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 a new 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.
After receiving an IDEA grant from the UConn Office of Undergraduate Research to complete the film project, production began in the fall of 2019, and culminates with the release of the film on Thursday, April 8 on their website.
Duda, Schneider, and Russo traveled the state filming “Completely Connecticut Agriculture,” eventually featuring 11 farms as representatives of the roughly 5,500 across the Nutmeg State. The documentary showcases the diversity that comes from Connecticut farms and the dedication of the producers, who form a vital part of the community as stewards of the food system, both now and in the future.
Each farm featured in the documentary offers a unique perspective on Connecticut agriculture through efforts to secure a sustainable food supply, reconnect with consumers, and produce uncommon commodities, while the film details how 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 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,” 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 also 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 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.
Uncommon commodities further connect agriculture and consumers, as the farms offer experiences and products that are not readily available elsewhere – whether that means pick-your-own flowers options, 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.
“Change is certain, inevitable, and ultimately good,” 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.”
Learn more about Completely Connecticut Agriculture at http://s.uconn.edu/ctagriculture. 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.