We’re taking a very broad peek at Connecticut agriculture identity this month. “What?” You say. “Agriculture? In Connecticut? That’s crazy talk.” Well, it may sound a little crazy, but please don’t imagine it’s boring! It’s full of twists and turns and yummy goodness, too.
You might not realize—or perhaps you do by now—Connecticut has a long agricultural tradition. For example, poultry and dairy production were economic mainstays in the mid-19th century. Connecticut supplied foodstuffs to the Continental army during the Revolutionary War and Union army during the American Civil War, earning it the nickname of the Provisions State, before industries such as brass and thread mills took over later in the 19th century. From the time settlers first arrived through even the early-20th century, many Connecticut homesteads contained outbuildings such as a barn or carriage house to shelter a few horses and cows, or had farm plots where household members raised basic necessities.
Over the centuries, Connecticut specialized in a number of crops: Shade tobacco became a huge cash crop starting in the early 20th century, especially in the Connecticut River Valley, where growing conditions were favorable for raising cigar leaf wrappers. The Long Island Sound oyster industry wasn’t limited to New York—the Connecticut coastline from Greenwich to Guilford had oyster farms; and there are still oyster farms today in Milford. Onions, believe it or not, became a big export business in Westport and Connecticut also had a substantial seed industry starting with the Shakers early in the 19th century in Enfield and carrying on to the present day with Hart seeds in Wethersfield.
Connecticut, like many New England states, also has a strong tradition of seafood, especially on its shoreline with seasonal offerings from clam shacks, lobsters, steamers, and chowders. Outside of the realm of seafood, it’s also renowned for the first steamed burger and for thin-styled crust pizza!
Lastly, residents of Connecticut are looking back and many are embracing the slow food and locavore movement as well as organically raised produce. We’ve come back around to our agricultural roots. And is that such a bad thing? At least we know how to do it!
So, stay tuned for posts covering our agricultural theme and take a look at our calendar to find events. You’ll be glad you did.
Photographer: Jack Delano
Date: September 1940
Collection, Library of Congress: Mr. and Mrs. Andres Lyman, Polish tobacco farmers near Windsor Locks, Connecticut
Note: The story goes that the woman is laughing and the man is looking so bemused because the photographer said to the man just before shooting the photo: “Your pants are falling down.” Much hilarity ensued.
Photographer: Barry Keleher
Date: June 2009
Tobacco Barn, Enfield, CT