Sarah Axe hired as New England Feeding New England Project Manager

The New England State Food Systems Planners Partnership (The Partnership) announces the recent hire of Sarah Axe as the New England Feeding New England (NEFNE) project manager to help increase the amount of food consumed in New England that is produced in New England to 30% by 2030.

Sarah Axe, New England Feeding New England Project Manager

The Partnership is composed of six leading NGOs (Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Maine Food Strategy, the New Hampshire Food Alliance, the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, Connecticut Food System Alliance, and the Rhode Island Food Policy Council) responsible for supporting the development and implementation of their state’s food system plan, and is part of the Food Solutions New England (FSNE) regional network. The Partnership recently launched the New England Feeding New England Project, bringing together businesses, organizations, community leaders, and state agencies working to build a more sustainable food system across New England and to develop a plan to strengthen the viability and resilience of the region’s food economy.

The planning process will develop production milestones, identify policy opportunities, and recommend investments that can expand and fortify the region’s food supply and distribution systems to ensure the availability of adequate, affordable, socially, and culturally appropriate products under a variety of rapidly changing climate, environmental, and public health conditions. The goal is to increase the amount of food that is produced and consumed in the region so that by 2030, 30% of the food consumed in New England is produced within New England.

Axe is responsible for implementing and overseeing the New England Feeding New England project. She previously worked as a consultant to public and private entities working on food systems projects, such as the Good Food Purchasing Program and Double Up Food Bucks. Prior to consulting, she worked in the City of Austin’s Public Health Department as the Food Access Coordinator, where she managed a portfolio of healthy food access initiatives. Axe holds a Master’s Degree in Public Affairs from the University of Texas LBJ School of Public Policy.

“Having just moved back to New England from living in Austin, TX for 10 years, I am excited to put my program management, strategic analysis, and relationship building skills to work in this region and focus on this important food security project,” said Axe. “As we saw from the crop devastation in Texas due to recent climate change induced freezing weather last winter, and the food supply chain issues it caused, each region of the U.S. needs to be more self-reliant for a greater percentage of its own food supplies. Doing so will make us less vulnerable and more nimble to respond to climate change and pandemic caused food supply disruptions.”

Axe said the NEFNE project is currently looking for farm and food systems researchers who bring a strong equity lens to their research, who reflect the geographic, age, gender, racial, and ethnic diversity that make up our region, and who are interested in being part of a team that will explore how New England can meet 30% of its food needs within the region over the next 10 years.

To learn more about NEFNE and the project’s mission, visit nefoodsystemplanners.org.

About the New England Food System Planners Partnership:

The New England Food System Planners Partnership comprises six statewide organizations including Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Maine Food Strategy, New Hampshire Food Alliance, Massachusetts Food System Collaborative, Connecticut Food System Alliance, and Rhode Island Food Policy Council, who each work to strengthen their state’s food system. The project was launched through a public-private partnership with funding from The John Merck Fund, the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, and the USDA Regional Food System Partnership grant program. Funding for this project was made possible by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service [grant agreement ID 6000016070]. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USDA.

The Beginner Advocate’s Toolkit

On Thursday, April 29, 2021 Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted a Legislative Lab to discuss food and farm bills in the Connecticut Legislature, learn from state advocates, and inform one another about actions they can take to advocate for change. Panelists Bryan Hurlburt, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Agriculture; Joey Listro, Executive Director of New Britain ROOTS; and Cindy Dubuque-Gallo, PhD student at University of Connecticut’s School of Social Work, shared their individual and unique perspectives and experiences in legislative advocacy and provided helpful tips that citizen advocates can use when advocating at the Capitol.

An Overview of Connecticut’s Legislature

Advocacy 101

Advocacy is an umbrella term for activities intended to influence policymakers. Advocacy can take many forms: writing letters and calling legislators, testifying at public hearings, participating in public demonstrations, and educating the public, to name a few. These activities are a set of strategies for achieving goals or solving a problem. Advocacy and direct action, like providing funds, food, or services directly to communities, can often be combined to enact change.

Lobbying is any attempt to influence specific legislation. It’s not a bad word, though its connotation and historic association with corruption often overshadow any positive change that can come out of it. Anyone can lobby, including nonprofits, by testifying on a bill, contacting a legislator, and encouraging constituents to take a certain position on a bill. Lobbying is a prominent component of any legislative session. In the words of Cindy Dubuque-Gallo, who is also a former lobbyist registered with the Office of State Ethics, “All lobbying is advocacy, but not all advocacy is lobbying.”

Panelists at the Legislative Lab offered insight into ways they have personally advocated. Here are the tips for you to advocate more effectively:

Build Relationships with Legislators

Everyone in Connecticut has two legislators in the General Assembly: a state senator and a state representative. According to Commissioner Hurlburt, “it’s not a heavy lift to know who they are, and it’s not a heavy lift for them to know who you are.” Hundreds of issues make it to the legislature each year. Legislators cannot be the expert on every issue, so they need you! Expressing your interest and knowledge will help them refer to you as their issue expert. Contact information for legislators is available on the General Assembly website. Find your legislators here.

It’s also beneficial to develop relationships with legislators on committees of interest as well. In Dubuque-Gallo’s experience as a lobbyist, she has used her connections in the legislature to ask representatives to champion or co-sponsor important legislation. Find a list of committees and members here.

Know How the Legislative Process Works

It’s important to know the intricacies of the issue for which you are advocating, but it is also important to understand how to achieve that goal through legislation. For example, in order for WIC and FMNP coupons to cover the cost of chicken eggs at farmers’ markets, the drafted legislation proposes to change the definition of “fresh produce” to include fresh eggs. While this change does not mean that chicken eggs now count as a vegetable on your dinner plate, it does mean that WIC and FMNP voucher holders can use their funds to purchase fresh eggs in addition to fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. In this example, proposing to change a definition achieves a specific goal.

Amendments are a key tool for making a change to a bill that has passed through committee. For example, Dubuque-Gallo sought an amendment to legislation about school meal debt that would allow for the meal debt data to be provided to the school homelessness services liaison as a tool for identifying families at risk of homelessness In this example, the amendment acts as a means to add language that was not originally in the bill but would be valuable to understanding a potential indicator related to school meal debt.

