Agricultural assistance programs available to farmers

By Kitty LeShay - ReminderNews
Ashford - posted Thu., Feb. 13, 2014
Bryan Hurlburt, executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, spoke to small farmers at Knowlton Hall about the programs available to them. Photo by Kitty LeShay.
Bryan Hurlburt, executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, spoke to small farmers at Knowlton Hall about the programs available to them. Photo by Kitty LeShay.

Bryan Hurlburt, a former state representative and now executive director of USDA Farm Service Agency, recently addressed many of his former constituents in an informative discussion about resources for farmers. The former representative from the 53rd District has taken his agricultural expertise to the federal level.

"During my seven years in the state House, my focus was on agriculture,” Hurlburt said during his Feb. 11 presentation at Knowlton Hall. He said that the melding of his local familiarity, knowledge of state law and ever-evolving federal policy will serve Connecticut residents well. “I am still learning about federal programs,” he told his audience.

He spoke about the new Farm Bill that will soon be signed into law, and the many programs which have been offered and will continue to be offered, from crop insurance and low-interest loans for equipment purchases, to help with mortgages and a myriad of expenditures connected to keeping a farm productive. “Our mission is to provide assistance to farm families. It is the core of what we do,” he explained.

The event was sponsored by the Ashford Agricultural and Conservation Commissions. “Once we started to dig, we were amazed at the number of farms operating in town. They run the gamut: veggies, goats, maple syrup, haying, dairy and more,” said Art Talmadge, chair of the AAC.

Loretta Wrobel, chair of the ACC, and co-coordinator, was pleased with the presentation. “This is great because farmers don’t always know what resources are available to help them start out or stay in farming,” she said.

Most farmers in the audience were representative of small agricultural businesses, and others were just starting up. Marian Matthews is just beginning what will be a perennial crop mini-farm. “Bryan gave me information which will be useful. I am a beginning farmer,” she said. “I want to grow berries, asparagus - foods I can serve my guests in my new bed and breakfast.”

Organic farming was a lively discussion among the audience and with Hurlburt. With 130 farmers markets in the state, many wonder how organic the products are. Wrobel, who is very involved with the Ashford market, responded that the farmers use as little pesticides as possible or plant-based deterrents to pests or netting. They like to eat their own food as well and want to eat healthily. Some are certified organic.

Sherry Simpson, co-coordinator of Beginning Women’s Farmers Program, an organization within Connecticut Northeast Organic Farmers’ Association, offers 10 classes over the winter with a business planning topic. She found Hurlburt’s presentation helpful to her goals. The website is ctnofa.org.

There are five county offices representing the USDA Farm Service Agency. “They are staffed with knowledgeable people who have had agricultural experience most of their lives. They are there to help you,” Hurlburt said. The office for Ashford residents is at 71 Westcott Road, in Danielson. Dawn Pindell is the officer in that office. For any questions, Bryan Hurlburt can be reached at bryan.hurlburt@ct.usda.gov.


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