HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut Department of Agriculture (CT DoAg) Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt celebrated Earth Day and agriculture’s commitment to environmental sustainability by visiting Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, CT, to announce the milestone achievement of the state’s 400th permanently protected farm.
“Marking this historic milestone on Earth Day highlights the important contributions of agriculture, and our agricultural producers, to ensure that our most valuable resources are protected,” said Commissioner Hurlburt. “We are pleased to add Fort Hill Farms to the growing list of farms in the Farmland Preservation Program and thank our federal, state, and local partners who are committed to providing support throughout the process to make it happen.”
Permanently protecting prime and important farmland soils ensures a food and fiber producing land resource base for long-term availability of local, fresh farm products. In addition, farmland provides food and cover for wildlife, helps control flooding, protects wetlands and watersheds, and maintains air quality – all contributing to environmental sustainability and biodiversity.
“Preserving farmland for future generations to come is of utmost importance,” said Kies Orr-LaVack, owner of Fort Hill Farms. “Knowing that we will have the land resources to grow top quality feed needed for our herd in both the near- and long-term offers peace of mind and aligns with our sustainability initiatives.”
Fort Hill Farms, a third-generation dairy farm milking over 200 cows, is the 400th farm to be permanently protected in Connecticut through the Farmland Preservation Program administered by CT DoAg. Farmland preservation is one tool used by the farm to ensure they are sustainable and mitigate climate change. In addition, their anaerobic digester recently went online, creating energy out of manure and food waste. They are members of both The Farmer’s Cow and Agri-Mark Creamery Cooperative and host a corn maze and other agritourism activities on the farm to bridge the gap between agriculture and the community.
“Fort Hill Farms is a Northeast Connecticut institution combining strong family work ethic, decades of farming tradition, and forward-facing technology,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. “I’m proud to have fought for federal funding allowing the farm to operate an innovative aerobic digester used to produce renewable energy, providing an additional revenue source and an eco-friendly means of disposing waste. With the help of the Farmland Preservation Program, Fort Hill will continue to serve the community for years to come.”
“Fort Hill Farms placing 62 acres under a conservation easement through our Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is another important step in our mission to protect the state’s valuable working lands,” said Thomas L. Morgart, Connecticut State Conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. “About 75 percent of this protected property is prime, statewide, and local important farmland soils. Permanently protecting it and its high-yielding soils are of major importance in meeting Connecticut’s – and the nation’s – short- and long-range needs for food and fiber,” he said.
Partnerships and collaboration are at the forefront of farmland preservation. CT DoAg partnered with Connecticut Farmland Trust and utilized U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Land Easement (ALE) funds for the Fort Hill Farm property which brings the tally for the current fiscal year to 14 farms totaling 1,331 acres. Since the inception of the program in 1979 the state has protected 47,510 acres.
“Connecticut Farmland Trust is proud to have collaborated with the Department of Agriculture on the preservation of its 400th farm,” said Elisabeth Moore, Connecticut Farmland Trust Executive Director. “Fort Hill Farms is an excellent example of the prime, productive farmland that our collaboration is focused on preserving. I’m thankful to the Orr family for protecting another portion of their farm for future generations of Connecticut farmers.”
“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Day than to join in celebrating the 400th farm in Connecticut to receive permanent land protection under the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program,” said U.S. Representative Joe Courtney. “Fort Hill Farm is the perfect recipient for this sort of preservation—Kies and her husband Jared were recognized as the 2022 Outstanding Young Farmers of the Year, they milk over 200 cows and grow all sorts of fresh organic vegetables, and they’ve already been ahead of the curve when it comes to utilizing their farmland to the fullest. Back in 2019, my office helped them secure $400,000 in USDA funding to help purchase their anaerobic digester, a first-of-its-kind technology in Connecticut. Today it’s up and running, reducing methane emissions, and converting manure and food waste into energy that’s adding power to Connecticut’s grid. It’s great to see them thrive, and to celebrate this protection for their farmland today.”
For more information on Connecticut’s Farmland Preservation Program, visit our website for program overview, frequently asked questions, and contact information.
The Connecticut Department of Agriculture mission is to foster a healthy economic, environmental, and social climate for agriculture by developing, promoting, and regulating agricultural businesses; protecting agricultural and aquacultural resources; enforcing laws pertaining to domestic animals; and promoting an understanding among the state’s citizens of the diversity of Connecticut agriculture, its cultural heritage, and its contribution to the state’s economy. For more information, visit www.CTGrown.gov.
–Connecticut Department of Agriculture