STORRS, Conn. — It’s easy to take our food supply for granted while strolling through the abundant aisles of a grocery store. We do not often consider how our food gets to the store or where it comes from. A group of students in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) is bridging the communication gap between agriculture and consumers in their documentary film, Completely Connecticut Agriculture.
Zachary Duda, Jonathan Russo, and Alyson Schneider are agricultural advocates and vocalize the importance of the industry while inspiring others to do the same. All three are CAHNR Agriculture and Natural Resources majors, graduating in May. The students met as high school agriscience students, and later served together as state officers in the Connecticut FFA Association. The idea for the documentary about Connecticut agriculture formed while they were state officers. They received an IDEA grant from the UConn Office of Undergraduate Research to complete the film project. Production began in the fall of 2019 and culminated with the release on April 8th on their website http://s.uconn.edu/ctagriculture. The documentary is free for anyone to watch.
Each of the farms featured in the documentary offers a unique perspective on Connecticut agriculture through their efforts to secure a sustainable food supply, reconnect with consumers, and produce uncommon commodities. Agricultural innovation has allowed each farm to expand their vibrant business model.
A sustainable food supply forms the foundation of practices adopted on farms. “Environmental degradation and biodiversity loss are two huge challenges facing agriculture today,” says Zachary Duda, ’21 (CAHNR). “We need to figure out how to craft a more sustainable food supply, while keeping a watchful eye on our environment, habitats, and ecosystems. Our farmers support the environment with their practices; they are stewards of the land and are helping craft a more sustainable food supply for future generations.”
The farms featured for their innovation in creating a sustainable food supply include Sub-Edge Farm in Farmington, Assawaga Farm in Putnam, The Farm in Woodbury, and Freund’s Farm in East Canaan. Each offers unique innovations in their farming practices, whether through no-till, drip irrigation, soil health initiatives, cover crops, or integrated pest management. These practices improve the environment and our biodiversity. Producers then communicate these sustainable innovations to their consumers.
“There must be a sense of trust between consumers and producers in our food system,” Alyson Schneider, ’21 (CAHNR) says. “Every generation is further removed from the farm and therefore less aware of food production systems. Throughout Connecticut, producers are working day and night to ensure that their consumers put a face and family to their food, and provide us with nutritious, locally grown products.”
The documentary features Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton, Common Ground High School in New Haven, the 4-H Education Center at Auerfarm in Bloomfield, and Arrowhead Acres in North Franklin for their work re-connecting consumers to agriculture. Through the documentary, we learn about their educational outreach. They connect with consumers and adapt farm outreach to meet their needs. The farms differentiate themselves with events, products, and their locations. Differentiation means that consumers remember the face connected with their food supply.
“Change is certain, inevitable, and ultimately good,” Jonathan Russo, ’21 (CAHNR) says. “Our producers here in Connecticut face challenges every day. Yet, no challenge is as great as meeting the constantly changing needs of the consumer. By incorporating various markets under the umbrella of agritourism, our farms and farm families bring us many experiences. Our producers are doing everything they can to keep up with the times and prosper.”
Uncommon commodities further connect agriculture and consumers, as the farms offer experiences and products that are not readily available – whether that’s pick-your-own flowers, an event venue, or unique food products. Farms featured in the documentary for their uncommon commodities are March Farm in Bethlehem, Bush Meadow Farm in Union, and Podunk Popcorn & Dzen Tree Farm in South Windsor.
Zachary, Alyson, and Jonathan traveled around the state filming Completely Connecticut Agriculture. Their documentary showcases the diversity that comes from our farms and the dedication of the producers. Farmers are a vital part of our community and the stewards of our future food system. The students share their own and our farmers devotion to agriculture through the lens of these 11 farms. Connecticut has 5,500 farms statewide – in addition to those featured in this documentary. Look a little closer at the products available in the grocery store or visit one of the many farms in our state. Connecticut agricultural producers are helping to ensure that we have a nutritious, local food supply.
Learn more about Completely Connecticut Agriculture at http://s.uconn.edu/ctagriculture or watch the documentary at https://youtu.be/HxLytSgnV5o. This project is supported by the IDEA grant program in the UConn Office of Undergraduate Research and UConn CAHNR Extension. Programs delivered by Extension reach individuals, communities, and businesses in each of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities. UConn Extension educators work with the agricultural operations featured in the documentary and throughout the state to help them adopt innovative practices and create a sustainable food supply.
This article was originally published on UConn Today.
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