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Litchfield County / New England Area Farmers' Challenge

By Litchfield County Times (10/28/10)

  NOVEMBER 2, 2010 --

Though Litchfield County is famous locally for its beautifully rural landscape and vibrant agriculture, Brittany Jablonsky, a representative with the National Farmers Union (NFU) in Washington, D.C., said these inherent qualities of Connecticut’s Northwest corner, and New England at large, are elsewhere overlooked.

Typically the focus, even among her nationwide farm lobbying group, is the Midwest and beyond. But last year the national organization gained a local chapter in the New England Farmers Union (NEFU) and the challenges that local farmers and horticulturalists face became suddenly better recognized in the nation’s capital.

Area farms gained even greater attention last week, when on the invite of NEFU president Annie Cheatham, Ms. Jablonsky took a three-day tour of southern New England, a trip that showed her the agricultural impact of places that aren’t Iowa.

Fittingly, last Friday morning she ate and spoke at New Milford Hospital, a place where the Plow-to-Plate program has gained national attention for its exclusively local and all-natural hospital fare.

“The National Farmers Union is very interested in New England. You all have a great sense of engaging consumers, and we as an organization recognize that as valuable, something we need to foster and replicate,” said Ms. Jablonsky. “The Plow-to-Plate is a prime example of engaging people in agriculture in ways they haven’t been before.”

She especially enjoyed, during the Plow-to-Plate breakfast, the fresh maple syrup. Coming from North Dakota, her syrup typically comes from factories.

Maple syrup, a delicious and uniquely New England agricultural example, is one of many she found throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Regrettably, she also found the many problems that plague our farmers. There are challenges with zoning regulations, waning interest among younger generations, suburban sprawl, and the cost of land around these parts, to quote Ms. Jablonsky, “is insane.”

“We wanted people from the Washington office to come to New England, to learn more about who we are,” said Ms. Cheatham, who is based out of Massachusetts. “The National Farmers Union doesn’t know New England very well, but our issues align nicely with the organization.”

During her discussion Friday, Ms. Jablonsky explained to a roomful of attendees the existing legislation intended to assist the agriculturalists, a farm bill that will expire in 2012 if not protected. There are 37 various conservation and economic growth programs associated with the bill, and to extend them five years, according to a Congressional Research Service report, as much as $10 billion of offsets from other sources may be needed.

And in this economy, $10 billion is not an easy sell.

“Finding this level of offsets may be a difficult task in a tight budget environment, especially when many observers believe that the next farm bill might be written within the confines of the existing baseline,” read the findings.

It will be a challenge, as the organizations keep on the 35 congressmen of New England to further protect the initiative, but it is unclear which of the current representatives from the region, all of whom are Democrats, will still have a job after the next election cycle.

Regardless of how the next Congress looks, Ms. Jablonsky said the programs will only be kept if paid. Green initiatives are lucrative possibilities, she said. Wind farms could prove pivotal in keeping agriculture active; great revenue could be generated from renewable energy initiatives.

For a better picture, though, wait until Nov. 3.


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