Prepare Your Public Testimony

You have 3 minutes to get your points across. Here’s what you can do to maximize your time in front of the committee hosting the public hearing:

  • Write your testimony down. Make sure you get your key points across in the limited time.
  • Read your testimony out loud prior to your time slot.
  • Understand your legislation and anything that could be related. The committee members can ask you anything!
  • If you have a relationship with a legislator on the committee, try to arrange to have them ask you questions (send them questions). There is no limit to the time spent answering questions.
  • Remember, you will submit your testimony to the committee which will go on public record. So, if you can’t read everything in the 3 minutes, be sure to cover your most important points. 

Working together with a group or organization can help you develop a solid public testimony.

Use a Blend of Stories and Data

Anyone can advocate. You do not need an advanced degree or to be in an agency position to feel passionate about a certain piece of legislation. Dubuque-Gallo recommends using a blend of stories and data in order to craft convincing and persuasive testimony. While data is important, anecdotal evidence may help appeal to legislators on a deeper, more meaningful level. It may also help make your testimony, letter, or email stand out. According to Commissioner Hurlburt, writing something original will be more effective than submitting a form letter, and will help legislators better understand why this bill or change is important to you. It’s still ok to send form letters – but if you can edit them to add your personal voice, they will have a greater impact.

Work with A Group

Connecticut is full of nonprofit, grassroots, and community organizations that advocate for change at the state and local levels. These groups often have networks or sub-groups (coalitions) that focus on specific issues and legislation in order to organize efforts and better enact change. For example, CT Farm to School Collaborative, the organization that sponsored the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant program in HB 6618, organizes members into action teams that can focus on specific goals. Joey Listro, also a team leader for the Resources and Funding action team, worked within his action team to set an agenda, survey the collaborative, fine-tune goals for the action team, and develop an official policy platform. Agenda setting with advocacy groups and action teams happens months before the legislative session begins, so it’s important to get involved early.

Check out CT Farm to School Collaborative’s Bill Journey

Write to Your Local Newspaper

Advocacy can take place outside of the legislature, too. Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper can help educate people in your area about an issue that you find important. It can also help gather support for different issues and start conversations about legislation that has not yet been drafted. Check out the op-ed that Joey Listro wrote about the CT Grown for CT Kids Program.

Here are some daily newspapers in Connecticut that accept and print letters to the editor:

Help CFSA build an accountability network! Send an email to communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com to be paired with a buddy who can check on your advocacy work.

An “accountability buddy” would be someone else in the Connecticut Food System Alliance who can check in with you to confirm you’ve both contacted your legislators, or provide feedback on letters or public testimony.

Cindy Dubuque-Gallo contributed to and edited this blog post. To learn more about her work, visit https://ssw.uconn.edu/person/cindy-dubuque-gallo-lmsw-mat/

Tips for the 2021 Legislative Session

Connecticut’s 2021 legislative session began with an outdoor swearing-in ceremony on Wednesday, January 6. However, that is the only in-person legislative event scheduled thus far. Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the legislature will convene and pass bills virtually via Zoom, offering a unique opportunity for individuals across the state to voice concerns – some, perhaps, for the first time.

While this year’s session is sure to be riddled with requisite Zoom obstacles, reminders to mute mics, and other technical difficulties, it’s also sure to be more accessible for folks who cannot travel to the capitol building for public hearings. NBC Connecticut has more information regarding rules for this year’s General Assembly, including requiring an agenda for public hearings to be posted by 6 p.m. the night before a hearing instead of midnight. For some, this offers the opportunity for legislative participation for the first time.

Here are some tips for following the 2021 legislative session with CFSA:

Track Bills With Us:

Wondering if your legislator introduces or co-signs a bill? Interested in a specific committee’s legislative trajectory? The Connecticut General Assembly’s website has a feature for the general public to track bills introduced and co-sponsored by representatives and committees of choice. Anyone with an email address can create an account and select the legislators and committees they would like to follow. The Connecticut General Assembly’s website also provides tools to find your legislator. Register your email address and select how often you want notifications about bills here.

The Connecticut Food System Alliance uses systems thinking in our work, as well as a racial and social justice lens. We take a broad approach to tracking bills that might have an impact on the food system: issues of public health, labor rights and minimum wage, and land use often end up on our tracked bill list. Tracking a bill does not mean the CFSA supports or opposes the bill – only that it would have an impact on the food system. If you think anything is missing, let us know!

To see the latest actions taken on a bill, click on any of the linked bills and scroll down to the bill history. There will be a list of dates and actions taken on those dates. When a bill has been passed it will say Signed by the Governor.

We are tracking the following bills in the Connecticut legislature:

Senate Bills

House Bills

House Joint Resolutions

Learn How to Testify at a Public Hearing:

While this year’s public hearings will be different due to the virtual format, the CGA website provides information on how to prepare for your testimony. This will be updated with more information as this year’s session progresses. As mentioned above, agendas for public hearings will be posted to the General Assembly’s website at 6pm the night before.

Learn How to Read Legislation:

The General Assembly’s website has a helpful visual for understanding how a bill becomes a law in Connecticut. Additionally, Connecticut Network has a helpful cheat sheet for understanding the jargon used in these bills. 

Follow Connecticut Network for Live Coverage:

Connecticut Network has a livestream of all Connecticut State Government activities. Streaming is available on their website and YouTube for free.

Join the Listserv:

CFSA Coordinator Meg Hourigan will be sending weekly Food & Farm Legislation updates to our listserv. Send a message to Marcella at communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com to be added to our list of allies!

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!

Funding & Policy: Building Long-Term, Systemic Solutions

On Tuesday, September 22, the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) held the third 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, Funding & Policy: Building Long-Term, Systemic Solutions, focused on philanthropic giving and advocacy as methods of creating change. CFSA Steering Committee members Latha Swamy and Cara Mitchell moderated a panel discussion between Fahd Vahidy, philanthropic advisor to William C. Graustein, and Nyree Hodges, project coordinator for Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative.

