DOAG: FARMLAND RESTORATION PROGRAM PUTTING MORE ACRES, GROWERS INTO PRODUCTION



This article appeared in the June 25, 2014 edition of the CT Weekly Agricultural Report


FARMLAND RESTORATION PROGRAM PUTTING MORE

ACRES, GROWERS INTO PRODUCTION


By Joseph Dippel, DoAg Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation

and

Steve Jensen, Office of Cmsr. Steven K. Reviczky

                           


 

Just a few months ago, much of the former Harris Farm atop Mount Parnassus in East Haddam was so choked with brush and thorny invasive plants it had become a hazard to anyone brave enough to tour it.

 

“When you walked through you would get really sliced up,” town economic development coordinator Peter Simmons recalled. “It was a mess.”

 

But with the help of a Farmland Restoration Program (FLRP) grant awarded by the Dept. of Agriculture (DoAg), 13 overgrown acres at the town-owned site have been cleared for a “community field” leased to small growers and to accommodate a commercial kitchen and agricultural resource center. 

 

The long-fallow plot, part of a former family dairy farm, is not only producing vegetables like tomatoes and corn – it is creating more farmers.

 

“We are providing incubator space for people who want to get started in farming and then graduate to another property,” Simmons said.

 

The FLRP was created in 2011 by Governor Dannel P. Malloy. The goal of the $5 million program is to assist about 250 farms, and applications are received on a continual basis. 

 

To date, 34 applicants have been granted more than $1.5 million. Each grant restores an average of 12.1 acres of cropland at approximately $2,500 per acre.

 

"Connecticut is a recognized leader in the number of new farms being created, and this program is a very direct way the state can assist in getting more acres into production,” Gov. Malloy said. “These grants are not only helping farmers, they are also helping meet the rising demand for locally-grown food and creating jobs on these farms.”

 

Under the FLRP, farmers are eligible for grants of up to $20,000 per project, and are required to match at least half the grant amount. Eighty percent of applications are from full-time farmers, and the remainder from part-time farming operations, non-profits and municipalities.

 

Recipients are required to submit a conservation plan or farmland restoration plan developed in consultation with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and/or Connecticut Conservation District specialists.

 

The plan identifies specific farmland areas to be restored and the costs associated with the work. Municipal and land trust farmland, with agricultural leases of five years or longer, are also eligible.

 

Restoration activities include:

 

· Reclamation of grown over pastures, meadows and cropland including the removal of invasive plants and hedge row management.

· Clearing and removal of trees, stumps, stones, invasive plants, such as multi-flora rose or autumn olive, and brush to create or restore agricultural use.

· Installation of fencing to keep livestock in reclaimed pasture areas and/or out of riparian areas.

Installation of wildlife management fencing to protect crop fields.

· Restoration of water runoff and drainage of crop fields to improve cropland areas and restore water runoff patterns and water conservation.

· Renovation of farm ponds including farm pond management/irrigation and irrigation wells incidental to the restored cropland areas.

· Restoration of shellfish beds or aquaculture ponds.

 

FLRP applications are prioritized as follows: 

 

Tier One - Human food production agriculture is considered to be the highest priority, including fruit production.

Tier Two - Livestock, livestock feed and livestock support production.

Tier Three - Other agricultural uses may be considered based on land use, food production and acreage to be restored.

 

Recipients range from small start-ups to large farms that that have been active for decades. A restoration grant to Maple Leaf Farm in Hebron – in dairy production for more than a century - helped restore about 11 acres through land-clearing and drainage.  

 

In Clinton, a grant to the Our Community Cares project restored a half-acre that will be used for growing vegetables – all of which will be donated to local food pantries.

 

At the Harris Farm, besides helping pay the cost of clearing brush, stumps and rocks, the grant was used to build an 8-foot high fence that keeps deer and other animals out of the 4-acre community field.

 

The town also recently received a $431,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance grant to build on the site what will be known as the Center for Community Agriculture.

 

The 2,000 square-foot building will house a commercial kitchen, a technical resource center for new and existing agricultural businesses, and an agricultural education center for area residents. Planners estimate that the facility will support at least 20 full and part-time jobs.

 

“There’s really nothing like it in Connecticut,” project architect George Fellner said while walking the site recently. “We think this is going to be a model for all of New England.”

           

Others involved in the project include the Middlesex County Farm Bureau, UConn Agricultural Extension Service, 4-H, and the Vo-Ag program at the town’s Nathan Hale-Ray High School for technical resources and education.

 

“This project is a great example of how agriculture is thriving in Connecticut in so many different ways,” DoAg Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said. “I am proud of the role our agency is playing in Governor Malloy’s initiatives to support new and existing farmers across our state. These investments are helping create a new era of agriculture that will benefit our state’s farmers and residents for generations.”

 

For more information on how to apply or to receive an

application, visit the Department of Agriculture’s website at CTgrown.gov. FLRP applications are accepted on a continual basis, and interested farmers are encouraged to apply now for 2014 projects. Each farm/farmer is allowed one application per calendar year.

 

                To discuss whether a farm is eligible for the program please call

                                                  860-713-2511 or email:

                                           Cam.Weimar@ct.gov or Lance.Shannon@ct.gov