Climate & Connecticut’s Food System

On Friday, October 22, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the first session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. This session, Climate and Connecticut’s Food System, focused on the ways that climate change has already impacted our state, and how CFSA can craft an equitable and sustainable food action plan with climate change in mind. CFSA welcomed Chelsea Gazillo, Director of the Working Lands Alliance and American Farmland Trust‘s New England Policy Manager, to moderate the discussion between Aziz Dehkan, Executive Director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, and Kip Kolesinskas, Co-Chair of the Working Lands Alliance.

Kip’s presentation focused on climate change’s impacts on Connecticut and our state’s agriculture. Climate change has already made a measurable impact on Connecticut’s environment. A warmer climate, droughts, and floods are creating new obstacles for fruit, vegetable, livestock, and dairy farmers in our state. Kip outlined a number of key climate concerns for food and farming in out state:

  • Increased heat stress will compromise crop yield and quality, and livestock and dairy production will suffer as well
  • Increased weed and disease pressure will bring invasive species, and more crop disease due to an increase in rainfall and more CO2 in the atmosphere
  • Too much water will flood and saturate soils, compromise soil health, and bring additional crop disease
  • Sustained high winds are causing more tornadoes and therefore more wind damage
  • Opportunities for more perennial fruit crops
  • Opportunities for double cropping during the longer growing season

While experts expect climate change to further impact our environment, especially without mitigation, farmers can take steps to maximize crop yields during the longer growing season and engage in farming practices that capture carbon. In Connecticut, there is potential for diverse farming operations that can increase jobs, foster economic growth and development, and mitigate the effects of climate change. This could look like implementing regenerative agricultural practices and risk assessment. Read more of Kip’s recommendations from his presentation available here.

Aziz pivoted the conversation to discuss the role that land use can play in climate change mitigation. Previously, Aziz was the director of the New York City Community Garden Coalition where he witnessed first-hand the ways that green spaces and community gardens can reduce flood damage. Land use siting could play a role in controlling the effects of climate change, especially siting that preserves open spaces and values smart climate infrastructure. Green infrastructure and farmland preservation do not have to be mutually exclusive, or at odds with each other. It is possible to be more strategic and creative about where states, cities, and towns site things like solar fields, affordable housing, community gardens, buildings, Amazon warehouses etc.

Aziz recommends building a comprehensive plan that challenges the idea of “new normal.”

“I don’t want ‘new normal.’ Why would anyone accept ‘new normal’ when ‘normal’ hasn’t been working?”

Aziz Dehkan

Communities and grassroots organizers have the potential to redefine “normal” through a narrative that prioritizes sustainability, creativity, and equity in the food system. There is potential for a better system that preserves farmland, values farmers, includes better green transit systems, and scales down big ideas to what we can reasonably expect in Connecticut.

Chelsea, Kip, and Aziz all participated in the Governor’s Council on Climate Change where they worked with other members to create policy recommendations regarding working and natural lands, equity and environmental justice, and infrastructure and land use. These recommendations provide a foundation for CFSA’s food action plan which will incorporate the policy recommendations from GC3 and various similar initiatives from across the state. In fact, building a sustainable and equitable food system is one of the recommendations from the Working and Natural Lands working group. You can read more of the GC3 recommendations here.

Changing our food system will play a role in mitigating climate change. A local and regional food system could reduce transportation emissions, costs, and food waste. Farmland in Connecticut can protect and restore habitats for species migration, act as drainage in urban and suburban areas to mitigate flood damage, and provide food and job opportunities in our state. Currently, Connecticut is in the top 12 of most threatened states, along with Massachusetts and Rhode Island in New England. Farms Under Threat is American Farmland Trust’s initiative to document threats to our agricultural land along with policy solutions to preserve farmland. Preserving working lands and implementing climate-smart farming practices on those working lands are crucial elements to building a local food system in Connecticut.

So what can Connecticut, CFSA, and individuals do?

  • Connecticut needs to protect natural resources and farmland. Preserving natural resources and working lands creates a more resilient environment while providing jobs, local food, and overall innovation. Connecticut also needs to create supportive policies and incentives that aid in this protection. This can include policies supporting infrastructure, labor, consumer education, research, and risk assessment.
  • CFSA needs to coordinate contiguous efforts with other like-minded planning organizations in the state like GC3. There is already a comprehensive list of recommendations from the Working and Natural Lands working group from the GC3 that we can use for the food action plan along with other efforts that align with different elements of our food system.
  • We need to come together for an “all hands on deck” approach that emphasizes and uplifts BIPOC voices that are often underrepresented in these planning efforts while overburdened with the impacts of climate change in our state. An organized, grassroots effort to reimagine our food system will get us past “new normal” so we can define what “normal” should look like on these terms.
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