Yoko Takemura and her husband earned nonagricultural degrees and didn’t grow up with farming backgrounds. Despite this, the couple will soon be doubling the size of their very own vegetable farm, which they established with the support of programs focused on helping Connecticut’s beginning farmers.
UConn Extension Solid Ground Farmer Training guided them in everything from cover cropping and high tunnels to bookkeeping. Farm tours with the Bionutrient Food Association gave them a first-hand look at practices that could be applied to their farm. Farmer networking events and advocacy work through the New CT Farmer Alliance helped the couple find the resources they needed to start their farm.
“You get so much information by speaking to other farmers and learning how they started their farms and faced problems,” says Takemura, who owns and operates Assawaga Farm in Putnam with husband Alex Carpenter.
“It’s very exciting,” says Kip Kolesinskas, a consulting conservation scientist who works with new and beginning farmer programs. “There has been a growth of farms in the state and certainly beginning farmers are a component of that, as well as better reporting.”
There is a viable market for Connecticut’s products, with about 32 million consumers living within a two-hour drive of the state.
Assawaga Farm sells primarily at farmers’ markets and through a small CSA (a community-supported agriculture model in which members buy shares of farm production). The farm grows familiar vegetables, but has carved out a distinctive niche specializing in organic produce and Japanese varieties of vegetables.
Getting to this point has been quite a process.
“Land access is one of the top issues for new and beginning farmers,” Takemura says. “We bought raw land because it was what we could afford. We gradually paid for a well and a driveway and built a barn/house.”
Kolesinskas helps connect landowners and aspiring farmers through the Connecticut Farmlink Program. Likewise, he works with partner agencies and organizations to foster a social network for new farmers. He helps new farmers access grant opportunities, provides technical assistance and teaches at workshops that cover everything from growing practices to zoning regulations.
“If your heart is into it and you do it right, farming is a financially viable business and a very fulfilling life,” Takemura says. “I would love to see more beginning farmers get involved, find their own land, start their own farms and feed local families.”