Funding in Connecticut

Connecticut sees hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable giving from both foundations and individual donors annually. In 2017, Connecticut foundations awarded $803.7 million in grants, less than half of that amount remaining within the state (CT Philanthropy). In Connecticut, 32% of foundation giving goes to health initiatives, 5% goes to community and economic development, 3% goes to environmental and animal services, and 0.3% goes to agriculture, fishing, and forestry (CT Philanthropy, according to the most recent data collected in 2016).

Connecticut is also home to 18,602 nonprofits with 501(c)(3) distinction, including public charities, religious organizations, and public and private foundations (Independent Sector). Despite a common misconception, it’s legal for these 501(c)(3) organizations to lobby for legislative change (Bolder Advocacy & Center for Nonprofits).

About Fahd Vahidy

“Fahd Vahidy currently serves as a Philanthropic Advisor to William C. Graustein and supports his charitable giving work and programmatic investments including the Community Leadership Program in New Haven, CT.  Fahd has held management and executive management positions in the nonprofit sector, and as a consultant, he’s advised on innovative startups, talent development and organizational culture work, and systems-level advocacy and change. He has served on the board of several state-wide organizations in CT over the last 20 years. Fahd received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Connecticut. When he’s not fly fishing on the Farmington River, he’s likely to be gardening in his backyard or spending time with his wife and two cats.”

About Nyree Hodges

“Nyree is a certified community health educator who brings several years of experience as a non-formal educator/ and project coordinator in environmental education, service learning, and agriculture to her work. Nyree currently works as the Project Coordinator for the CT Farm to School Collaborative and finds it essential to incorporate the intersectionality of food, education, and land in her approaches to work.”

Discussion

Latha Swamy framed the panel discussion as an examination of the divisions, or false silos, that prevent progress toward true food systems change. For example, groups emphasizing the importance of emergency food services while knowing they are temporary solutions, not long-term solutions to hunger or poverty. Latha spoke about how food systems change includes addressing housing security, job security, and financial security through policy.

Latha also acknowledged the separation of food and agriculture in funding situations. For example, a funder could be focusing on the food system, but may not choose to fund something related to land security or growing food. Agricultural programs go underfunded even though they are integral to the food system.

Q: How do we bridge these divisions that prevent collaborative change?

Nyree acknowledged the work that mutual aid groups and grassroots organizations have done to support populations not included in pandemic relief, such as undocumented immigrants. Nyree observed that, “these grassroots organizations have filled in the gap where policy has failed us.” Mutual aid groups mobilized during the pandemic to provide communities with food, money, and other resources.

Nyree also discussed silos based on who is at the table in different organizations. For example, the information she collects through her work as a project coordinator for the Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative is different from the information shared with the Northeast Farmers of Color (NEFOC). She added, “as time goes on I see funding that’s brought into these rooms and they get used in very different ways. So I think that’s one way that these silos live and division happens.”

Fahd stated that silos are part of the system’s design: “Silos are emblematic of the very design that’s been reinforced and replicated, structurally, politically put into place through policies and programs.” Fahd continued that in order to bridge these divisions and encourage collaborative change, we should analyze whether these efforts to bridge and collaborate reinforce or redesign the existing system.

From Fahd’s unique philanthropic perspective as an advisor to an individual donor, funding is relational: “We try to build these relationships with the folks who are on the front lines, who have a deep expertise about systems that are working efficiently and systems that are not working efficiently.” It’s through these relationships that philanthropists can work toward understanding needs of individuals and connect them to community agencies that have trust within impacted neighborhoods. “The bridging work for us is not so much as redesigning systems but really trying to influence the type of conversations that can support reimagining systems.”

Q: It’s often easier to obtain funding for programs than it is for policy or grassroots organizing. Do you observe these patterns as well and what are some of your thoughts around how that impacts what’s happening? Is there potential for change?

Nyree drew from personal experience working with Make The Road Connecticut in Bridgeport. She worked on a project to provide safe pathways for students to get to schools in Bridgeport. “They [Make The Road Connecticut] worked with the city council a lot to try to get this funded and they wanted permanent paint so that students can have a pathway to get to school where the rain wouldn’t wash away the paint. But the city kept telling Make the Road for years that they can only use temporary paint.” While this was not related to the food system, Nyree expressed that it’s an example of a system redesign that was not funded for the long-term until very recently and after years of asking. “That’s just one example when I noticed that something temporary, or a temporary program, is more likely to get funded than a long-term permit or policy, especially one that redesigns a system.”

Fahd acknowledged that this issue is alive in the philanthropic world; there’s a prevailing bias toward programs. Program officers and grant managers often inform these funding decisions based on program evaluation metrics, not on systems redesign. Fahd referenced how historically philanthropy has been a neutral endeavor. “If you were to back away from thinking through this and be a bit more imaginative around the types of systems we want to change, you have to take a position and it certainly can’t be neutral on issues that matter.” Though neutrality is an issue in institutional philanthropy, individual giving has the opportunity to fund advocacy and policy initiatives without aligning an organization with a political agenda.Fahd also references a New York Times Magazine article, America At Hunger’s Edge, about philanthropy and giving during the pandemic and during economic emergencies through history. “It’s easier to put the money out there to the organization or to relieve pain and suffering than to push for a policy. It probably has something to do with the government structure or the trust in government and the immediate benefit that people receive from putting money out for emergency food.”

Q: I have an excerpt from a blog written by Vu Le. He is a former executive director of RVC. He wrote a piece called ‘How philanthropy fails to support its greatest assets, BIPOC leaders, and what it should do about it.’

“In order for us to make significant change, we must invest in leaders, not simply see them as instruments to advance the work of organizations. Given the level of disruption and change that’s much needed and more possible than ever before, real progress will more likely come from unfettered leaders and the new platforms they create than from slow-to-change organizations that are hoping for a return to normalcy.”

Is this something you agree with, and is it happening in Connecticut or not happening in Connecticut, especially in the food system?

Both Fahd and Nyree agree with Vu Le’s quote calling to invest not only in programs and organizations but BIPOC leaders.

