The Richness of Connecticut’s Farms & Vineyards

Photos and profile by Caryn B. Davis

With Covid-19 we have been witnessing the breakdown of many systems in our society from political to medical, to law enforcement and also with our food supply chains.

When thousands of schools, restaurants, hotels, and stores across the country ceased operations, many farmers found themselves with no outlet for their crops and animals. As a result, U.S. dairy farmers threw away over 3.7 million gallons of milk a day, and with meat processing plants closed, millions of pigs had to be slaughtered at the hands of the farmers who raised them. They simply could not afford to feed them, nor did they have the space to keep them

“When you hear about milk being dumped, onions being plowed under, and pigs dying, it is not the farmer who is failing. It’s the process of getting the food to people that’s not functioning,” says Ryan Quinn who co-owns and operates Long Table Farm in Lyme with his wife, Baylee Rose Drown.

It was a massive waste of food, and the animals suffered needlessly, forced to spend their remaining time in over-crowded, inhumane conditions.“Hundreds of thousands of pigs and chickens were killed in a way that is not high welfare. It was barbaric. But because we have laws in this country that say if the agriculture industry does something as a standard, or as a generally accepted practice, then it is not animal abuse, but it can be, whereas in Europe they have the five freedoms,” adds Drown.

Across the pond, the European Convention for the Protection of Animals kept for Farming Purposes has instituted the Five Freedoms. It mandates all animals be free from hunger and thirst; discomfort; pain, injury and disease; fear and distress; and have the freedom to express normal behavior. This creates a healthier and happier animal, which is more beneficial to us, them, and the environment.

“Our food system in this country is very fragile, and we are seeing it right now. Farms are not integrated to do on-farm processing, which is why I will be talking to the state about mobile processing facilities. By decentralizing that food system, our food doesn’t all have to come from a single stream, which, as we have seen, can be interrupted. We can make communities more resilient against factors like Covid-19,” says Drown.

“People need to start thinking about the system as a whole, at least with dairy and meat. It’s super apparent centralized processing is vulnerable to any roadblock that shuts down that facility. We saw this before Covid-19 when an incredible number of chickens had to be euthanized and processing plants sanitized,” adds Quinn.

In Connecticut, we have over 5,000 farms ranging from traditional (dairy, beef, pig, sheep, vegetable, and fruit orchards) to unconventional (alpaca, emu, and bison), along with 40 vineyards and wineries. If we wanted to, we could probably source all of our food and wine locally, along with some clothing and skincare products. And, with the continued threat of the coronavirus and the risks encountered from entering crowded stores, more people are now relying on their local farms as food suppliers, rather than as a supplement to the groceries they procured elsewhere.

“We have great demand now for our CSA (community supported agriculture). In March, it became apparent we would not have to do any advertising for it as it has always been in past years. Our goal was 100 shares but we sold out 200 shares so we have scaled up production by thirty percent,” says Drown.

Long Table is an organic farm. They don’t use pesticides or herbicides, but rather, they take excellent care of their soil to ensure they are not over-tilling, breaking up the structure, or killing the microbes that provide the plants with rich nutrients. There is no need for chemicals because they are not depleting the soil.

“A lot of farms use methods of soil care that degrade the quality of the soil, whereas we use soil methods that increase the health of our soil. Over time, this increases the nutritional value in our produce and creates a bio-diverse farm ecosystem that is thriving and does not require conventional pesticides and herbicides,” explains Drown.

Covid-19 has also changed the way Connecticut’s wineries and vineyards are conducting business. All tastings have been put on hold for this year, though wine can be purchased by the bottle via fieldside pickup or delivery. Entering into phase two of the pandemic has now enabled the sale of wine by the glass.

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has been working closely with farms and vineyards during this challenging time to help them stay alive.

“We are working to facilitate partnerships between wineries and other agricultural businesses, such as our shellfish harvesters. The agency also collaborated with the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut to create an interactive online map, to offer consumers the ability to find open farmstands, markets, and wineries in order to access local food and beverage,” says Rebecca E. Murphy, Marketing & Inspection Rep II, for the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.

Grape growing is a slow and arduous process. It takes approximately five years for the vines to yield enough fruit to turn it into wine. It can be a hardship for small farm wineries such as Sunset Hill Vineyard in Lyme that operate seasonally and make the bulk of income from tastings. At Sunset Hill Vineyard it’s the winemakers who are pouring the wine for their guests, so part of the experience is meeting them and hearing about the vineyard first-hand from the people who planted the vines, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. It is this personal experience people have during the tastings that keep them coming back.

“For a small boutique vineyard like us, the tastings make a big difference. As we like to say, our tasting experience begins from the moment you step up to the Winehouse. We will tell you the story of how an interracial couple from L.A. came east to start a vineyard. We will explain the nuances of each vintage, and also how we give back to the community with our annual Artist Series label,” says Moore.

Like so many other businesses feeling the strain from the pandemic, Sunset Hill Vineyard has had to get creative. They have a scenic outdoor deck overlooking the vines that can accommodate four to six people and have now introduced SD Hangouts (Social Distancing Hangouts). “We have designated various hangout areas in the vineyard for up to five people. You can buy a glass or a bottle, picnic, enjoy the beautiful view, and be at one with the vines as you walk around while practicing Social Distancing,” Moore says.

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