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State agriculture grants for two Northwest Corner farms

“The selected projects demonstrate the innovation and growth of agriculture to create sustainable job opportunities while developing a diversified offering of farm products.” Bryan P. Hurlburt, Agriculture Commissioner

Two Northwest Corner farm operations, CowPots of East Canaan and Smokedown Farm in Sharon, have received Infrastructure Investment Grants from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture. They were among 24 farms statewide to receive the 2021 agriculture awards, totaling $497,382. 

According to Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt, the grant program is intended to strengthen the economic viability of Connecticut farmers and agricultural cooperatives seeking to expand, diversify and improve their existing operation.

“The selected projects demonstrate the innovation and growth of agriculture to create sustainable job opportunities while developing a diversified offering of farm products for consumers,” said Hurlburt in making the announcement on June 1. 

The $6,000 grant to CowPots, a division of the Freund family farm operation, was awarded for equipment to modernize cow pot manufacturing to increase production. 

Smokedown Farm’s grant is targeted for equipment for hop harvesting and storage. The proprietors of the two local farms said their respective operations will benefit greatly from the competitive matching grant program.

“This gives us a shot in the arm,” said Matt Freund, president of Freund Family Farm, Inc. The farm’s CowPots division creates biodegradable planting pots made from a manure byproduct.

“We are working on some automation that we use to make the products. Some of the machinery is pretty complicated,” he explained. Much of it was installed several years ago and is in need of modernization.

“We are always improving our operation,” said Freund, and the state grant will help the farm update its equipment, increase production and lower prices for customers. 

“It will help us reach a bigger market,” noted the second-generation farmer. “Anytime you lower your process you improve your sales. We are hoping that as we progress and get this business viable, we will be able to license the technology.”

James Shepherd, who six years ago transformed 9 acres at his 170-acre Smokedown Farm into a hopyard, said the state grant, the first for his family-owned business, will be put to good use. 

Smokedown, which Shepherd said is the main commercial grower of hops in the state, produces pelletized hops for Connecticut’s craft beer brewers. 

“It is going to expand our processing capabilities,” said Shepherd during a June 5 tour of the facility, which is managed by Ally Hughes, a fourth generation farmer and transplant from Nebraska. 

“The grant we were awarded is a 50% matching grant to invest in our infrastructure. We are adding another dryer as well as a walk-in cooler to the hops operation,” said Hughes. 

She noted that the total cost of the project was estimated at $12,250, 50% of which will be covered by the state. 

“The cost was based off of a collection of estimates provided by vendors and local businesses and is subjective until the final costs are added and reported to the state for reimbursement.”

Shepherd explained that the grant will be used to increase the drying capacity of harvested hops as well as enhance harvesting and storage.

Grant funds are reimbursed to the awardees after the project is successfully completed, a final financial and written report outlining all expenses and tasks associated with the project have been received and approved, and site inspection by agency staff is conducted.

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