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Small farmers are focus of Sharon project

SHARON — Farming has deep roots in this rural community’s history. An upcoming project at the Sharon Historical Society & Museum will highlight the complex situation facing residents and farmers as the latter strive to keep farming alive.

Reinventing Farming: How Small Farmers in the Northwest Corner are Finding Niches Amidst Climate Change, Industrial Farming & Large Supply Chains, a presentation centered on issue-based videos of conversations with local farmers, is scheduled to open in February and run through May.

The project is headed by Sharon resident Carol Ascher, an independent researcher, published author and journalist.

Reinventing Farming will include an exhibit of changing farming implements, photographs of local farms over the years, along with four moderated monthly panels with local farmers and agricultural education teachers. The exhibits and events will be free.

The first panel discussion, Rethinking Farming Amidst Climate Change, is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 26, from 4 to 5 p.m. at the Historical Society.

In spring, a panel discussion will involve educators from the agriculture departments at Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Adamah in Falls Village, and the Marvelwood School in Kent.

“In the 1950s and 1960s, people spent 25% to 35% of their money on food,” Ascher points out, “and the government made an effort to reduce those costs. These days, people expect to spend about 7% on food, including on restaurant meals. This stress on cheap food has been hard on small farmers. At the same time, it has expanded our reliance on industrial agriculture, which doesn’t grow nutritious food, debilitates the soil, and creates suffering for animals.”

Ascher said her hope is that, by highlighting the economic challenges faced by today’s farmers, people will give greater thought to how the food they eat is grown and, by reallocating their income, spend a little more on food.

Ascher’s team includes Marel Rogers, as videographer and project registrar, and Jonathan Doster, as videographer, post-production editor and video designer. The videos will become part of the historical society’s oral history collection.

The Sharon Historical Society and Museum was awarded a $4,700 Connecticut Humanities grant for the project.

By collecting, preserving and sharing stories, the goal of the project is to present critical issues facing Sharon and many other rural communities .

The idea, said Ascher, materialized two years ago, at around the time the novel coronavirus pandemic started. “I could sense a new generation of stress on farmers,” said Ascher, who, in 2016, curated a three-room exhibit, A Chance for Fresh Air: Russian Jewish Immigrants in Ellsworth and Amenia, 1907- 1940, at the Sharon Historical Society. That exhibit followed the lives of a group of 30 Russian Jewish families at the turn of the century who began dairy farming in the hills above Sharon.

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