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    Sunday, December 04, 2022

    Feeding the community

    Residents of southeast Connecticut enjoy the legacy of family farms and locally sourced foods

    Farming has been important part of Connecticut’s history, long before it became a state. Native Americans worked the land, cultivating maize, beans, squash, sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes,” according to ConnecticutHistory.org.

    The earliest colonial settlers found the land fertile and established family farms along the coast, from Greenwich to Stonington. As the colony grew in population, so too did the patchwork of farms across the state’s interior.

    While development, industry, an aging farming community, and “Big Ag” competition shuttered an alarming number of small family farms across the nation, Connecticut has seen its farming community grow in recent years. The USDA reported, “Bucking the national trend, Connecticut farming has been growing for the past two decades. We now have nearly 6,000 farms, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s a staggering 60 percent increase from the 3,754 farms we had in our state in 1982.”

    The Connecticut Department of Agriculture estimates that the state’s agricultural industry contributes more than $4 billion to local economies across the state.

    Having access to locally sourced, sustainably farmed food is one of the perks of living in southeast Connecticut, where local farms still flourish and play an integral role in feeding the community.

    Hannah Tripp has worked at Provider Farm in Salem since she was 19 years old, and in 2021, she became the owner. She grew up in Salem, just a few miles from the farm, and felt farming was the career path she wanted to travel. She went to work for the previous owners, and when they moved north, Tripp stepped in to ensure Provider Farm carried on.

    “I think one of the biggest motivations for me was just the opportunity to feed my community,” she explained to Welcome Home.

    Provider Farm feeds the local community through a number of channels. They have a popular CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, with as many as 330 members in a record season.

    “Our primary means of selling our produce is through our CSA,” Tripp said.

    CSA programs differ from farm to farm. At Provider Farm, a seasonal membership affords 23 weeks of fresh produce. Members travel to the farm and hand pick from a barn-sized cornucopia of options each week. Early in the season, they sell vegetable and herb plants, too, for members who like to tend their own gardens.

    “I think the CSAs are a powerful way to get produce to people affordably,” she explained. “It’s because of that shared risk that we are able to offer our members produce at much more competitive rates than you could ever get at a farmstand or at a grocery store, especially if you’re buying organic.”

    She noted that Provider Farm CSAs are still available for the 2022 season, for a prorated fee. For non-members, an online ordering system allows the local public to place a la carte orders Thursday through Sunday, for pickup at the farm on Tuesdays.

    In addition to the CSAs, Provider Farm also sells to local co-ops, including the Willimantic Food Co-op and Fiddleheads in New London.

    “We also sell to a number of restaurants in East Lyme, Mystic and Colchester,” Tripp said.

    Once a week, she authors an email newsletter, which informs subscribers about life on the farm and what they can expect in their farm shares that week. She often shares behind-the-scenes insight into the challenges presented by weather and pests. And each newsletter includes a recipe featuring an particular ingredient available at the farm that week.

    Operating a farm is hard work, and it takes a team to plan, plant, nurture and harvest. Their team is surprisingly small — fewer than a half-dozen full-timers. Additional part-time staff and volunteers are brought on at the height of the growing and harvest season.

    Welcome Home asked Tripp about her perspective on the local farming ecosystem, and whether as a community, southeast Connecticut has ample sources for locally sourced produce and meats.

    “If you talk to any group of young, beginning, sustainably minded small farmers in Connecticut, what you’ll hear is the biggest barrier to farming is land access,” Tripp explained. “Land access if very challenging in the state, because land prices are so high. Developers and people who are looking to have large estates like farmland, because it’s beautiful, but that drives up the value a lot. The state is working to protect farmland, designating that some land can only be sold to someone who intends to farm it. But it’s certainly a challenge for farmland to stay farmland.”

    On Saturday, July 9, 2022 at 5 p.m., Vintage — a restaurant in Colchester — will be hosting a farm-to-table five-course dinner at the farm, conceived by Chef Tim Marotto, with ingredients by Provider Farm. Tickets may still be available. For more information, visit providerfarm.com.

    Locally sourced fruits and vegetables can be a healthier, more affordable alternative to retail. Here, a CSA share from Provider Farm is laid out on the kitchen table, with herbs, lettuce, greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, beets, carrots and watermelon. Photo: G.A. Peck
    Fresh-from-the-farm pea pods accompany fresh pasta tossed in a lemon cream sauce. Photo: G.A. Peck
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