Connecticut recognizes 4,200 farms remaining across the state. If that sounds like a lot, consider that in 1944 there were 22,000. Or that fewer that 168 of the farms we have left are dairies and we lose at least one every month. In this state, an operation counts as a farm for tax purposes if there are at least $2,500 of agricultural product (a modest sized hay field would qualify) and 14 acres. The vast majority of our farms are not the primary source of revenue for those who live on the land.
Along with the lost of farms comes the loss of farm infrastructure. The local Agway, if you can still find one, has switched from feed and farm to home and garden. The one slaughterhouse that covers western Connecticut, where we have 25% of the state's remaining land in agricultural cover, is on borrowed time and rumored to close. Much of the land base available to large farms for silage and hay production is leased from non-farmers whose land is far more valuable in a developed state than in agriculture - despite the property-tax advantages of the latter use. All it takes is one transfer of wealth from a generation that supports rural livelihoods to one that wants maximum value from its inheritance to pull hundreds if not thousands of acres out of production.
Connecticut is a rapidly urbanizing state and I live in one of its truly rural areas. There was a time, though, in the 18th and 19th centuries, when these hills were shrouded in smoke and fires licked the night skill from charcoal-fired furnaces and forges. Unless transportation costs become so prohibitive that we are compelled to produce the majority of our food close to home, we are unlikely to see a resurgence of traditional agriculture here. The best farmland soils are also suitable for home construction and are being developed at the most rapid pace.
Still, there are reasons for hope. Efforts to build the packaging, marketing and distribution network for locally produced, grass fed and hormone-free beef and mutton are underway across Litchfield County. Prior to the conversion to dairy as the dominant farm product in the 1870s and 1880s, these hills produced meat and cheese from a variety of livestock and may again. Farmland preservation is high on virtually everyone's list of what they wish to retain about this landscape. A new documentary Working the Land, notes hopefully:
"Farmers who have managed to survive, and sometimes thrive, have done so by successfully adapting to changes in the marketplace and in society. The diversity and adaptability of the state's farms is a bright sign for the future viability of Connecticut agriculture."
There is still a long row to hoe.