Farmers tour training school land

By:  John Nestor
Republican American

SOUTHBURY — The state government is looking for proposals from people interested in farming 12 parcels of state-owned land at the Southbury Training School and the process began in earnest on Saturday with tours of the property.

The parcels are in Southbury and Roxbury and farming permits are available for approximately 370 acres. Two public tours of the property were held Saturday to begin the process of applying for farming permits that would take effect March 1, 2016.

The land has preliminarily been divided into 12 parcels of farmland ranging in size from 3 acres to 71 acres. They are located along Cassidy Road and Purchase Brook Road, northwest of the training school campus. Most of the land is currently planted in corn and hay to support an active dairy operation, while other acreage requires restoration.

U.S. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy stopped by the site on Saturday morning and met with Southbury First Selectman Ed Edelson and a group that included Southbury Land Trust president Tom Crider and local farmers.

"Agriculture is coming back in Connecticut, we are adding farmers in the state, farmers markets are growing but our biggest obstacle to growing farming is land," Murphy said. "This is one of the biggest potential additions to the state's farmland inventory that exists. This is a game changer if we start to farm this land and use some federal money to preserve some of the surrounding acreage as well."

The project is being driven on the state and local level but there will be federal involvement down the road to assist the visions for the property in becoming reality.

"A lot of the money that will help farms start up on this property will be federal dollars," Murphy said. "The (Natural Resources Conservation Service) has grants for farmers so the farmers that come on this property are most likely going to use federal dollars to create and sustain farms." The permits will be for a term of up to 10 years.

Edelson said Southbury could benefit economically and environmentally from restoring the land to active farming.

"Seeing it preserved is great and that's where the Southbury Land Trust has come in and been huge, but actively getting farmers up here will be the important thing as we move forward in rejuvenating this area," Edelson said. "Agriculture was historically a major part of Southbury's economy and this program can be the start if getting back to that."

There is farming already happening on the property, Ed Platt has been working on the property since May of 1991 when the state asked him to take over the farming operation as a cost-saving measure. He's been here ever since as part of a farming career that has spanned almost all of his 74 years.

"We plan to bid again and we'll see what happens," Platt said. "We aren't sure what we are going to reapply for, maybe all of it, but that bid won't happen. We'll just go through the process and see how things end up."