local food

Local Food and Agriculture

Connecting Farmers and Consumers in the Northeast Corner

Local food and agriculture took a spotlight in 2020 as residents avoided grocery stores and sought out contactless and close to home food options during the unfolding of COVID-19. Coincidentally, just months earlier, UConn Extension launched a new federally funded project to increase direct-to-consumer sales for farm businesses in Northeast Connecticut.

woman reading sign at farmers marketWorking with farms across 23 towns in the region (see map), the project aims to increase direct-to-consumer farm sales by 15%, increase customers by 20%, and expand market opportunities for at least 70 producers over the course of three years. A 12-member Farmer Advisory Board is guiding project activities, which include new marketing tools, trainings, and branding.

The project tracks farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) to see if there is an increase in customers and sales over time. “Everyone who lives in Northeastern Connecticut knows it is a beautiful place to live, but many miss out on supporting local farm businesses because they lack information about what farms offer and where to purchase their products,” explained Jiff Martin, Extension Educator in Sustainable Food Systems.

As part of this work, UConn’s team is developing a brand to capture the unique identity that agriculture has in the region. With over 100 farms in the 23 towns, there are a wide variety of products consumers can purchase, and the region takes great pride in its agricultural landscapes. In June 2020, UConn Extension put together a guide that showcases this strong agricultural identity, while helping consumers see the variety of what farms offer and how accessible it is for them to purchase locally. This guide has seen a fall update in September and a winter iteration in December.

Printed versions of the summer guide were quickly snatched up by the community from farmers markets, local business, and community centers. The online magazine version has seen plenty of traffic as people looked to this resource on the go, or to plan out their purchasing of weekly groceries. A postcard mailing to thousands of households in the region and strategic social media marketing around #heartctgrown helped broadcast messaging about local farm offerings in the region.

In addition to consumer education and outreach, three marketing training sessions were held in late fall to help farmers acquire new skills to reach more customers and expand their product reach. The topics included online marketing, using point of sale to increase your market, and relational marketing for farm stands and farmers markets.

Looking ahead to programming for 2021 and 2022, plans are in the works to start promotions of the area’s CSAs, including a searchable online map and a postcard mailing to targeted households. The project will continue to offer marketing trainings for farm businesses, publish shopping guides, and distribute marketing materials. When the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided and public events are safe, the project will employ local food ambassadors to travel the region educating residents about the reasons to buy local food and where to find it.

Article by Rebecca Toms

Mitchell Elementary School Receives UConn 4-H Tower Garden

people standing in a classroom with tower garden
Left to Right: Cremeans, Dominello, Hale, Davenport

A good side of the Coronavirus Pandemic, people want to eat and live locally. As we are becoming more and more aware of our neighboring farms, farmers, and small businesses a push to be local seems to have swept the nation. That is no different in Connecticut where Litchfield County UConn 4-H Extension Educator Bill Davenport is bringing that food and individual connection to the classroom.

At Mitchell Elementary School in Woodbury, Davenport helped bring UConn 4-H’s first ever tower garden to students to teach them the importance of agriculture and sustainably grown food. Alongside Tyler Cremeans (Aquaponics and Farm to Table teacher at Nonnewaug High School’s Agriscience Program), John Dominello (Culinary and Farm to Table Teacher at Nonnewaug High School), and Shelby Hale (Science Instructional Coach at Mitchell Elementary School) they plan to provide the students not only with the tower garden but also have high school students and 4-H club officers from the agriscience program mentor the younger learners.

To Davenport this is simply the very beginning of what can become a collaborative effort between 4-H clubs and members across the state and the elementary schools in their communities. With the goal to have two of these tower gardens up and growing within the coming weeks at Mitchell Elementary School and Bethlehem Elementary school this is the start of a much larger project to help UConn 4-H members collaborate with younger community members. Not only will there be collaboration amongst 4-H, but Davenport hopes to bring in individuals from the Northwest Conservation District and the Bethlehem Conservation
Commission turning this into a community based effort. The project has the potential to gain traction and result in tower gardens being provided to schools and students across Connecticut. Teaching elementary students about the environment, agriculture, and sustainability through a hands-on-learning approach helps foster a population that understands where their food comes
from, how it is grown, and how to do so sustainably.

 

CT Grown for CT Kids Week

apple and pear crunchOctober is National Farm to School Month – a time to recognize and celebrate the connections within communities to fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites. With fewer than two percent of Americans living on farms, the U.S. population continues to be more removed from the agricultural practices that sustain them. Programs and activities surrounding farm to school help to bridge the gap while fostering new relationships.

“Farm to school is a holistic approach to engaging students in experiential learning about food and where it comes from. It is a farmer delivering local food to a student’s lunch tray, as well as learning about that farmer and the communities that feed us; it’s all encompassing,” said Nyree Hodges, CT Farm to School Collaborative Coordinator. “The opportunities for cross-curricular integration are endless, even in a virtual learning environment. It bridges school and community by giving students agency to play an active role in improving our food system.”

Here in Connecticut, October 5-9 is CT Grown for CT Kids Week. Started in 2006 as a joint effort between the State Department of Education and Department of Agriculture, this week aims to celebrate and support local agriculture, public education, and their community commitment to the importance of healthy, nutritious meals in schools. Each year, legislators, food service directors, farmers, and students gather through farm to school activities and consumption of local products.

“The Connecticut Farm to School program ensures access to nutritious, delicious Connecticut Grown food for students while increasing market access for farmers throughout the state,” said Agriculture Commissioner, Bryan P. Hurlburt. “CT Grown for CT Kids Week highlights the abundance of locally produced foods in an engaging and fun way for families to establish healthy eating practices.”

While many of the activities this year will look different due to COVID-19, it’s also an opportunity to honor all who contribute to feeding children and their communities – farmers, harvesters, food hub distributors, school nutrition professionals, educators and many others.

“You can’t learn if you’re hungry. Ensuring continued access to nutritious meals provides a critical lifeline and stability for children and households grappling with food insecurity, health crises, job losses,

isolation, and adapting to new ways of learning,” said Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. “In addition to teaching students about our food systems and where their meals come from, Farm to School month and CT Grown for CT Kids Week allows us to further celebrate the work of our farmers, food service heroes, and child nutrition partners to bring quality local foods to schools across the state – over 14 million since March.”

Students, families, and educators across Connecticut are invited to celebrate CT Grown for CT Kids Week by participating in the 5th annual HardCORE Apple and Pear Challenge. All you need is a Connecticut Grown apple or pear and to eat it down to its core. Post a photo or video to social media and use the hashtags #ctgrownforctkids and #applecrunch to be involved. Educational toolkits and more activities are available on the Put Local On Your Tray website.

“One of the best ways to reconnect to nature and healthy living is to consume foods grown in your own environment. Our bodies are designed to have that proximal relationship with our food,” said Herb Virgo, Founder and Executive Director of Keney Park Sustainability Project. “CT Grown for CT Kids Week is a great way to educate students and their families on the importance of local food consumption while supporting the local economy.”

According to a 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, 70% of Connecticut schools surveyed participate in farm to school activities. They invested more than $7.2 million in local food and 51% of the Connecticut districts surveyed planned to increase local food purchases in the future.

In 2016, the CT Farm to School Collaborative (F2S Collaborative) was convened. The F2S Collaborative is a multi-stakeholder partnership whose function is to pursue projects together that no one partner could do alone. Participating organizations represent the variety of stakeholders needed for collaborative work on Farm to School, including: Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, UConn Extension, School Nutrition Association of CT, FoodCorps CT, New England Food & Dairy Council, Common Ground, and Hartford Food System.

Connecticut Seafood Survey Can Help Guide Industry

cover of Connecticut seafood survey publication

The final report from the Connecticut Seafood Survey: Assessing Seafood Consumption, Knowledge, Behaviors and Preferences of Connecticut Seafood is now published.

This new report from Connecticut Sea Grant includes findings from a survey of Connecticut residents about their seafood related consumption, knowledge, behaviors and preferences.

Read the report at: https://seagrant.uconn.edu/?p=6305

Looking for Open Farm Stands? Use this Map

map of open farms and farm stands in Connecticut

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, CT Northeast Organic Farming Association has partnered with the CT Dept of Agriculture to expand the list of farms, farmers’ markets, and farm stands beyond the current CT NOFA membership – free of charge and online. It is a joint effort to promote the availability of all Connecticut farmers who can provide food and other farm products in this time of crisis. Note: Read all signs and use caution when visiting farms, markets, and grocery stores and be sure to stay away from all food establishment if you feel sick. View the interactive map.

Maple Syrup Time in Connecticut

The sap is running and sugar houses are boiling. The maple syrup industry is alive and well when the weather cooperates, providing warm days and cold nights to signal the sugar maple trees to make sap. Maple syrup makers will have to collect 40 gallons of sap to boil down to make one gallon of syrup. March is filled with opportunities to visit sugar houses and festivals around the state.

 

For information about Connecticut Maple Syrup events follow the link below.

https://www.ctvisit.com/articles/maple-sugaring-connecticut?inf_contact_key=b3ed6f4a71d5c3886b582dba04ca631b

Some may be offering delivery or other options for products during current closures.

Rooting for Root Vegetables

illustration of root vegetables with the text root recipes under it

We’re rooting for winter with root recipes from our Put Local On Your Tray program. Visit https://putlocalonyourtray.uconn.edu/root-recipes/ to find some warm, filling and nutritious ideas for how to cook carrots, parsnips, beets, radish, or another root vegetable.

Why We Need Local Food in our Schools

Robert Schacht photo of him talking about local food in Connecticut schools

Who wants local food in schools, and why? We’re partnering with 81 school districts in Connecticut through our Put Local On Your Tray program, and helping them to source local food from Connecticut farms. This short video explains the importance of local food in our schools:
 
#UConnImpact

Job Opening – Communication Coordinator

rows of vegetables with black plastic

Job Opening – Communication Coordinator

(Accepting applications until Feb 12, 2020)

 

UConn Extension’s Sustainable Food Systems program is actively seeking to fill a newly created position of Communication Coordinator. This is an exciting opportunity for the right person who is versatile, responsive, and demonstrates an interest in local food and farms in Connecticut. 

Download the full job description and application instructions.

Dress your Table with Connecticut Grown this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving meal featuring Connecticut Grown foodsPreparations are underway in many homes for the Thanksgiving holiday. Governor Ned Lamont and Connecticut Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt would like to recognize the many hands that play a role in putting food on your table, including the more than 5,500 farm families in Connecticut.

“Connecticut farmers are an essential segment of our state’s economy—but also a critical component to the wonderful food that many of us gather around each Thanksgiving,” Governor Lamont said. “That is why, when preparing for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, consider using Connecticut Grown products–from delicious turkey to incredible deserts and other beverages, Connecticut farmers provide families with affordable and nutritious food options. Make this year a true Connecticut Thanksgiving with Connecticut Grown.”

According to the National Turkey Federation, 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving. Now is the time to place your order for a Connecticut Grown turkey. More than a dozen Connecticut turkey producers can be found at www.ctgrown.gov offering fresh or frozen, heritage or grass-fed, pastured raised birds. Nearly all of the ingredients for your appetizers, sides, beverages, and desserts can be found by stopping by a holiday farmers’ market, farm stand, farm winery, brewery, or your local grocery store that features products from neighboring farms.

“From a Connecticut Grown turkey to potatoes, winter squash, Brussel sprouts, root vegetables, cranberries, greens, cheese, milk, beer and wine, we can, and do, produce it here,” says Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “Farmers are the backbone of our nation and we are fortunate to have a diverse array of agriculture in Connecticut creating a bountiful harvest.”

If you are looking for ways to prepare your Connecticut Grown food, there are hundreds of recipes on our Pinterest board for you to try. We have you covered with traditional dishes, modern twists on a long-time favorites, and ideas for using up leftovers. Find those recipes, and more, by clicking here: https://www.pinterest.com/GrowCTAg/boards/

As you sit down with family and friends to celebrate all that you are thankful for, remember to thank a farmer.