With the federal Farm Bill in need of renewal by the end of September, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is looking to shift agricultural aid from traditional farms to some of the smaller, innovative ones that are increasingly dotting the Northeast.
Murphy is launching a website to get feedback from Connecticut residents as part of his push. On Friday, he visited Trifecta Ecosystems, an indoor farm operating out of a Meriden warehouse, to kick off his “listening campaign.”
“We’ve got to recast how people think of the farm bill,” Murphy, D-Conn., said. “There’s no reason why these massive agribusinesses in Iowa should be getting millions of dollars, and these aquaponics companies like this gets crumbs.”
Congress must reauthorize the Farm Bill every five years. Trifecta Ecosystems CEO Spencer Curry shared Murphy’s view that the upcoming expiration of the current iteration is an opportunity to shift funding.
“I think this is the perfect point in time to say, both at the federal level and at the state level, we support this kind of activity, we are willing to put our money behind it,” Curry said.
Trifecta Ecosystems grows a wide range of crops inside a Pratt Street warehouse. Curry said “innovative farming” revives abandoned urban buildings and yields locally-grown produce for inner city residents.
He added Connecticut is among the worst states when it comes to food inequality, a problem that results in a lack of fresh produce and other healthy food items in cities, due to both a lack of nearby grocery stores and transportation to access suburban locations.
Murphy said the Farm Bill allocates funding through two streams, resulting in problems for Northeast farmers. Agricultural aid largely benefits large-scale farming in the Midwest and West, while nutritional aid, such as food stamps, subsidizes the increased cost for consumers on the East Coast.
He said he wants Congress to give more equal treatment, for example, to small farmers, including those who farm indoors or in the waters of Long Island Sound.
Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky said farming in Connecticut increased by 22 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the most recent data. The state has used both federal and state funding to promote new forms of agriculture.
One benefit, in Reviczky’s mind, is the increased availability of fresh, locally grown produce in Connecticut, which has a short growing season for traditional farmers.
“You go into a supermarket this time of year — the peppers are from Holland, the tomatoes are from Mexico, cucumbers are from Canada,” he said. “We could be growing that stuff right here, reducing the miles that food travel from the farm to the plate.”
Murphy said New England states need to make it clear they won’t support a Farm Bill unless it results in increased aid for local farmers, breaking from past habits of approving versions that simply provide large nutritional subsidies.
Anyone who wants to submit comments to Murphy can do so at www.murphy.senate.gov/our-farm-bill