March 13, 2017 09:10AM
By Brooke Constance White
Sun staff writer
STONINGTON — In order to become a more sustainable community, Planning Director Jason Vincent is working hard to promote the idea that residents should value the town’s land, not simply for the homes and businesses that can can be built on it, but also for the food the land can produce.
“When we think about the highest and best use of land, we often look at developments and think it’s the best way we can use our land, but to me, food production and agriculture are the best use of land,” Vincent said. “Food scarcity will be an issue in the future. Much of our food production land is in private ownership and is not used to produce food.”
This idea is a major shift in thinking nationally, he said. Seeing the “caloric” value in land — and the energy it produces that can translate to personal sustenance — is a big change, but one Vincent thinks is necessary. Making sure that land is well-utilized can help steer the community toward becoming more sustainable.
“We’re trying to get Stonington to start recognizing the caloric value of land and start appropriating resources to start engaging in that more,” he said. “We don’t know how it will play out because it’s never been done before, but there are a lot of people in town who have large tracts of land that aren’t being used and could easily be utilized for farming and food production.”
The Planning Department had hoped to host an event with Land for Good, a nonprofit that helps to link landowners and people who want to farm but don’t have land. There wasn’t enough interest and the event was canceled.
“We have to do more to get people to understand that there is a huge need for this and that we must become a sustainable community,” Vincent said. “We have to produce food so we have access to clean, healthy food.”
First Selectman Rob Simmons agreed with Vincent and said he’s a big proponent of agriculture and preserving the town’s rural character. That goal is in line with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
From Simmons’ perspective, the farming model of cows and corn doesn’t work as well as it used to. Although there are farmers in the region who are successful with that model and have large operations, the smaller farmers die out and their property is sold and subdivided, which diminishes the rural character of the town and means there is less land for farming.
“The land is under pressure,” he said. “We need to encourage landowners to allow some of the property, most of which is often just sitting, to allow farmers to come in and crop their fields. This is a way to generate value over and above the real estate value of the property.”
Simmons used the Giving Garden at Coogan Farm as an example of a small tract of land that produces thousands of pounds of produce each year.
“If we replicate this on other properties in town, the production of fresh organic and sustainable food products to be sold in our restaurants and markets can have dual advantage of preserving and protecting rural character and providing our citizens with fresh food products,” he said. “We need to teach people how to take these vacant fields and turn it into a piece of land with value that adds to our economy. If we don’t value the agriculture and rural character of our community, we will lose it.”