Large state institutions were once built to be self-sustaining; many had their own farms and grew their own food.
Though some of those farms have been lost, remarkably some remain, the crown jewel of which is an 825-acre farm portion of the Southbury Training School property. A bill now before the General Assembly, initiated by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, would keep the land in agricultural production in perpetuity.
State Department of Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky praised the proposal in testimony before the legislature's Environment Committee, calling it "one of the most significant pieces of legislation ... regarding the permanent protection of critical farmlands." We agree. The state rarely has the chance to preserve such a spectacular piece of farmland, at virtually no cost.
The scenic parcel comprises 547 acres of "prime and important" agricultural soils, along with woods, streams and dirt roads. Part of it is now leased to local farmers who raise silage corn and hay to support an adjoining dairy operation. It's possible to restore orchards and vineyards on the land, raise bees, grow food, host community gardens, invite hikers and birders, etc.
The benefits of preserving farmland include locally grown food, jobs and economic activity, scenic beauty curbing costly sprawl. In the 1970s the state set the goal of preserving 130,000 acres of farmland; this year officials say we will reach 40,000 acres on 300 farms. So there is a ways to go, but this addition would certainly help.
The bill would allow the land to be permanently protected by a conservation easement that would be held by a local land trust. The state would then lease the land to farmers. Why it is necessary to protect land the state already owns? Because a future legislature or governor may want to sell it or use it for a purpose other than agriculture. Farmland that isn't legally protected is always vulnerable. As the economy improves, the pressure from developers will increase.
Connecticut needs to act now to increase the amount of farmland being preserved, lest it be lost. Saving state-owned farmland, in Southbury and elsewhere, is a positive step.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun