U.S. Senator chats with students via Skype

While still a high school student, Matilda Brady is also an entrepreneur, starting a business some teenagers might find unusual. Matilda, a student at Trumbull’s regional Agriscience and Biotechnology Center, raises pigs.

“I raised eight pigs as part of our supervised agricultural experience with the school,” Matilda said. “I had to market the pigs, as well as take care of them. I also did custom meat processing and delivery to customers.”

Matilda, an Easton resident, represents the future of the state’s agricultural innovation, according to U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who spoke to Matilda and her classmates via Skype last week.

“What you are doing is not only the basics of agriculture, but the basics of business,” Murphy said.

The session with Murphy and the class was set up by Bryan Hurlburt, the state executive director of the USDA Farm Service Agency. The Farm Service Agency awarded Matilda a $4,500 loan for her business through the Rural Youth Loan Program.

“We are a state of entrepreneurs,” Murphy said. “The legacy businesses of our state aren’t expanding, so it’s the small businesses that are our future. We will need you to create some jobs in the future.”

Murphy asked what Matilda thought of the process to get the loan.

“There was a lot of paperwork, but it wasn’t difficult to get through,” she said.

Before the Skype session, Hurlburt, who had previously visited Matilda’s operation in Easton, presented her with a plaque for her business that identifies it as a part of the loan program and congratulated her on her work.

Sen. Murphy later talked with Thomas Vrabel’s biotechnology class about his roles in Washington and about the future of agriculture and biotechnology.

“We are actually gaining farms in Connecticut for the first time in a while,” Murphy said. “We’re in a good time to be in agriculture in Connecticut, and we want to expand the support from Washington.”

Murphy talked about the importance of passing a new farm bill soon.

“I largely represent small farming operatives,” he said. “We don’t have any of the large, commodity Midwestern farms.”

Murphy said he wants to see an end to direct subsidies that go to those large farms, whether the farms need it or not.

One student asked the senator how he can influence a bill if he doesn’t serve on the committee.

“When it comes to something like the farm bill, every senator cares because every senator represents farms in their state,” he said.

Murphy spoke about difficulty in getting legislation passed. Murphy said some argue for the benefit of a supermajority, or needing at least 60 senators to support a bill, but he sees it as an additional hurdle. Murphy cited the failed gun control bill, a bill he supported.

“Today in Washington, nothing can pass without bipartisan support,” Murphy said.

Murphy also discussed the need to grow biotechnology jobs in Connecticut and efforts the governor has made to do so.

The Skype discussion also touched on Murphy’s support for making higher education more affordable for students.

Murphy invited students to send him any questions or concerns in the future, and to find him on Facebook.com/ChrisMurphyCT and Twitter.com/ChrisMurphyCT. The senator also asked another student to share his research with him on vertical farming, a trend that has taken off in other parts of the world.

“I’m the young guy on the block — I’m not young to you guys, but I’m the youngest U.S. senator at 40,” he said. “I feel like I need to be a conduit between Washington and young people in Connecticut.”

Following the Skype session, Hurlburt and Agriscience Director Dr. Robert Tremaglio encouraged the class to follow up with Murphy and use the session as a lesson in getting involved in the community, whether it be sending an email to an elected official or finding a project they care about.

“You can make a difference,” Tremaglio said. “But you have to persevere and pursue it. Nobody is going to put it on a platter for you.”