Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured three local farms Tuesday morning to learn how grant money from the Department of Agriculture’s new Farmland Restoration Program is being spent.
The program was enacted as part of the October 2011 jobs bill with the goal of bringing fallow farmland in the state back into production. The program set aside $5 million for restoration projects on farms throughout Connecticut and was up and running beginning in February. Malloy said about $1 million has been set aside so far for 50 farms.
According to the Department of Agriculture website, farmers may qualify for grants of up to $20,000. The program is meant to serve about 250 farms in all.
Wearing khakis and boots and joined by three Department of Agriculture staffers, Malloy toured White Oak Farm in Stonington late Wednesday morning, trudging through a field with owner Scott Cheetham and chatting about the 400-year-old farm's history and the progress enabled by the $17,000 grant Cheetham will receive.
On the 200-acre farm, where Cheetham, 36, raises beef cows, the grant money will go toward rehabilitating seven acres of land to grow hay and possibly produce, Cheetham said.
"In the past, when you wanted to clear land, it was all on you," he said.
Malloy said the program not only promotes agriculture in the state, but also addresses a need for jobs and a growing demand for local food.
"We have a lot of land that over the last 50 years went fallow in Connecticut, but what we now know is there is an increasing market for locally produced foods, whether it's milk or vegetables or meat production," he said. "We want to promote that. We want to be very supportive of farming in the state of Connecticut. It's part of our history, it's part of our culture, but it also represents a gigantic opportunity for job creation, to bring back lands for production purposes."
Earlier in the day, Malloy visited Ekonk Hill Turkey Farm in Sterling and Woodmansee Farms in Preston. Woodmansee, owned by Clark and Lois Woodmansee, is a fourth-generation, 300-acre dairy farm with 100 dairy cows.
Lois Woodmansee said the governor asked good questions and seemed genuinely interested in the farm operation.
The Woodmansees have applied for state assistance to convert three parcels — about 12 acres — from woods and overgrown brush back to hay fields and pasture land for the cows.
"I think it's nice that the governor took the time to come out and visit," Woodmansee said. "I really didn't know if he would make it here with all the work he has to do with the storm and all."
Malloy said he was pleased with what he'd seen in touring beneficiary farms, adding that there is more work to be done with just 20 percent of the fund allocated so far.
"I want more money spent," he said. "I want more land into production, faster."