Back in 2001/2002, Fahd’s employer, Bill, created the Community Leadership Program,  bringing leaders from New Haven together to discuss tensions, divisions, and leadership capabilities in the state. “I’m certainly behind leadership development investment and I think a supplement to that is having experiences that allow for leaders to critique and perhaps reexamine some of the narratives that they’ve bought into about what leadership looks like.” The space for critique is especially important when discussing redesigning systems. This program and similar programs help build cooperative leadership skills, interdependencies, and trust that can help generate the right results. They also help bring community leaders and those with direct ties to the issues to the table to develop solutions: “The people who are closest to the issues that we want to impact are the best forces to influence that design.”

After graduating college, Nyree was part of a fellowship program called Young People For, a leadership development program dedicated to social change. While programs like these uplift BIPOC youth leaders, they’re contextualized by predominantly white perceptions of professionalism. “People of color will get these roles because they’re the best people to go out into the community for the non-profit…I do see that kind of running down on a lot of BIPOC leaders because it’s like telling BIPOC folks ‘you don’t have the tools to lead their communities in a way that they could without having to go through this corporate or professional way.’” In a state like Connecticut, lots of the same BIPOC leaders are pulled into discussions in a tokenizing way. Instead, organizations in the state need to expand outreach to include more voices, especially Indigenous voices. “There are a lot of people who are interested, a lot of people who are doing this work…I think we can do a lot more targeted outreach to bring in those people who you wouldn’t normally see to be a part of the space.”

Q: How do we move toward cross sectoral relationships and create that ecosystem so that funding is not siloed, conversations are not siloed, and we are not talking in vacuums all the time?

Fahd assessed that more leaders and organizations are shifting their priorities and opening conduits for more collaborative and cooperative initiatives. He sees the potential to look past short-term solutions and focus on long-term change that can benefit more people, especially when it comes to extractive food system practices. “I think we’re beginning to turn a tide on this where people are beginning to realize that we need more people at the table to influence the type of work we’re into and while we may have divergent interests if we look at a short-term timeline, but in a longer scale a cooperative working environment and cooperative thinking design are really necessary.” Fahd referenced the Business Roundtable, an association made up of leaders from well-known organizations, that started to focus on corporate social responsibility. “I think these are some ways we can start developing a framework that people can support but also having some critical conversations about what’s fundamentally important.”

Nyree agreed with Fahd. However, we need to connect organizations having these conversations separately from one another. “There are a lot of folks in Connecticut who are working towards the same goal and sometimes when I’m in a room I think to myself ‘we’re talking about this and they’re talking about that and it would be great if these two rooms can conjoin.’” Nyree noted that COVID-19 has presented the unique opportunity to increase communication and start pulling more groups together in the virtual space. She went back to an earlier point about siloed conversations based on who is in the room and subsequent funding based on those conversations. She proposed increasing coordination between all of these groups (through designated coordinators and community liaisons) and including feedback loops into these discussions.

Key Takeaways

The conversation sparked interesting discussions in breakout sessions. Each group had opportunities to share their thoughts on the panel and add to the main ideas.

Funding

  • Funders need to foster integration and de-siloing. Funders tend to overlook the issues that intersect with the one they are trying to support. For example, food and agriculture are deeply intertwined, but are often separated in funding. The same applies to food security and other anti-poverty initiatives promoting affordable housing, job security, and financial security.
  • Funding windows, often a year, limit what philanthropic giving can realistically change. Instead, short-term funding goes toward programs and charitable work, treating a symptom of inequity instead of attacking the root cause. Programs and charitable giving are important during emergencies, but building a resilient system can prevent future devastation and strain on these temporary programs. Unrestricted or less restricted funding could foster long-term systems change.
  • Funders avoid policy work due to political stigma. When it comes to food security and policy work, “apolitical” funding skirts the root cause.

Policy

  • Knowledge gaps exist for both the general public and legislative policy makers. Policy makers need more information on the intricacies behind food insecurity and the general public needs to better understand the legislative process and how they can get involved.
  • Knowledgeable policy makers will have the ability to address the full scope of issues related to food security, including the racism and classism deeply embedded in the policy-making space itself. Leadership programs, specifically for Connecticut’s BIPOC leaders, can help facilitate representation in influential policy spaces.
  • There’s a disconnect between what policy makers view as “new” issues and what entire populations have been experiencing since before COVID. For example, research shows that SNAP funding has been insufficient, and those on SNAP are still widely food insecure. However, with more people on SNAP during COVID, policymakers finally addressed this information, and states like Connecticut started providing SNAP families with more funding and support. While the pandemic exacerbated hunger in our state, the need to expand SNAP existed prior to the pandemic as families struggled with the insufficient funds.

Funding & Policy

  • When it comes to funding, there’s a bias toward programs. While philanthropic organizations might be concerned with political affiliations, it’s crucial that these organizations fund advocacy and policy work in order to make changes for causes they support. While this is mitigated by individual philanthropy, institutional philanthropy’s bias toward programmatic funding limits change and leads to a nasty cycle.

These discussions highlighted the false silos in funding and policy. There’s a responsibility for philanthropic organizations to invest in policy and advocacy initiatives, instead of temporary programs. There’s also a responsibility for non-profits and grassroots organizations to get more involved in the legislative process through lobbying and other legal processes. There’s a bias toward temporary programs that prevents long-term policy change; non-profit leaders and philanthropic influencers need to abandon the apolitical mindset and get more involved in policy work.

Connecticut also needs to expand its decision-making space, becoming more inclusive and accessible. Some proposed solutions include policy training and education for both non-profits and philanthropists, and increasing BIPOC leadership and representation in decision-making spaces. With our collective new proficiency in virtual technology, this may be the perfect time to facilitate inclusive, cross sectoral conversations that can mitigate funding silos and address existing and worsening problems in the food system.

Assets and Gaps: What Do We Have and What Do We Need for a Better Food System?

On Thursday, September 17, the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) held the second 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, Assets & Gaps: What Do We Have and What Do We Need for a Better Food System?, focused on the existing and missing opportunities in Connecticut’s local food system. These virtual discussions, a safe and responsible replacement for the CFSA’s usually in-person summit, will help shape a food action plan for Connecticut (as of now, Connecticut is the only state in New England without a food action plan).

