From the Office of State Senator Kevin Witkos
Recently, the State Capitol was transformed into a celebration of our state’s agricultural heritage. Every year, around the time of the Spring Equinox, over 50 different organizations and groups come together to host “Ag Day” featuring the great products that are grown or produced throughout Connecticut. The event often turns out to be a favorite for legislators, lobbyists, staff members and visitors alike. However, it also serves as an example of what we should be doing to encourage further growth in this industry. By investing in competitive agricultural science programs, also known as Vo-Ag schools, we can see increased opportunities for job growth and economic activity in a relatively short time frame.
The many groups in attendance come from diverse interests, from conservationists to farmers to herders and more. Each has their own booth with informational handouts, posters and sometimes even free samples. For example, the Connecticut Farm Bureau booth allowed visitors to sample bison wild rice and barley soup made from bison grown here in our state. The Farmer’s Cow, a well-known dairy cooperative, was also in attendance to give out samples of ice cream. From the shoreline, a shellfishing group shared clam chowder and raw oysters. Nurseries and greenhouses also gave out flowers, including pansies and violas. From apples to Christmas trees to maple syrup, almost every product was on display at Ag Day. This diversity reminds us that agriculture is an important part of our state’s economy.
At the legislature, we often speak about how we can create more jobs in our state. Although the unemployment rate has decreased in recent months, it remains disappointingly high. While Governor Malloy has embarked on a policy of spending large amounts of taxpayer dollars to lure companies to our state, I believe that there are opportunities to increase the number of jobs today by supporting agriculture and the education of another generation of farmers.
According to figures from the Future Farmers of America (FFA), agriculture supports more than 23 million jobs in the United States, accounting for 1 out of every 5 jobs in the private sector. In Connecticut, nearly 6,000 new jobs are created in the $3.5 billion agriculture industry each year. About half of those jobs are created in nurseries and greenhouses where plants are grown and raised. If we can increase investment into agriscience programs, we will see increased economic activity and local jobs as soon as the first students graduate.
Currently, our state is home to 19 agricultural science schools. These programs are important because graduates immediately enter into the workforce, oftentimes returning to the family farms that make our state a scenic and healthy place to live. Students gain skills that allow them to work in a wide array of professions from farming to landscaping to veterinary medicine. Interest in these programs actually outpaces the capacity. During the 2010-2011 school year, there were more than 3,000 students enrolled in these programs and an additional 1,100 were placed on a waiting list. In addition, the young members of the FFA continue to have a strong showing at Ag Day. These dedicated students play an important role in community service and leadership development. To learn more about the FFA in our state, please visit their website at www.ctffa.org.
We are certainly fortunate that our region is home to many productive farms. From generating jobs to preserving open space, we must continue to support agriculture and the many benefits that it provides to our communities. Now that we have returned to the start of the growing season, I strongly encourage you stop by your local farmer’s market for some fresh vegetables and other produce. If you have time next year, Ag Day is an excellent opportunity to see – and taste – all that our state has to offer. Over the next few months, I look forward to traveling around our district to visit local farms and learn more about the great products that are available in our neck of the woods.
Sen. Witkos (www.SenatorWitkos.com) represents the 8th Senate District, including the communities of Avon, Barkhamsted, Canton, Colebrook, Granby, Hartland, Harwinton, New Hartford, Norfolk, Simsbury and Torrington. He can be reached by phone at 1-800-842-1421 or by email at Kevin.Witkos@cga.ct.gov.