Traditionally the third Wednesday in March is set aside for Ag Days at the Connecticut State Capitol, a day when agriculture displays its diversity to members of the State Legislature. This year Mother Nature had other plans. She had a well-predicted snowstorm set for Tuesday the 14th, the meteorologists labeled it a blizzard. The storm prompted the planners to push the date ahead to Friday, March 17 to allow ample time for things to get back to normal.
Many of the members have few if any ties to farming and the important role it plays in the state’s economy and how important it is for it to be supported at the legislative level. With the state’s budget in dire straits the competition for state money is intense. Samples of products produced by Connecticut farmers were neatly packaged and presented to members of the legislature as they made their way through the hall.
Activities began with Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky reading a Proclamation from Governor Dannel Malloy extolling the many accomplishments of Connecticut agriculture and its importance to the economy of the state and proclaimed the day Connecticut Agriculture Day.
A highlight of the day’s activities is announcing of the Outstanding Young Farmer Award, which this year went to Arthur Spielman IV of Baltic, CT. There were three generations of Spielmans in attendance at the ceremony, each proudly carrying the name Arthur. A unique aspect of this family is that each generation has handed over the operation of the farm to the succeeding generation at an early age, in the case of Arthur IV at age 28. This generational transition may serve as a model for farm families everywhere.
The farm is a 620-head operation with 1,400 total acres. Arthur IV is General Manager and as such has changed his focus to that of managing finances and becoming a better businessman. To accomplish this he has an advisory team, facilitates meetings of the ownership and family to continue good communication and actively works with the family to secure the long-term availability of their land base. He leads the farm community with a vision of environmental sustainability practicing no-till corn planting and using an innovative radish-clover-rye-hairy vetch cover crop. He also includes wheat in his crop rotations as well as utilizing NRCS expertise to build facilities for composting and to prevent runoff from silage. Arthur IV is engaged to Lindsey Corey who was present for the ceremony.
The Century Farm Award for 2016 was presented to the Norman Hill Farm of Woodstock, CT with Earl Norman accepting the award. He was accompanied by his granddaughter Lydia and her friend Grace Peckham, whose dad won the Outstanding Young Farmer Award a few years ago. The award is presented annually to a Connecticut farm that has been operated by the same family for 100 years. The farm was founded in 1910 by Carl C. Norman who emigrated from Sweden. Through the generations the farm has undergone several transformation from vegetables to poultry and now has a 100-cow dairy herd.
The Strong Family Farm in Vernon, CT was presented an award for its program of introducing inner city children to some of the activities that are part of everyday life on a farm — in this instance adopting a chicken. In late March two dozen chicks and one rooster arrive at the farm. The kids pay a fee of $30 for a season during which they visit the farm every other week for two hours from April until late September at which time the chickens go to a farm in Massachusetts to assume their roles as egg layers in a free range setting. The tuition fee helps pay for the cost of the chicks, their feed and fencing. During their visits they learn everything about chicken rearing and help with all of the chores including cleaning the coop. The underlying premise is for children to have a better understanding of where their food comes from. Alexis Carmicheal discovered during a talk to a group of inner city kids that they had absolutely no inkling as to where their eggs came from. Farm owner Nancy Johnson and Carmicheal collaborated to bring this excellent program into being.
Exhibits were set up in the Hall of Flags. The several agencies and sections with the Dept. of Agriculture were well represented within the display area. The University of Connecticut Extension Service provided educational material for the target audience. Others present included the maple syrup producers, the Grange, wine makers, NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association of CT), the Farmers Cow, and the CT Agricultural Experiment Station among others.
A large contingent of FFA members were in attendance learning first hand how one small segment of the state government works, a lesson in the democratic process. It is upon the shoulders of these young people that the future of agriculture in this state lies. Based on the numbers attending and their attentiveness it would appear that we are in good hands.