U.S. Chris Murphy last week launched his 2018 “Our Farm Bill” Listening Campaign and Online Portal as a way to directly communicate with Connecticut’s agricultural community. This two way conversation will enable Murphy to hear firsthand of the agricultural communities ideas and goals for the upcoming 2018 reauthorization of the Farm Bill.

“From the time of the American Revolution, when Connecticut was known as the “Provision State,” farming has been in our DNA,” explained Murphy. “Today, farming in Connecticut is on the rise. In the face of many challenges, Ct farmers are doing amazing work to thrive during times of economic stress and low commodity prices. And too often, Washington isn’t helping.”

“The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) tends to focus more on the needs of large, monocrop farms and ignores the struggles faced by Connecticut farmers,” he continued. “Consumers across the country are demanding healthier, more sustainable, locally-grown food and the USDA is not doing enough to support farmers and the local food systems that can deliver these options. I am working hard to change this dynamic in Washington, but we can, and must, do more.”

Murphy, commencing Conversation Across Connecticut, visited recently Trifecta Ecosystems, a Meriden-based aquaponic urban farm, where he held a roundtable discussion with key people that included Connecticut’s Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky,Connecticut Farm Service Agency Executive Director Clark Chapin, Trifecta Ecosystems owners, local farmers and additional stakeholders to learn of how he can better support Connecticut’s farmers.

Subsequent to a tour of the Trifecta Ecosystems facility, Murphy hosted the discussion in an effort to obtain vital feedback from local farmers - their ideas and goals for the 2018 reauthorization of the Farm Bill. “This is a kickoff of what is going to be a series of conversations all across the state to make sure that the Farm Bill, which is due to be reauthorized this fall, reflects Connecticut’s priorities,” explained Murphy. “Historically - newsflash - the Farm Bill does not reflect good Connecticut priorities, instead focusing on big agribusiness.”

James Zeoli, Chairman of the State of Connecticut Department of Agriculture & Farm Land Preservation Advisory Board and First Selectman in Orange (not in attendance at event) spoke of his suggestions in supporting Ct’s farmers, “Residents should ask at their grocery stores, is any of this food local? Also the local producers have to get a fair pay. The best way to support local agriculture is to buy from local agriculture. We have preserved over 43,000 acres of farmland in the state but we could stand to preserve over 100,000 acres in the state. It’s very challenging. Here in the Town of Orange we have preserved over 1,000 acres of land both open space and farmland and we continue that mission because if our generation doesn’t preserve it, what will be there for future generations? Nothing.”

“Our agency is committed to fulfilling its mission of growing Connecticut agriculture and protecting public health and safety in matters related to farming and domestic animals,” said Commissioner Reviczky. “Our commitment extends to facilitating and encouraging our residents to buy Connecticut Grown and to expanding the availability of locally grown foods and horticultural products.”

“I am grateful for Senator Murphy’s presence at our farm and am encouraged by his recognition of the economic importance of innovative agriculture, including aquaponics, indoor farming and vertical farming,” said Spencer Curry, Co-Founder and CEO of Trifecta Ecosystems. “Trifecta is on the mission to create the city that feeds itself, starting here in Connecticut. Support from the Senator and most importantly, in the 2018 Farm Bill, is critical to growing this industry to drive economic growth and provide food security to our state and our nation.”

“People are getting their food from sources that are down the street or around the corner,” said Murphy. “We recognize the detriments to our environment and to our economy to transporting food from far away. There are more and more reasons to produce food locally. We see that in Connecticut as we witness the explosion of small farms. While the overall acreage of farms in Connecticut may not have fundamentally changed, we have seen dramatic change in the number of people who are farming.”

The Founder & CEO of Ct-based Wholesome Wave, LLC Michel Nischan (not in attendance at event) shared his thoughts on supporting Ct’s Agriculture. “The USDA focuses on what Congress tells them to focus on, the USDA is an agency that acts based on legislation that’s passed in Congress,” explained Nischan. “Over the last two Farm Bills some pretty good gains have been made by local agriculture and the USDA pretty vigorously supported it. The problem is Congress, the Farm Bill, and the priorities that they put on certain things like local food. Large monocrop farms are more favored than smaller local systems, though smaller local systems have made really great gains from the 2007 to the 2014 Farm Bill. Progress has been made but certainly more can be done. Progress has been made for local food systems, farming and research, Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program (snap/food stamps spent on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and grocery stores). We are seeing a trend and the opportunity is to make sure that trend continues in the up and coming new Farm Bill.”

“There’s a role that State Legislation plays as well,” continued Nischan. “If farmers can’t afford land, what good is support for beginning farmers and ranchers if they can’t afford to go into farming in the first place? My suggestion is, we are looking at tax reform solely from the perspective of income tax, we really should be looking at real estate tax reform based on a holistic approach to appropriate land usage - for the entire state, what is the land use planned for the entire state, what’s the best land to zone for residential, what’s the best land to zone for more density of development, and what’s the best land that takes into account a growing demand for agricultural product, support for the farmers to use those land assets (tax codes, laws, incentives available), and what are the additional appropriate facilities necessary to support that (food processing, animal processing, dairy processing, etc.).”

“It’s not just the Farm Bill,” added Nischan. “If things in your home state aren’t allowing the farmers to take advantage of those programs, they’re meaningless. People on the state side need to think beyond the Farm Bill so they actually benefit Connecticut. Where we’re often falling behind is support from the State Government of Connecticut for the Ct State Department of Agriculture.” (www.wholesomewave.org).

“It is critical that the 2018 Farm Bill recognizes and supports innovative farms in addition to small and new farms. Innovative farm technologies are changing how we grow food and the 2018 Farm Bill must provide support to foster growth in this country, or we risk falling behind,” continued Curry. “I urge the Farm Bill committee to include provisions to support innovative urban farms with incentives, subsidies and all other economic tools that the committee can bring to bear.”

Murphy added, “Beginning farmers programs are really important to us here in Connecticut. That explosion I think continues with the assistance of the Federal Government to help beginning farmers. The goal here is to begin a conversation on how a bill can help small farmers and innovative farmers like Trifecta Ecosystems.”

”A recent University of Connecticut study finds that agriculture contributes about $3.5 billion to the state’s economy each year and represents some 20,000 jobs,” Reviczky said. “We applaud and appreciate the renewed focus on farming and the work the agency does to grow the agriculture sector of our local economy.”

“I believe that Connecticut could be the nationwide leader in the advanced agriculture technology sector,” Curry said. “Senator Murphy’s support speaks volumes to that belief. We have a remarkably dense cluster of ag-tech farms in Ct and with the states support, we can capitalize on that to drive economic growth in the state and provide real food to our inner cities.”

“The current Farm Bill expires in September,” Murphy noted. “The discussions will really be starting in 30-60 days. I play a role in that in several perspectives. One, every single Senator gets input in what goes in the Farm bill. I also sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee.”

The current Farm Bill expires this year, “and there are many ideas here in Washington about what a new bill should look like. But the best ideas don’t usually come from Washington. That’s why I am launching this campaign. I want to hear your thoughts, your ideas, your goals, and your priorities. No idea is too small or too big and the most important voice to me during this process - is yours.”

“Farm Bill reauthorizations only happen about every five years, and the policies a Farm Bill includes affect the daily operations of every Connecticut farm and millions of Connecticut families,” continued Murphy. “Your input will be invaluable to my work in Washington and I appreciate you taking the time to partner with me in this effort.”

Connecticut residents are encouraged to visit Murphy’s “Our Farm Bill” website and to share their ideas at www.murphy.senate.gov/our-farm-bill.