It has been a struggle many Connecticut towns have had - preserving their rural character, yet still attracting new businesses and tax dollars.
One community just outside the Hartford suburbs has made it loud and clear it believes it can accomplish both using its farmland to generate new kinds of business - something called “agri-tourism”.
The town of Ellington completed a survey of residents in 2018 to get input on its 10-year master plan for the town.
The survey indicated that it’s all about the farms in Ellington. It seems most people living there said they really like them - 85% of those surveyed said they either strongly or somewhat agree that preservation of farmland should be a top priority in Ellington.
However, preservation of farmland means it can’t be used for other development that often brings needed tax dollars to a town.
Town leaders believe they may have found a solution because that same survey indicated 88% of the people in Ellington would be OK with zoning that allows breweries, wineries, and distilleries.
“I think it could work to the benefit of the community...people have something else to do”, said longtime Ellington resident Randy Widmer.
Late last year Ellington’s planning and zoning commission paved the way for this to happen, changing the zoning to encourage these kinds of businesses on land 10 acres and up.
Diane Ruete, another longtime Ellington resident, said she is not sure how the town should proceed.
“It's a tough question I’ve lived here for 40 years so I hate to see the farmland go and yet they're having a hard time making a living too.”
Even though no one has stepped forward with a proposal, people are curious to see if someone does.
The question is being asked, with microbreweries and the like popping up all over the state, is Ellington on to something that other rural towns may also pursue?
Economics and entrepreneurship lecturer Brian Marks from the University of New Haven applauded Ellington for its flexible thinking with the farmland assets it has.
“This move very sensible very forward thinking…I think each of the towns should look and examine their infrastructure and see what can we do to foster economic development and growth which means it will foster and enhance our revenue and tax base without taxing people out of existence," Marks said.
Marks added that more suburban towns have assets too, that they could rethink their uses into something more productive - for example, granting mixed use, instead of just a retail classification, for all those empty big box stores.