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Eating Connecticut Grown Just Got Real

It’s nice to talk about farm-to-table eating along the shoreline and in neighboring communities, but how do we really know that “local” fruits, vegetables, meats, and produce actually come from Connecticut? A new state law gives us a lot more assurance. After October 1, 2015, all food sold as “Connecticut Grown” at more than 100 farmers markets statewide must be displayed with a sign that identifies the name and address of the local farm or business that produced it.

“It’s a matter of fairness and of truth-in-advertising,” says State Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky. “Consumers have the right to know what they are buying, and ethical producers who play by the rules deserve to be protected from unfair competition by those looking to falsely use the Connecticut Grown label.”

Growers can get compliant Connecticut Grown signs for free by calling 860-713-2503 or by going to the CTGrown.gov website. State inspectors will be doing random checks at farmers’ markets, and pursuing complaints made to the Bureau of Regulation and Inspection (860-713-2504). The new law ups the penalty for violations from the prior $25 wrist-slap to a $100 fine.

Reviczky says his department gets numerous complaints each year about alleged deceptive practices, where food is brought in from far away places and passed off as local. But is locally grown food really better?

Stephanie Lesnik’s Field House Farm in Madison offers farm-to-table dinners featuring foods she grows herself, and procures from other local farms, dairies, and wineries. She says, “It stands to reason that meats that were never frozen, eggs that were laid this morning, and produce that was just picked, are giving you lots more flavor and nutrition.” She’s big into education: “I encourage people to look into where the product comes from, who’s growing it, and what goes into it.”

Essex beekeeper Glenn Penkofflidbeck, who owns Three Sisters Farms with his wife Stasia, says people who buy his raw honey won’t settle for less than its direct-from-the-hive flavor and healthful enzymes. These are lost when honey is pasteurized to extend its shelf life for supermarkets. The appeal of eating local is confirmed by Deb Marsden, who owns CT Farm Fresh Express in East Haddam, which procures and delivers Connecticut Grown products to customers. “We have lots of people along the shoreline,” she says, “and in Fairfield and lower Litchfield Counties too. They really go for the raw milk and fresh eggs.”

Promoting and protecting local farmers isn’t just about feeling good. Agriculture contributes $3.5 billion to Connecticut’s economy, and supports nearly 28,000 jobs. Connecticut farming has blossomed, experiencing a 22% increase in the number of farms over the last five years. This is the highest rate of farm growth in New England, and a major contrast to the 4% decline in farms nationally during the same time period. No wonder that when the “Connecticut Grown” law went into effect, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman said, “It’s important that we protect the work of farmers and the reputation of Connecticut Grown products.”

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