Nestled among rolling hills and scenic waterways, Southbury Farms at Southbury Training School is a piece of history, preserved for generations to come. Through the cooperation of the governor, legislature, state agencies, municipalities and nonprofit organizations, this 921-acre farm is protected from development, and reserved for public enjoyment and agricultural endeavors.
Five farmers are currently permitted to farm a total of 370 acres of the preserved land, including Platt Farm, a ninth-generation dairy farm with 60 milking cows that operates as part of the Agri-Mark/Cabot Creamery Co-operative.
Leasing land at Southbury Farms has allowed Platt Farm to diversify to include sales of hay in addition to their dairy operation. “It’s essential to be diversified,” says Ben Platt, owner of Platt Farm. “And having the extra land enables us to do that.”
Cooperation among the farmers helps save time and money. “It’s good to have a group of friends close by,” Platt says. “It makes it so everybody doesn’t need to own every piece of equipment.”
Several farmers at Southbury Farms have taken advantage of grants available through Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s Farmland Restoration Program, administered by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. The main objective of the Farmland Restoration Program is to increase food and fiber production agriculture in Connecticut through activities like reclamation of grown pastures, clearing and removal of trees and installation of fencing.
Efforts to preserve the land began in 1988, when state Rep. Arthur J. O’Neill first proposed legislation to preserve the farmland at Southbury Training School.
“My commitment to protecting Southbury Training School farm has been a matter of persistence,” said O’Neill during the 2013 bill signing ceremony for preservation of farmland at the Southbury Training School. “Thank you, Gov. Malloy, and the administration, for supporting this.”
According to a 2013 report of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Environment Committee, many were fearful that the land would be parceled off for development.
That year, Gov. Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly adopted legislation ensuring that the Southbury Training School land would remain available for agricultural production.
“This agricultural land is a beautiful gem in our state which we should preserve forever as farmland,” said Gov. Malloy at the bill signing ceremony for Public Act 13-90. “The scenic area is a unique treasure with the ability to produce Connecticut Grown products.”
The creation of Southbury Farms was a collaborative effort among state agencies that transferred the care, custody and control of the land from the Department of Developmental Services to the Department of Agriculture on May 20, 2016. On Nov. 7 of that same year, the Department of Agriculture granted a permanent conservation easement to the Southbury Land Trust.
The Farmland Preservation Advisory Board and several nonprofit organizations, including the Working Lands Alliance and the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, were also involved in advancing preservation of the farmland.
The ultimate goal of the Connecticut Farmland Preservation Program is to preserve 130,000 acres of farmland with 85,000 in cropland. To date, more than 350 farms and 43,000 acres of farmland statewide have been preserved under the program, including 16 farms in 2017.
Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky says he is working to increase the number of farms protected per year, with the goal of preserving 400 farms and 50,000 acres by 2020.
“Ensuring that farmland remains available for agricultural production in perpetuity is one of the most important tools we have to continue to sustain Connecticut’s robust agricultural growth,” Reviczky says. “Keeping our working lands in agricultural production should remain one of Connecticut’s highest priorities.”
Against all odds, the land has been preserved, which Reviczky says took a concerted effort by many over a sustained period of time and attention to detail by dedicated staff.