Actionable Steps Toward the Future of Sustainable, Resilient Food & Farming

On Wednesday, October 7, the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) held the final session of this year’s virtual summit, Designing Resilience for Food and Farming in Connecticut: A Virtual Series to Collectively Shape the Future of Growing & Eating in Our State. This session, Actionable Steps Toward the Future of Sustainable, Resilient Food & Farming, recapped the previous three sessions and allowed participants to discuss what they would like to see in the future of the Connecticut food system. For this session, we invited state senator and long-time CFSA supporter, Marilyn Moore, to speak on her experiences making change in the state.

Senator Marilyn Moore

“Senator Marilyn Moore was first elected in 2014 to serve the 22nd State Senatorial District communities of Trumbull, sections of Bridgeport and Monroe. She was elected to a second term in 2016. As a lifelong Bridgeport resident and community activist, Senator Moore has been a force in advocating for health equity, living wage, and legislation that supports and protects Connecticut communities. Recognizing the rapid increase in morbidity and mortality rates among low income minority women with breast cancer, she founded and became President and CEO of The Witness Project, which seeks to address and reduce breast cancer mortality.

In addition, Senator Moore has tackled the war against hunger by serving and being a member of several boards in Connecticut, including, End Hunger CT!, Network Support Team of the Connecticut Food System Alliance, and Food Solutions New England.

As a result of her unwavering passion and dedication to fighting for food and health equity in Connecticut, the City of Bridgeport formed the Bridgeport Food Policy Council, which integrates all agencies of the city in a common effort to improve the availability of safe and nutritious food at reasonable prices for all residents, particularly those in need.”

Senator Moore began her involvement in food systems work through non-profit work. She ran a non-profit for 15 years advocating for Black women who suffer from breast cancer at the highest rate. Through her work making mammograms and health screenings accessible to more women she realized that access to healthy food was a factor in treatment success, overall health, and breast cancer prevention. This compounded with childrens’ excitement about healthy food and growing healthy food drove her to advocate for food system legislation during her tenure as state senator.

In Bridgeport, she noticed a dearth of healthy food among the abundant corner stores selling and marketing unhealthy options. A study in Bridgeport showed that it took people 75 minutes by bus to access a full service grocery store, making corner stores and bodegas the most accessible option. Senator Moore worked with the City of Bridgeport’s health department to create a corner store initiative, bringing healthy foods, appropriate storage, and marketing assistance to corner stores.

Since her election in 2014, Senator Moore has served on the Environmental Committee and has been appointed as Chair of the Human Services Committee. These experiences opened her eyes to the world of agriculture and how the food system and SNAP impact low-income people in our state. Additionally, COVID has shown that many barriers to food access (waivers, paperwork, and limited SNAP funds) do not have to exist. “That’s another opportunity for us to say ‘why not?’ Nothing changed, nothing hurt anybody by allowing them to have access to precooked food, especially seniors.”

Senator Moore ended her presentation highlighting the importance of food system work in Connecticut. As a state with farmland, suburbs, and urban centers, it’s important for people, especially children, to understand how food is grown and how it gets to the grocery store. It’s especially important for youth to see diversity in race, gender, age, and class in agriculture. “It’s important for them to see this is another place where they could find a home, be comfortable, and raise their own food.”

What Are Our Interests?

During this session, we summarized the previous sessions and extracted our favorite ideas and initiatives. Here are the initiatives and solutions that garnered the most attention:

  • Food is Medicine (modeled after a program in Massachusetts) – this works to address and prevent diet related illnesses. The Food is Medicine intervention includes medically tailored meals delivered fully prepared, medically tailored food delivered unprepared, a voucher (“prescription”) program for healthy foods, and population-level healthy food, anti-poverty action. Registered Dieticians and Nutritionists tailor meals and provide “prescriptions” for individuals. This is a health-focused food system transformation.
  • CSA Subsidies (similar to a program in Vermont) – Vermont NOFA collects donations from across the state and uses that money to subsidize farm shares so more low income people can access and support local farms. Some farms in Connecticut subsidize shares, but a statewide program could increase accessibility to more people.
  • Food hubs could create a more accessible local food system; however, Connecticut only has three: the Northwest Regional Connecticut Food Hub, Brass City Harvest, and the Hartford Regional Market. Food hubs can better connect local farmers to communities, especially for communities that do not have the resources to establish a farmers’ market or farmers who cannot sustain a farmers’ market presence.
  • More on-farm training – what can Connecticut do to encourage farming?
  • As discussed in the Funding and Policy session, there’s an educational gap between policy makers, philanthropists, and people trying to resolve issues like food security. Inviting legislators to your organization’s events and planning strategic meetings with philanthropists (or the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy) could help bridge those gaps and encourage more discussions and substantial change.
  • Connecticut has some of the nation’s best farmland and some of the most expensive farmland (USDA). How can we incentivize farming and make this land accessible to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) farmers?
  • Connecticut also has a number of vacant buildings and lots. How can we incentivize retrofitting these spaces for value added food operations that could close the food system loop in our state? GreenWave, for example, uses vacant tobacco sheds to dry seaweed. How can that model expand to different operations in the state? Resources to check out with more information:
  • Our social safety net must be proactively strong instead of reactively growing. Securing funding for appropriate social safety nets like SNAP, unemployment, and hazard pay well before an emergency strikes could prevent strain that these programs face when they are underfunded.

What Are the Next Steps?

  • Dedicate time to each of the issues above. Generate energy behind each interest during focused sessions.
  • Finding out how much food the state must produce to sustain residents, and understand how this compares to the food we currently produce. Food Solutions New England is one of the groups doing this work in New England.
  • Identifying the true cost of our food system, “the triple bottom line.” What is the cost of the food system from an economic, environmental, and quality of life perspective?
  • Get more funding for the long-term. A critical component to achieving sustainability is longevity – and the bias toward temporary programmatic funding as well as limited funding periods (usually a year) impede the true systems work that we want to achieve.

We hope to continue these discussions into the new year and the long legislative session. Want to get involved and stay up to date on future discussions? Join the listserv: send a message to communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com!

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