Connecticut Assets & Gaps

Asset mapping, identifying food assets like grocery stores and food pantries, does not always encompass the big picture when it comes to local food systems. Sure, assets can be grocery stores and farmers’ markets, but they can also be tobacco sheds, vacant buildings, and philanthropic funds. Connecticut’s unique geography includes farmland, protected coastline, and industrial cities, but not all of those assets are optimized to their full potential.

CFSA asked participants to come prepared with an example of a food asset in their community. Their examples included stakeholders, empty buildings, a diverse customer base, grassroots food justice organizations, and institutions. To speak about their businesses as Connecticut food assets, Sam Garwin from GreenWave, and Wayne Pesce from the Connecticut Food Association joined the discussion.

GreenWave

Sam Garwin, market innovation strategist at GreenWave, introduced CFSA and participants to Connecticut’s “blue economy.” GreenWave provides training and support to new ocean farmers and innovates new technology to improve operations and reduce costs to hatcheries. GreenWave supports ocean farmers interested in polyculture vertical farming: growing high yields of shellfish and seaweed with a small environmental footprint and low aesthetic impact. These polyculture ocean farms have a relatively low financial barrier (compared to land farming) and restore and protect ocean ecosystems in the process.

GreenWave utilizes Connecticut’s unique assets to build a blue economy and sustainable use and marketing of ocean resources. GreenWave’s operations in the Long Island sound provide food to humans and livestock, fertilizer for land farms, biodegradable materials for plastic alternatives, and ecosystems fighting climate change. Long Island does not use their coastline for ocean farming, giving Connecticut’s ocean farmers an advantage in the New York City market for seaweed and shellfish. It also provides an opportunity to strengthen economies of working waterfronts. GreenWave has also partnered with unused Connecticut tobacco sheds to dry seaweed, since transporting wet seaweed is a market side logistics obstacle for GreenWave.

Despite GreenWave’s innovative operations, there are still gaps in supply side and market side operations. First, the permitting process is extensive and lengthy, and despite this process, there is no certification or federal standard for cultivated organic kelp. Additionally, raw seaweed must be processed within 24-hours for optimal quality and there is currently no independent processor or co-packers in Southern New England. On the market side, the FDA and USDA provide minimal guidance regarding seaweed food safety, and it is difficult for these small ocean farms to compete with the low prices afforded by the large international market. Additionally, chefs and eaters are still relatively unfamiliar with seaweed as an ingredient.

While GreenWave’s operations are unique and innovative, these gaps are familiar to farmers and local producers who have to adhere to USDA and FDA standards and regulations, and compete with the low costs of a larger market.

Connecticut Food Association

Wayne Pesce, President of the Connecticut Food Association (CFA), discussed the organization’s observations and interactions with Connecticut’s grocery retail industry during the COVID-19 emergency. CFA’s network consists of approximately 300 retail food stores and 135 pharmacies. In April 2020, CFA worked closely with stores in COVID hotspots in Connecticut to implement safety measures that protect frontline associates and customers.

The food retail industry and grocery store associates are an asset to the state’s infrastructure. Deemed essential businesses and essential workers, grocery stores and grocery store employees were on the front lines during the pandemic. To ensure the safety of workers and customers, CFA involved itself with state and local governments to implement safety measures like installing plexiglass barriers, encouraging one-person-per-family shopping trips, and providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff. CFA also informed legislators and the public about these safety precautions.

CFA also worked toward making food accessible. Panic buying left grocery shelves without enough food for everyone, including food banks. Outbreaks in meat processing facilities also created a protein shortage. In order to combat this, stores had to limit quantities of meat and disinfecting products in order to leave enough on the shelves for everyone and their neighbors. While Connecticut piloted an online SNAP program, CFA also worked toward extending this online pilot to WIC recipients as well for a safer, less congested, more accessible shopping experience.

While frontline workers and grocery stores are assets, there’s still more to do about resiliency. As climate change takes a toll on the environment, more storms are likely to cause power outages, and natural gas/fossil fuel burning generators are not the most effective or sustainable backup solution. Renewable energy and microgrids are better options than generators and CFA has been partnering with other groups to invest in battery storage so grocery stores can continue providing essential services during emergencies.

Key Takeaways

COVID challenged us to think outside the box. We in the “land of steady habits” quickly put collective creativity to work to experiment with existing assets and repurpose those to serve different needs. While this discussion surfaced many gaps in Connecticut’s food system, almost all of them can be viewed as assets and opportunities.

What are the most prominent assets, gaps, and opportunities?

  • Broad customer base interested in local food: The state’s ~100 farmers’ markets operate in urban, suburban, and rural areas across the state. While this is certainly an asset, there’s also an opportunity for these farmers’ markets to build stronger producer-consumer connections, especially in urban areas.
  • Money in many forms: At some point this year, unemployment benefits increased temporarily, a stimulus check went out to eligible citizens, and SNAP/EBT expanded in Connecticut. Giving people money, instead of pre-packaged, pre-selected goods, can better improve the local economy. While charity models are helpful during emergencies, direct funds allow individuals to make choices for themselves based on preferences and priorities. Models like food boxes, as noted in the food supply chain session, also take too much time to implement on this large scale. Funds, whether federal, state, or private, could be funneled toward broad systems change instead of temporary programmatic change.
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) leadership: Connecticut, in context of the rest of New England, is a racially diverse state; however, BIPOC voices are often left out of the decision making process due to racism. To build a stronger, more inclusive food system, there needs to be BIPOC representation and leadership.
  • Relationships and networks: institutions have resources to build networks that could facilitate relationships between different parts of the food system. Encouraging farms, restaurants, institutions, and grocery stores to engage in open communication, via social media or word of mouth, could strengthen Connecticut’s local food system.

These discussions resurfaced old discussions about lack of or insufficient use of physical assets: few processing facilities exist, Connecticut’s prime farmland is inaccessible or too expensive for new farmers, and food hubs exist but are sparse. COVID has given Connecticut an opportunity to rise to the occasion, exercise some creative solutions, and break some steady habits. So, what’s in the way of fully utilizing these assets?

