Family farms and the rural landscape they represent are being lost at an alarming rate in Connecticut. East Haddam is among the several towns which have lost valuable farmland to residential development. According to the 1950 Census of Agriculture, there were 15,615 farms in Connecticut using about 40% of the land area in the state (1,254,144 acres of the 3,135,360 total). By 2002, the number of farms dropped to 4,191 and 357,154 acres. During the same period, in Middlesex County, the number of farms had plummeted to 326 from 1,039. This was a change in farmland area from 76,595 acres to 17,806 acres. It is interesting to note that in 2007 the number of farms increased to 393, but the amount of land devoted to farming decreased to 16,623 acres and the size of an average farm was reduced to 42 acres from 55 acres.
Agriculture is an important element of the rural character of East Haddam. It is not difficult to see how far we have come from our early agricultural heritage when one views the many stone walls, now mostly shrouded in trees and separating subdivisions. These walls are a connection to the many farms that once covered the majority of our Town landscape.
The importance of agriculture is expressed very well in the publication "Planning for Agriculture." "Farms and farmland remain cornerstones of many Connecticut communities, linking the past to the future through a landscape of fields and pastures, stone walls and weathered barns shaped by generations of hardworking farm families. This landscape, cherished by so many, is often taken for granted. Some of its benefits are obvious: the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer months; pumpkins, chrysanthemums and Christmas trees in the fall and winter; and milk and dairy products year-round. Other benefits are less obvious: the local revenue and jobs farms provide, the recreational and tourism opportunities they create, the wildlife habitat and other environmental benefits they offer. Some benefits are easily quantified; many are not. The benefit that may be most valued by Connecticut residents — the ephemeral 'quality of life' that farms help to provide — unfortunately sometimes is only recognized after it's too late and the last farm in Town has disappeared." (Note: A publication of American Farmland Trust and Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.)
It is therefore incumbent on the Town of East Haddam to endeavor to preserve, protect and promote the few remaining farms contributing to its unique rural character, to encourage new agricultural enterprises and to ensure that our community has a local source of food for the future.
Appointment. The Agriculture Commission shall consist of five-regular members and three alternates. Regular members and alternates shall be appointed by the Board of Selectmen in accordance with the Connecticut General Statutes. Insofar as practical, members appointed shall be representative of all groups interested in the management, promotion, protection and regulation of agriculture as defined by Connecticut General Statutes § 1-1(q), particularly those involved in agriculture. The Agriculture Commission may recommend to the Board of Selectmen removal of members from the Commission and appointment of new members to fill vacancies on the Commission.
Length of term. Staggered three-year terms, with initial appointments to be three members for two years and two members for one year; thereafter, all terms for members shall be three years; one alternate for two years and two alternates for one year; thereafter, all terms of alternates shall be two years. Terms shall commence on the second Tuesday of January and expire on the second Monday of January. A regular or alternate member who misses four consecutive meetings may be removed by the Board of Selectmen and a replacement appointed to serve the remainder of that member's term. Members of the Commission shall serve without pay.
Quorum and alternate member voting. A quorum will consist of three regular members. An alternate named to act in place of a regular member at a meeting shall be considered a regular member for purposes of establishing a quorum. Alternate members may participate in Commission discussions but shall vote only when appointed to fill an absence among regular members.
Meetings. The Commission shall meet no less frequently than quarterly in each calendar year.
The Agricultural Commission shall be an advisory board with the following duties and responsibilities:
Advocacy: to act as an advocate for local agriculture.
Information: to serve as a conduit between nonprofit agencies, civic organizations, municipal boards and commissions, elected officials and local farmers.
Education: to recommend changes in local law, regulations, rules and practices of Town departments, boards and commissions regarding compatibility with all forms of agriculture, farms and farming as defined in Connecticut General Statutes; to educate Town government about agricultural laws, such as right to farm, and legal issues regarding farm machinery, buildings and operations; to provide information and guidance on agriculture-related issues, such as zoning, inland wetlands, public works and others, to Town departments and other boards and commissions as necessary; to act as a sounding board/provide review to Town departments, boards and commissions concerning the impact of proposed Town policies on farms; to support vocational/agricultural education of young farmers and new farmers; to support local and regional agriculture education programs.
Conflict resolution: to serve as a resource for information and nonbinding advice for residents, established Town committees and departments concerning resolution of agriculture-related conflicts.
Economic opportunities: to identify innovative opportunities for farming in East Haddam; to promote opportunities for residents and local businesses to support and value farming; to serve as a conduit between nonprofit agencies, funders, and local farmers; to work to create a climate that supports the economic viability of farming as a career in East Haddam; to create a sustainable agriculture community; to work with local land use boards and commissions and East Haddam's Open Space Committee to secure the land base necessary for future agricultural uses.