I try not to write letters out of frustration. As a person who LOVES getting mail, I find that almost always feels better to write a thank-you note or a congratulatory letter than a rant about something that's gone wrong. Postal service workers should feel good about their job delivering mail from me.
Except for tomorrow.
This afternoon I FINALLY heard back from the State's Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) about leasing the 25 acres of state-owned pasture adjacent to the North Stonington property I am hoping to purchase. The two properties are one large field (formerly all the same farm), with three posts pounded down the center to mark the line. For the past few years it has been used for haying by a very elderly dairy farmer down the street, simply keeping it as open space.
In my proposal to the state I described my interests in sustainable agriculture and desire to use rotational grazing to manage the land. Experts everywhere agree that rotational grazing is one of the best land uses. The animals eat the forage and simultaneously fertilize the land. There is no manure build-up, no arsenal of fertilizers, no chemicals needed. Grazing is how farmers and ranchers fed their animals, up until the advent of industrial agriculture.
Well, apparently the (insert adjective of your choice) folks in the DEEP do not allow grazing on state-owned land. There are other management practices that may be allowed, if I call back tomorrow between said limited hours, which they would be happy to discuss with me. I look forward to learning more about what is allowed and what is not allowed (having been warned by fellow farmer friends and the folks at NRCS), but I can nearly guarantee that their suggestions will not involve what I would consider sustainable land management (which involves both plants AND animals working together).
Which brings me to my greater frustration - the one that inspired writing a letter. I will NOT take time now to discuss all of the challenges of being a young, female farmer attempting to purchase land and start a farm business. I will simply summarize by saying that it is an incredibly challenging project that lacks government support. Or support in general. There just aren't that many folks in CT silly enough to take on such an enormous project, so the infrastructure to help isn't there.
What frustrates me is that I have worked for the past several years advocating for farmland preservation. I thought it was an important way to prevent overdevelopment, preserve a local food culture, and keep land in the hands of farmers. And for many farm families, selling off the development rights for their land has been the saving grace that has allowed them to remain a farm. Goodness knows that in the tough times it can be appealing to have such a simple out as selling off the farm to pay for all of the debt that has piled up.
I still very much support farmland preservation. My definition of farmland is land that can be used for agriculture. Much of the farmland in CT has very good soils, but on sloped terrain (which can be difficult to work with a tractor and increase the risk of erosion)- perfect for grazing. I support farming practices that have a triple bottom line - social, economic, and environmental - and farmland that provides a viable business for farmers.
And the economics don't compare. You can get paid $100 an acre for someone to hay your fields. Maybe. But you can make a few thousand dollars in meat per acre by grazing a variety of animals (cows, pigs, chickens).
I do not support the preservation of farmland just for the sake of it. I've never been one for collecting things without a purpose. Collecting farmland without providing the means for it to be farmed is pointless. You can't support farmland preservation without supporting farmers. Otherwise it's just open space (which has certain benefits, as well, they just aren't agricultural).
And I'm not trying to discredit the work that's being done to encourage the state and municipalities to lease land to farmers. UConn Extension and CT Farmland Trust recently put together the Farmland CONNections Guide to help walk both parties through the complicated leasing process and to encourage landholders to lease their land to farmers for agricultural use. It's a great start.
But allowing rotational grazing on state owned land will require a policy change. I feel exhausted just thinking about that lengthy process, and about all of the other policies that need to change in order to support farmers. I hope my letter to the organizations that support farmland preservation will inspire leaders to think more specifically about how to preserve farmers.
Thank goodness it's MY BIRTHDAY! And after a long first day of work, and then getting all fired up over land use (must remember to breathe!), I came home to these:
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I don't care what anyone says: cupcakes make everything better!