Successful Food Supply Chain Adaptations & Sustainability

On Wednesday, September 9, the Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) kicked off a series of virtual sessions, Designing Resilience for Food and Farming in Connecticut: A Virtual Series to Collectively Shape the Future of Growing & Eating in Our State. This first session, Successful Food Supply Chain Adaptations & Sustainability, focused on the adaptations made during COVID-19 and the sustainability of these solutions. These virtual discussions, a safe and responsible replacement for the CFSA’s usually in-person summit, will help shape a food action plan for Connecticut (as of now, Connecticut is the only state in New England without a food action plan).

What is the Food Supply Chain?

The food supply chain is “the set of trading partner relationships and transactions that delivers a food product from producers to consumers” (USDA). In other words, the food supply chain encompasses all the steps from growth to consumption. Where does food originate, how far does it have to travel, and how many people have to interact with it before consumption? That means you (yes, you reading this), as well as farmers, processors, and distributors are part of the food supply chain.

Image with definition of food supply chain. Top text reads food supply chain. Lower text reads the set of trading partner relationships and transactions that delivers a food produce from producers to consumers"
Top text reads in other words. Bottom text reads where does food originate, how far does it have to travel, and how many people have to interact with it before consumption? Lower text reads farmers, processor, distributor, retailer, consumer.
Top text reads food supply chain adaptations. Bottom text reads roles in the food supply chain shift to fill a different need. For example: My favorite restaurant sells groceries.

What happens in a crisis? As Connecticut experienced at the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown, the food supply chain, as well as other supply chains, had to shift to adapt to different needs. For example, some restaurants who could not serve diners maintained their relationships with farmers and wholesalers to provide people with groceries. This kept restaurant employees paid and the supply chain intact.

We asked participants to think about some adaptations they witnessed in their own communities. To speak about their experiences, we invited Kimberly Acosta, the food system administrator for the City of New Haven’s Food System Policy Division, to speak about New Haven’s Square Meals | Comidas Completas program, and Maria DeSarbo, the vice president of Carbonella & DeSarbo Inc, to speak about distribution changes during COVID-19. We sought out two successful examples from the for profit and non-profit sectors to spark conversations about long-term changes to the food system.

Square Meals New Haven | Comidas Completas

Kimberly Acosta is the food system administrator for the City of New Haven. She works closely with the director of food system policy, Latha Swamy, and researches best practices for equitable food and urban agriculture development. To respond to COVID-19, Kimberly researched and implemented a model that would house unsheltered populations while supporting restaurants.

The Square Meals | Comidas Completas program aims to connect restaurants and unsheltered populations, utilizing vacant hotel spaces to house people while restaurants, closed for service due to COVID-19 precautions, provide hot meals to those in the hotels. The program launched in May 2020 with support from New Haven’s Town Green District. According to Kimberly’s research, Cambridge, Massachusetts has a program similar to New Haven’s, with restaurants providing meals to shelters. Under director Latha Swamy’s guidance, this initiative met an urgent need (providing shelter and food to New Haven’s unhoused population) while providing economic support to local restaurants and hotels who were seeing fewer, if any, guests.

Square Meals | Comidas Completas faced multiple obstacles during implementation, mainly funding, recruitment, and lengthy approval processes. After sustaining funding for a month of operations from community foundations and partners, a FEMA Public Assistance Officer from the State of Connecticut assured that the City would be reimbursed for the Square Meals program. The City had to consider equitable distribution for economic benefits as they decided which restaurants to recruit; supporting restaurants from a range of neighborhoods. Finally, drafting and finalizing contracts, necessary City processes, caused delays in project implementation. At the height of the pandemic, the program not only provided food to unhoused individuals, but also first responders. At its peak, the program was providing approximately 665 meals a day to six sites.

Carbonella and DeSarbo

Maria DeSarbo is the vice president of Carbonella and DeSarbo Inc., a family owned and operated wholesale fruit and produce distributor. Maria is the fourth generation of leadership at her family’s business. Carbonella and DeSarbo Inc. sources, imports, and distributes produce throughout Connecticut and the country to a variety of consumers and organizations, from restaurants to nursing homes. 

Carbonella and DeSarbo had to adapt to a full shutdown of the food service industry, their largest market. The business also had to adapt to the new buying patterns as panic buying settled in and markets became hyper-inflated. Maria’s goal was to just feed as many people as possible utilizing the resources Carbonella and DeSarbo had readily available.

In order to overcome these challenges, Maria had to adjust the distribution plan. Carbonella and DeSarbo had to tap into different markets and repackage food to account for the needs of those different markets. For example, restaurants no longer needed 50 pound bags of potatoes, so Carbonella and DeSarbo repackaged these as 5 pound and 10 pound bags in order to sell them to families and non-profits. This forced her organization to increase communication and leverage existing relationships in order to pivot operations and distribute to different customers. Having ample space and resources to repackage things like large bags of potatoes made it possible for Carbonella and DeSarbo Inc. to make these changes. 

Maria’s experience emphasized how important flexibility is when overcoming food supply chain disruptions. Her for-profit business partnered with non-profit organizations, and negotiated agreements in order to move, repackage, and sell available products. When another disruption inevitably occurs, Maria has the tools necessary to reflect upon the most stressful challenges, expand her operations accordingly, and maintain the relationships that meet needs in the Connecticut food system.

Key Takeaways

During breakout sessions, groups discussed successful and not-so-successful food supply chain adaptations, as well as pivots they would like to see continue post-COVID. Groups also discussed the obstacles people faced while trying to pivot a business model or program.

What innovations are worth continuing/expanding, and why do they matter?

