Last week, we were joined by Commissioner Bryan Hurlburt and Bureau Director Jaime Smith for our second annual Town Hall With the Department of Ag. It was a great chance to deepen our understanding of all the department does and to ask them about some of the issues that are most important to NCTFA members (including land access, healthcare for farmers, and racial equity in agriculture). Thanks to Jaime and the Commissioner, and to all of the farmers who joined us to work for a better future for farmers in CT! You can watch our full conversation below. The Q&A begins about 35 minutes in.
For reference, here are the questions we prepared: 1. What policies would you like to advance in the next year to improve land access for new and beginning farmers in our state? 2. Livestock farmers have seen an incredible increase in demand for their products since the pandemic started, and many have the desire and ability to grow their businesses and further strengthen our local food system. However, many are still facing difficulties finding appointments with a USDA slaughterhouse to process their products. What do you see as the opportunities and challenges in terms of livestock infrastructure in CT? 3. There are lots of incredible benefits to being a farmer, but employer sponsored healthcare is rarely one of them. What role, if any, do you see the Department of Ag playing in helping farmers access healthcare? 4. What is the department's approach to language justice in its programming? How can we work together in the agricultural community to make sure that farmers who speak a variety of languages have equal access to resources? 5. Please discuss the Department's decision to request that the equity provision be removed from Senate Bill 243 (the climate smart ag bill). What is the department's plan for ensuring that BIPOC farmers are adequately able to access these funds if the bill passes? And here are the questions and comments that came up from the chat: 6. "Great to hear from Jamie about the number of farms/acreage preserved and amount of $ leveraged from USDA. Would love to know how much of this directly benefitted a new/beginning/BIPOC farmers? I suggest that DoAg track this if not already so we can celebrate future progress." 7. "Was also great to hear that CT was a leader nationally in farmland preservation. Given that other neighboring New England states have new/other tools for helping connect new/beginning farmers to preserved farmland, how can CT regain leadership in this area?" 8. "How can we move Connecticut forward to become a hemp production powerhouse in the United States? How can the CT department of agriculture, help farmers create processing and manufacturing infrastructure for existing hemp farmers who cultivate in the state?" 9. "I am wondering if any programming accommodations are being considered for disability access. One quick fix will be to add a disability option in all your CT AG website? For individuals as myself with low vision." 10. "If DoAg already has a priority for supporting new/beginning/BIPOC farmers, how does the department explain why more such farmers are not receiving more funding from DoAg? And what will DoAg do to change/improve this?" One question we didn't get to, but that has been weighing heavy on our hearts, was this one submitted by Steve Munno: 11. "Financial viability is a major concern for all types of farmers/growers/producers in CT and throughout the country. If I remember correctly, the latest ag census showed about 70% of CT farmers reporting financial losses. And we know that many farmers rely on off-farm income to make ends meet. Other than the grant programs offered by the state - which I believe are doing a great job providing funds to help farms innovate and improve infrastructure - what is DoAg currently doing to address the financial viability of farm operations across the state, and what do you hope the department might do in the future?"