Connecticut farms take center stage during special day at the state Capitol

Hartford - In the early 1900s, Rick Holmberg's grandfather started growing bedding plants on his 150-acre Ledyard farm for some of the large estates of the Norwich mill owners.

Now, more than 100 years later, the Holmberg farm grows orchard fruits and berries instead of bedding plants but is still thriving thanks to the four generations of the family that have kept it going. On Wednesday, owner Rick Holmberg was honored as part of Connecticut Agriculture Day at the Capitol with the Century Farm award, given to farms that pass the 100-year mark.

"My father bought the farm from my grandmother and started the apple orchard," Holmberg said. Over the years, the farm shifted from selling its apples wholesale to a pick-your-own operation and expanded into growing peaches, pears, nectarines, blueberries and grapes, with a farm store and winery.

"Our winery is really starting to take off," Holmberg said. "We do four hard ciders and five fruit wines."

Before Holmberg Orchards was recognized as part of brief ceremonies for Agriculture Day, state legislators and others visited dozens of displays highlighting the diversity of Connecticut crops, from dairy products to Christmas trees to eggs, apples and maple syrup, along with organizations that help support and preserve Connecticut farmland.

Janet Lewis of Lewis Farm in North Stonington kept busy at the Connecticut Dairy Industry Council display, serving cheesy corn dip appetizers and talking to visitors about her farm, where 350 cows are milked three times a day.

"We always try to create a recipe to promote dairy," she said, as she set out another tray of the snacks.

The Connecticut Seafood Council passed out raw oysters and cups of New England clam chowder to visitors, while the Connecticut Farm Bureau offered butternut squash soup and the Farmer's Cow cooperative gave out cups of chocolate milk. The Connecticut chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association served small salads of greens raised at Starlight Gardens in Durham, while Freund's Farm in East Canaan promoted a non-edible product - Cow Pots made from cow manure.

"We've got a lot of manure and we needed something to do with it," said Amanda Freund, sales and marketing director for the farm, said of the biodegradable seed-starting cells, sold at retailers around the state including Johnson's Hardware in Groton, Cash True Value in East Lyme and Mystic, Fiddleheads Food Co-op in New London and Burnett's Country Gardens in Salem.

American Honey Bee Princess Elena Hoffman, wearing a crown and sash, stood by the Connecticut Beekeepers Association booth, talking to passersby about the important role honeybees play in Connecticut agriculture.

"One-third of the foods we eat are pollinated by bees," said Hoffman, a freshman majoring in biology at West Chester State University in Pennsylvania whose family has 22 hives. "In Connecticut, $12 million worth of crops are honeybee pollinated."

During the ceremony, state Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky read a proclamation from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy crediting Connecticut farms with contributing $3.5 billion to the state's economy, and noting that the state is creating a long-range plan for agriculture.

j.benson@theday.com

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