  • Online ordering and curbside pick-up, especially for farms and farmers’ markets, increased availability and accessibility. Farms and farmers’ markets that adopted pre-order systems and drive-through/walk-through systems could be on-par with grocery store curbside options in terms of convenience. Plus, farmers’ market pre-order systems that accept SNAP increase peoples’ accessibility to fresh foods while limited retailers allow shoppers to use SNAP for online purchases.
  • Increased communication opened doors for cross-sectoral collaboration and fewer missed opportunities. However, the influx in online communication created fatigue.
  • Streamlined processes made it easier for people to access benefits and emergency services. Reduced paperwork for SNAP (such as automatic renewal, and relaxing employment requirements) and automatic P-EBT for students receiving free and reduced price lunch streamlined the process for recipients and state agencies. Instead of relying on charitable giving, which often eliminates consumer autonomy and is not always rooted in trust and dignity, people can better access programs that provide direct subsidies. However, policy must be changed at the federal level in order to keep these changes post-COVID.
  • Mutual aid mobilized to provide support, especially in communities who could not benefit from government assistance or stimulus programs. Mutual aid, based on dignity and community care, emphasized community power in Connecticut. Organizations like Mutual Aid Hartford, Semilla Collective, and CT CORE collected and redistributed resources in communities throughout the state.
  • Organizations and entities repurposed unused spaces and supplies. Square Meals | Comidas Completas, for example, provided housing in vacant hotel rooms and mobilized restaurant staff to provide meals. This utilized vacant hotel space and temporarily closed restaurant kitchens to support houseless, asymptomatic, COVID-19 positive New Haven residents.
  • The general cultural shift toward growing and cooking at home encourages independence, and supports mental, physical, and financial well-being. However, equity is still a concern since not everyone can trade the convenience of grocery store shopping and restaurants or pre-packaged meals for home-grown or home-cooked food. Not everyone in the state has the time or resources to maintain a supply of home-grown food.

What challenges were there and why does it need to be addressed?

  • Labor forces and “essential workers” lack social safety nets that protect their health and provide appropriate pay as they work on the front lines. These workers received abundant praise; however, that praise did not come with benefits like paid leave, hazard pay, health benefits, and more. There’s room for the state to make wages, benefits, and workplace standards on-par with the importance of these roles.
  • Who markets food and to whom do they market it? While urban areas in Connecticut have farmers’ markets (Hartford has five fresh markets and Bridgeport has eight) not all farmers were marketing to or had access to urban consumers. Bringing fresh, local food to urban areas could impact food and nutrition security in urban areas, specifically urban areas struggling with food apartheid.
  • Without a social safety net, people relied on slow-moving relief packages for food, income, and other assistance. Families and individuals waited for stimulus checks, USDA Farmer to Families Food Box, SNAP benefits, rental assistance, and more. Had a stronger social safety net existed pre-pandemic, these difficulties may have been avoided.
  • Building networks to access fresh, local foods made for quick adaptations; however, broader networks can help more businesses and individuals access these underutilized assets. A statewide culture shift toward openness in the market can help more people stay afloat, and waste fewer resources.

Community initiatives and creativity drove some of these successful food supply chain shifts. However, emergency shifts and programs tend to focus temporarily on the gaps in the food system and not the sustainable, long-term solutions that could create an equitable system. Connecticut needs a stronger social safety net, including expanding SNAP and providing benefits and hazard pay for essential workers. Policy-driven, upstream change would ensure the state’s food system sustainability when future supply chain disruptions occur.

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: 2020 CFSA Summit

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: 2020 Connecticut Food System Alliance Summit

Event: May 2, 2020 | 9 am – 4 pm
Common Ground High School, New Haven

Proposal Deadline: Friday, April 10
Chosen projects will be notified by Friday, April 17

summit insta

Join us as we reimagine our Food System Network Summit! Present a question, challenge, or new idea you have to make our food system more sustainable and more equitable – and spend time with your allies across the state improving on that idea, tackling that problem, and generating clarity for the path forward. Rather than a traditional call for proposals asking for workshop topics, we are inviting you to tap into the collective wisdom of Connecticut’s food system actors. Work together, build new relationships, strengthen existing ones, and help build a better food system.

Instead of a traditional lecture and workshop style conference, where presenters are experts teaching the attendees, we want this to be an event where all participants – presenters and attendees – can learn from and work with each other. Therefore, “presenting” at this summit is more like an opportunity to dive deep into your work and find some next steps, insights, and questions to chew.

Submit your proposal here by April 10: https://forms.gle/yeak2pwwUhRRdmrYA

Questions? Email Meg@HartfordFood.org

What are we looking for? We welcome proposals from individuals, organizations, businesses – anyone, a single person or a group of up to four individuals – can submit a proposal. (If your project involves more than four people, still apply – but it should be no more than four people presenting). You can present a challenge you’re experiencing in your work, a question you’re trying to answer, a “rut” you’re stuck in, a new path you’re trying. We will prioritize projects that are collaborative (involving more than one organization, or grassroots efforts). The purpose is to spend a short time presenting your issue (10 minutes), and then gain insights from the group knowledge at the summit (20 minutes). Apply by April 10; project organizers will be notified by April 17, and attendees will get brief overviews of your projects to prepare.

Details

Conferences, symposiums, and other professional network events are great opportunities to connect with new people, learn about ongoing work, and develop new skills. But too often, we are overwhelmed by grant deadlines, project outcomes, and day-to-day management of our organizations. The inspiration and skills gained at a conference can feel disconnected from our regular work. Sometimes, we feel that we must step out at conferences and skip panels in order to attend to “real work.” Conferences and network meetings are real work; but it’s hard to conceptualize them that way. So how can we reinvent that conference meeting space? What if the conference brought clarity to our work and gave us tools to return to our communities and do that work?  The Connecticut Food System Alliance is asking you to reimagine our food system summit with us. We want to create space for our brilliant, passionate network members (you!) to work together to improve the food system.

At the Summit on May 2, we will strengthen our state food system network by offering space for members to work on projects together. The premise of the conference is the question, “How can we leverage network meetings to advance our collective food and farm goals for a more sustainable, food secure Connecticut?”

This will be an opportunity for program directors and staff, community organizers, volunteers, food system leaders, and others to present a food justice/food system project and gather feedback from peers. Is the project on the right track? Is the project stagnant? Is it growing? Is it new? Whatever stage the project is in, we want to create space for project organizers to get feedback and next steps from fellow network members from across the state.

Background

The Summit will adapt “the clearness process,” a Quaker meeting method based on listening, companionship, and reflection. We will adapt the process to a secular, work-oriented strategy to help project organizers gain clarity in their work. Group attendees who are not presenting will have the opportunity to be a part of a unique, community-based process for developing innovative solutions and connecting with peers throughout the state. In addition, all attendees will receive a guide for repeating the process in their own communities and offices.

