At Hindinger Farm, co-owner George Hindinger and his partners enjoy selling the fruits and vegetables they grow on their Hamden land, at farm stands and various farmers’ markets, but they are preparing to potentially sell more goods on a much large scale.
A newly enacted state law, though, gives the Hindingers and other farmers in Connecticut the chance to sell many more products directly to consumers than they previously were permitted to. In the past, those wanting to sell salsas, pickles and other products derived from their farm-grown produce typically had to do so through a third party.
The new law “gives us more opportunities to use what we grow here and direct-market it to the consumer,” he said, which will help meet the growing demand for locally grown food. “It’s a win-win situation. It’s not only for the farmers, but it’s for the consumers as well.”
Farmers throughout the state are praising the law which, they say, will help them grow their businesses and add agricultural jobs in the state.
Dubbed the “Farms, Food and Jobs” bill, House Bill No. 5419, which Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed into law in June, significantly broadens the scope of goods that farmers can sell directly to consumers, hotels and restaurants.
“With the growing demand for locally grown foods, this new law will allow farmers to access a greater portion of the market and consumers will benefit,” said Don Tuller, president of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, which represents farmers and supported the bill throughout the legislative process.
“This new law will stoke the economic engine of Connecticut agriculture and will help local farms, promote local food and create local jobs,” he said.
Among its provisions, the law lets farmers sell certain “acidified foods” — such as pickles, relishes and salsas — directly to consumers, provided they participate in a mandated food safety course and follow certain safety guidelines.
Not everyone is in favor of letting farmers sell acidified products, however. Opponents, including some lawmakers and the state Department of Public Health, which testified against the measure, have raised safety concerns.
Health officials worried the bill does not do enough to ensure the safety of acidified foods. They were particularly concerned about the potential spread of botulism, a food-borne illness that can paralyze facial muscles and extremities.
But proponents of the bill insist adequate safety measures are in place — among them, only foods with a pH level of 4.6 or less can be sold.
“There were safeguards put into the bill,” Hindinger said. “Food safety should be on the mind of every farmer that’s producing it, and it is.”
The new law gives farmers who raise poultry the ability to process and sell dressed poultry or other poultry products to consumers, restaurants and hotels directly. This provision applies only to those that produce no more than 5,000 turkeys and 20,000 other poultry each year, and the state Department of Agriculture has the authority to inspect farms and processing to ensure safety.
Farmers’ markets also are included in the legislation, which allows markets to be set up as single-day events or as part of other bigger events such as county or town fairs. Previously, they were permitted to open only on a regular, scheduled basis.
Like many farms in Connecticut, Hindinger said his family’s does some wholesale selling but relies much more heavily on local sales.
“That’s our bread and butter,” said Hindinger, who owns the farm with his sister Liz and their mother Anne. “For us to have more of an avenue to market more of our products, that’s fantastic. It’s just more diversification of Connecticut agriculture.”
And as a result, consumers will get fresher food. “The farm-to-table steps are a lot less,” he said.
Also under the bill, Connecticut-made milk has the potential to hit more store shelves and reach more consumers. The law lets the state’s Milk Promotion Board tap into federal milk promotion funds for use in Connecticut. That money can be used to teach state residents about the benefits of milk, as well as fund research and promotion efforts.
State Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Ashford, co-chairman of the legislature’s Environment Committee that introduced the bill, said Connecticut’s agricultural sector often is underestimated.
“Too often we forget that farming in Connecticut isn’t just a hobby, it’s a multi-billion dollar industry that sustains thousands of jobs throughout the state,” he said in a statement earlier this month following the law’s enactment. “Unfortunately, we continue to witness a decline in our agricultural heritage and it is compromising our ability to produce locally grown food.”
The state’s farming industry seems to be garnering increased political attention lately. Last week, Dan Malloy and Nancy Wyman — Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively — visited three Connecticut farms in a single day, using the visits to tout the importance of sustaining farming in the state.
“Connecticut has a major opportunity when it comes to agriculture, an opportunity to grow jobs and boost our economy by supporting an industry that is, frankly, ripe for growth,” Malloy said in a statment.
“While most candidates and elected officials are rightly talking about the need to invest in new industries, we also shouldn’t forget the industries that made our state what it is,” he said. “In our talks with local farmers, it’s been made clear that we’re at a critical juncture: Connecticut can either choose to support and benefit from agriculture, or watch it disappear.”