|FEBRUARY 13, 2010 --
Eastern Connecticut farmers said reform, including rewriting state and federal laws governing agriculture, is necessary for them to survive and thrive.
Stakeholders in the region's AGvocate program met with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and a few state representatives Saturday at Killingly Town Hall to share their concerns and a wish list for government action toward local agriculture.
The AGvocate program was formed in June in six Eastern Connecticut towns through a state Department of Agriculture grant. Its goal is to strengthen farm friendliness in towns by forming agricultural commissions, implementing tax reduction programs, planning farmland protection and establishing right-to-farm ordinances.
A second grant has extended the program for another year and increased the number of participating towns to 10.
Local farmers and residents involved with the AGvocate program spoke about the need to reform the farming industry and the state and federal laws regulating it. But they said not all types of reform would be helpful.
Austin Tanner, a former dairy farmer, owner of Creamery Brook Bison and Brooklyn's first selectman, said farmers would rather make their money through the market than from subsidies.
"We're producing a good product and we'd like to get paid for it," Tanner said.
Putting up roadblocks
Rick Hermonot, owner of Sterling's Ekonk Hill Turkey farm and a member of Ekonk Community Grange #89 and the AGvocate steering committee, and his son, John, said they would love to expand their business and sell to local businesses and restaurants, but state regulations tie their hands.
"The roadblocks that get put into place are a liability to small farmers," Hermonot said. "We're being held back from being able to grow by those rules."
State Rep. Kevin Ryan, D-Montville, said the state may form a rural caucus this year to examine the agricultural issues the farmers raised Saturday.
Courtney said the economic crisis has created a lot of interest in reform, even from big farms.
"There are some people who are trying to accomplish some of the goals you've set out," he said. "You just have to stay on it."