The process

We are soliciting proposals for people and organizations to be “focus points” for this conference, and will choose nine total proposals in mid-April. Your project should be food system related: for example, organizing a youth food justice campaign, coordinating vendors across a network of urban farmers’ markets, understanding the impact of a food policy council, etc. New projects, established projects, struggling projects – all will be welcome, but projects that prioritize collaboration will be considered first. The projects will be grouped into trios based on relevance (similar problems, similar work area, etc.) to ensure cohesion in each group.

At the Summit, attendees will be briefed on the process and instructions for the workshop portion of the day. In three breakout groups, project organizers will present for 10 minutes and have 20 minutes of feedback and questioning from fellow breakout group members. Each breakout group will include a CFSA organizer to facilitate the workshop. Event attendees are asked to come prepared with at least one question to propel this process forward. This process will repeat three times for each project selected. Breakout groups will collectively choose one of the three projects to present to the full group.

In the afternoon, the three projects selected in the morning will be presented to the full group.

Follow-up/Evaluation

The CFSA is very interested in maintaining the momentum and energy we hope to achieve at this event. We are eager to see how this process furthers food system work in Connecticut. Post-conference, we will organize the presenters into communities of practice, offering virtual meeting time for attendees to connect after the main event. We’ll interview each group who presented during the Summit four months afterward to check in on your progress and ask how the event helped your work.

Sample Agenda (subject to change)

9:00 – 9:30 Event registration and sign-in; breakfast
9:30 – 10:15 Welcome and keynote

Share instructions for breakout group process

10:25 – 12:30 Nine total project organizers present in three breakout groups:
  10:25 – 10:35 Welcome and introductions
10:35 – 11:05 First presentation (10 minute presentation; 20 minute question/feedback period)
11:05 – 11:35 Second presentation (10 minute presentation; 20 minute question/feedback period)
11:35 – 11:45 Break and coffee, snacks
11:45 – 12:15 Third presentation (10 minute presentation; 20 minute question/feedback period)
12:15 – 12:30 Wrap-up; select presenters who will present to the large group
12:40 – 1:30 Lunch
1:40 – 3:10 Presentation of three selected projects; each will have 20 minutes to present and be illustrated live plus question and answer time.
3:15 – 4:00 Wrap-up and closing
4:30 – 6:00 Optional reception/social hour

 

What’s Connecticut’s food system look like?

To change the food system, we have to understand the current status. Data about Connecticut’s food system reveal that access to food is disproportionately lower for communities of color, and that while farms tend to be small, a handful of very large farms make up the majority of agricultural production.

Scroll on to learn more, or download our Connecticut food system snapshot here.

Food Access

Connecticut ranks 25th in food security in the country. Food security exists when people have access to appropriate, nutritious, affordable food at all times.

food security

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

In the United States, people of color are far more likely to experience food insecurity than white people. Households with children and households headed by single women are also more likely to experience food insecurity, meaning that people of color, women, and children are disproportionately affected by food insecurity.

food security by race

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

In Connecticut, inequitable food access is similar to national trends: white Connecticut residents are more likely to be food secure than their neighbors of color. Suburban/rural people are more likely to be food secure than urban counterparts.

ct food security race

Source: DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey

White people in Connecticut are more likely to report that their access to healthy, high quality food is excellent or good than neighbors of color.

food access rating

Source: DataHaven Community Wellbeing Survey

Agriculture

agriculture

Source: USDA Agricultural Census (2012)

Nursery and greenhouse products make up the most agricultural sales in Connecticut, and dairy is among the most productive in sales.

ag categories

Source: USDA Agricultural Census (2012)

Food System Jobs and Retail Food Sales

jobs

Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Census Bureau Nonemployer Statistics, USDA Agricultural Census.

As a more densely populated state, Connecticut has some of the highest retail food sales in the region.

retail

Sources: US Census Bureau, 2012 Economic Census; direct sales data from USDA Census of Agriculture

Data Sources and More Information

You can also explore some of the sources used on this page and on our snapshot as well as some other recommended sources:

DataHaven serves Greater New Haven and Connecticut by surveying communities on many types of issues ranging from food and health to housing and public safety.

The USDA Agricultural Census is released every 5 years and is a complete count of farmers and ranchers in the US, including urban agriculture. The most recent agricultural census can be found here. A profile of Connecticut agriculture can be found here.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics collects and releases data about employment, sectors, and wages.

The US Census Bureau collects population, demographic, health, food security, and housing data across the United States. You can explore it here.

The CDC reports on health issues, including food-related illness.

Vermont Farm to Plate offers incredible data on Vermont and New England agriculture and food ranging from total local consumption to food education.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization collects and shares information about the state of the global food system.


A special thank you to Scott Sawyer for compiling and designing the graphics used here and to the John Merck Fund for supporting the CFSA to build our capacity in sharing food system data.

CFSA Mini-Grant Spotlight: Grow Windham Know Your Farmer Fair

In March, the Connecticut Food System Alliance awarded  Grow Windham with a mini-grant to launch a “Know Your Farmer Fair” in Windham, CT. This was the launch event for the “Windham Grown Network,” a group of local farmers and producers looking to expand market opportunities by connecting with merchants, restaurants, processors, individual consumers, and institutional food service providers. The event featured 16 local producers, with over 70 attendees.
These funds made possible the event itself, which was a celebration of local food and community. Follow-up surveys with participants identified ways to promote and sustain the relationships that were cultivated at the event, resulting in the development of a “Local Buying Guide,” targeted at restaurants and merchants, introducing them to local producers, and providing guidelines and best practices for successful local sourcing.  In addition, producers requested support with marketing materials, which will be created in conjunction with their participation in the guide. A grant from the New England Grassroots Environmental Fund will support a local graphic artist to create templates for promotional materials to be used both as stand-alone promotional materials for local producers, as well as to promote their products when they are featured in local establishments.

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This proposal has helped both to celebrate and promote local producers, as well as to integrate them with local markets. This enables the benefits of local production to be invested within the community.
Grow Windham will continue this event next year, and hope to coordinate with other regions in the state to host similar events. They also will continue to expand and sustain the network of producers at the event, in order to continue to support projects that promote their establishments.
You can learn more about Grow Windham at www.growwindham.org and on Facebook.
Thank you to Sally Milius for sharing this update – we look forward to hearing more about Grow Windham!
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