Chestnut Hill Nursery were auctioned off along with Elisha Cooper’s award winning book Farm. Events like these help not only to raise money but also to raise awareness about the need and importance of working together to save farmland in the state. They also demonstrate the deep-seeded support from the community for local agriculture. All in all, Sundae on the Farm was the cherry on top of the many ongoing efforts to protect a viable future for agriculture in Connecticut.



Leah Mayor, Working Lands Alliance Director and New England Project Manager, works on on policy, outreach, and education about the importance of farmland protection in Connecticut and the Northeast.

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