This article originally appeared in the Waterbury, CT Republican-American.
Truelove Farms, operated by former English instructor Tom Truelove, is one of 24 farms from 14 states selected to receive a fund-a-farmer grant from the Illinois-based Food Animal Concerns Trust—an organization that aims to improve the welfare of farm animals. It’s a financial boost that will help expand Truelove’s operation just six years into his new career. It was a love of literature that delivered the 33-year old Truelove “through the back door,” to a love of farming. He was smitten by the poetic, environmental and romantic notion of sustainable agriculture offered by authors such as Wendell Berry, who writes about how big agribusiness is turning food manufacturing into a profit machine that creates unhealthy food. Truelove said he was inspired to venture into the science of nurturing food.
“I learned that most of the food we eat comes from unsustainable practices and is artificial,” he said. “Berry is spiritual about it, and talks about a connection between the land and food we are missing,” Truelove said.
He found a 120-acre farm along Route 109 in Morris near his roots in Bethlehem, a place he knew through his grandparents. The owners of the farm—four sisters of the Hachem family who inherited the land from their father—live around the world but support Truelove’s mission. They had been looking to take the land in another direction, he said, putting it to work instead of using it for hay and brush.
It tied well with Truelove’s interest. He likes good food. So does his girlfriend, Lindsay Rush, who works with him. It all fit. Rush found the grant application online during a search for start-up resources.
“It’s a small ethical and sustainable farm,” said Truelove, who has a master’s degree in English literature. He left his job at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, Mass., in 2008 to try his hand at the soil after reaching an agreement to rent the land and a home next door. “It was coming home.”
He’s part of a trend in the state. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Agriculture shows Connecticut led New England with a 22 percent increase in the number of farms since 2007—a whopping 1,061 new farms for a total of 5,977. Land included in those farms, most of them considered small, totaled 436,406 acres.
Nationwide, the number of farms dipped by 4 percent between 2007 and 2012. State Agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky has said the numbers are related to a growing demand for locally raised food.
The grants are intended to help farmers and support FACT’s mission by transitioning to pasture-based systems, improving the marketing of their humane products, and enriching the conditions in which their farm animals are raised, according to a statement by Lisa Isenhart, FACT’s humane farming program director.
FACT Executive Director Richard Wood said it was difficult to choose from among many good applicants. He said three criteria were most important: humane management of livestock, which included consideration of outdoor pasture spaces; the chances of success, and access to markets.
A committee assigned to review the applications was comprised mostly of farmers who had an idea of which proposals have the best chance of succeeding, he said.
“Supply can’t keep up with the demand for food produced on small farms,” Wood said.
For Truelove, it means turning an “inconvenient” space suitable for 1930s dairy farming into more productive use for heritage crossbred hogs. Space is dedicated to provide a year round area for a dozen sows to have their young. Piglets need unique protection, not only from the cold, but also from crushing injuries by their mothers.
The farm also raises 200 turkeys, 200 laying hens and 400 to 1,000 broilers. Chicks are turned out to pasture at 3 weeks old.
Healthy animals are part of the sustainable circle, Truelove said. They don’t get sick so they help make more money.
“I consider myself in a growth period,” Truelove said about his new sole source of income, an amount he hasn’t even added up yet on an annual basis. “I am cautiously optimistic that the finances will work, small though it will be.”
Photo Credit: John McKenna - Republican-American
Ruthman, Brigitte. "Morris Farmer Gets Seed Money for Sustainable Agriculture Republican American." Editorial. Morris Farmer Gets Seed Money for Sustainable Agriculture Republican American. Web. 03 Sept. 2014. <http://www.rep-am.com/articles/2014/08/25/news/local/825119.txt>
The Monroe Farmers' Market is open June–October and offers fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods and hand-crafted specialty foods to Connecticut locals.