Woodstock celebrates all things agriculture

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Mon., Sep. 23, 2013
E.O. Smith student Jia Gates feeds Toffee while Susan Beauregard feeds Yvonne. Photos by D. Coffey.
E.O. Smith student Jia Gates feeds Toffee while Susan Beauregard feeds Yvonne. Photos by D. Coffey.

The grounds of the Woodstock Fairground were taken over by tractors, logging equipment, farm animals and produce on Sept. 21. Apples, skeins of wool, honey, soap, milk and pickles were just a few of the things on display and for sale. If there was an agricultural product that was used or produced in northeastern Connecticut, it was represented at the annual Celebrating Agriculture event.
More than 100 exhibitors were on hand and an estimated 4,000 people attended so they could “shake the hands of the farmers” who helped make their lives better.

The aim of the free event wasn’t just family entertainment, though there was plenty of that. It was to show just how important agriculture is to the region and how widespread the agricultural industry is. It was meant to highlight all the different kinds of farms the area supports, and the benefits each brings to people making their homes in the Quiet Corner.

Agriculture Committee Chair Lynn Weaver called the educational part of the forum the most important. “Hopefully everyone who leaves here today will know a little bit more about where their food comes from, the benefits of buying local, and the benefits of having farmers in their neighborhood,” Weaver said. The patchwork of farms and fields – many of which farmers rent to produce crops for livestock – are essential to the rural and scenic character of the region. If those lands are lost to development, the character of the area is lost forever, he said. When agricultural jobs are lost, it’s not only farmers who lose. It means the businesses that support them lose as well. “The best way to support agriculture is to make sure farmers using that land are successful,” Weaver said. “We as consumers can help.”

But supporting local agriculture can mean spending more dollars on products and produce. Susan Beauregard, owner of Three Niece Farm in Hampton, said the benefits of supporting local farmers have far-reaching consequences. Food is closer and fresher, transportation costs are less, and the trickle-down effect it has on an area yields tremendous resource savings. Not to mention that it helps support local farmers.

The importance of local agriculture goes beyond county lines. It extends throughout the state and reaches into its urban areas. An effort to bring fresh produce into New Haven neighborhoods in 2005 grew into Buy Connecticut Grown in 2008. The effort to connect the state’s farmers with consumers, retailers and restaurants ensures that food dollars stay local and consumers reap the benefits of fresh and local products, according to CitySeed Program Director Ashley Kremser. “Food loses its nutritional value after harvest,” she said. The longer it takes for a tomato, potato, onion or eggplant to reach a table, the less nutrition it has.

The event also showcased organizations that play major roles behind the scenes. The USDA, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Eastern Connecticut Forest Landowners and Eastern Connecticut Conservation District, land trust organizations, timber producers, UConn’s extension service and many others were represented. Each highlighted a niche filled in the interplay between land, water and natural resources.  

Brochures published by the AGvocate Program highlighted Connecticut-grown products in each town. The program advocates for farm-friendly policies at the municipal and state levels.

By preserving open space, land trusts do their part in protecting agricultural lands, forests, natural resources and wildlife habitats. “Once agricultural land and forests are gone, they’re gone forever,” said New Roxbury Land Trust Treasurer Paul Coleman. His group was at the event to show how people could help.

Backyard conservation booklets put out by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service showcased ways that property owners could help the effort. Concerted conservation efforts by farmers, ranchers, residents, local, state and federal agencies are needed to ensure healthy soil, fresh water, clean air and habitat diversity for all kinds of plants and animals.

One message that was repeated by many participants was that detachment from the land has consequences. Celebrating Agriculture tried to remind people what went into the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the soap we use, the milk we drink. David Gosselin of WindSwept Acres in Woodstock said it best. “We’ve got to spread the word that it’s worth it,” he said.

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