12/03/2012 09:46 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2013

Gratitude for Farmers and the Farmland That Provide for Us

I have made it my personal mission to connect our growing love for local foods with our need for healthy communities. There really is no better time than the holiday season to think about the importance of farming traditions and honor their role in this time of celebration and gratitude. Through consistent and deliberate year-round work, farmers provide us with the makings of our holiday traditions. They grow the flowers that adorn our tables, the wreaths on our doors, and the Christmas trees that are a centerpiece for many families. Farmers grow the food that fills our bellies with our families' favorite holiday dishes. This year, as we enjoy the dishes that have nurtured our families for generations, we should take a minute to acknowledge that these traditions are under threat: rising land prices, development pressures, increasingly competitive business environments make farming increasingly difficult and increasingly important

Farmland is precious. Farmland has long served as part of the conservation agendas that keep our communities livable. And farming and conservation have long served an important -- often invisible partnership. As a land-based business, agriculture relies on good quality soils, favorable climate conditions, and clean water -- done well, it strengthens environmental health.

Farmland provides priceless environmental benefits including

  • Supporting wildlife habitat and supporting biodiversity
  • Providing natural water filtration
  • Improving air quality by filtering air and producing oxygen
  • Absorbing and sequestering carbon
  • Reducing emissions from shipping and travel when communities have strong local food systems

Farmland protection and efforts toward agricultural viability are the most promising tools for balancing development, dealing with urban conversion trends, ensuring our quality of life, and protecting our food supply and our farming traditions.

As pressure to develop land for housing and business needs rises, farmland provides an important balance to growing urbanism and sprawl. Family farms serve an important anchoring role, insuring that as communities develop they also maintain beautiful landscapes and offer a high quality of life. And family farms pay taxes and provide jobs. For example, Jones Family Farms in Shelton, Conn. (a mere 80 miles away from Manhattan's Times Square) provides 15 year-round jobs, 25 more seasonal jobs, generates sales and sales tax, and pays local property taxes. Jones Family Farms has also helped to incubate neighboring agricultural enterprises, adding further to the state's economic development and serving as a prime tourism destination bringing thousands of visitors from other states, which are a boost to area restaurants, gas stations and other businesses. Farms continue to provide us with a mechanism for providing locally grown economic development.

Farmland is one of our most precious resources not because of its price, but because of its value. In 2010 Connecticut land prices were estimated at greater than \five times the national average. Today, land remains the highest start-up cost and largest barrier to access for new farmers. Our nation's veteran farmers are, on average, 57 years old, and as veteran farmers they oftentimes can't afford to increase the size of their farms, to sell them to young farmers, or to pass them on to their children, We will need to be thoughtful about how we can secure affordable farmland for the next generation of farmers.

I believe strongly in the power of gratitude. Theories on happiness, great thinkers, and enduring spiritual traditions stand with my on that belief. As gratitude brings us together and fills the holiday season and our holiday tables, being grateful for the food, the farms (like the Jones Family Farms), the farmers, and the land that sustains us will help us all to enjoy our holiday meals and continue to be nurtured by the lands that sustain us.