Track Bills with CFSA

Connecticut’s 2022 Legislative Session started on Wednesday, February 9, beginning a short session that concludes on May 4. Last year the legislature convened a long session in order to create and approve a budget. However, the 2021 session proved to be extra long to accommodate special sessions. While last year’s session was fully virtual including a closed Capitol and Legislative Office Building and all-virtual public hearings, this year’s session has the capacity to be a hybrid session including some in-person and virtual events. Please check the Connecticut General Assembly website for updates to their current COVID-19 policies.

Every year CFSA’s Coordinator, Meg Hourigan, tracks bills through the legislature and sends weekly updates to the listserv. Every Friday, expect an email with updates to these bills. New bills and updates to existing bills will be recorded and reflected in the following spreadsheet. If you think anything is missing, or you would like to join the listserv, send an email to communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com.

Anyone can track bills through the Connecticut General Assembly’s website. Anyone with an email address can create an account and select legislators and committees to follow. Register your email address and select how often you want notifications about bills here. The online tracking system will compile a list of legislative activities from the representatives and committees of choice.

Adjacent policy platforms:

Below are links to partner and sibling organizations’ state legislative priorities (let us know if there are additional platforms/agendas we should know about! This list will be updated).

Disclaimer about bills tracked by the CFSA:

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 (our policy positions are in development, so stay tuned!). If you think any bill is missing from our tracking, let us know!

What’s Next?

On Tuesday, November 9, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the final session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. This session, What’s Next?, was an open dialogue between CFSA steering committee members and event attendees to reflect on the three previous sessions of the summit and look at the next steps CFSA can look toward. A lively group discussion yielded the following thoughts and recommendations in three key areas: engagement, planning, and funding.

Engagement

Many participants reflected on the Food Plan session of our summit. Both Massachusetts’ and Maine’s food plans involved substantial stakeholder and community engagement, with Winton giving the advice to “know when you’re done.” Participants strategized ways that CFSA can engage new audiences through our network. For example, CFSA can engage in town-by-town/community sessions to inform conversations about the food system and gather input for a food action plan. Our existing and new community partners can facilitate these conversations and gather feedback for CFSA to analyze.

A gap identified in many of these conversations was the difficulty to engage stakeholders due to time constraints or other barriers. We need to identify necessary stakeholders and build relationships in order to get community buy-in for this plan, and that includes overcoming barriers in order to make engagement easier for everyone. Mid-day events do not work for everyone so we need to meet people where they are, whether that means hosting more evening events or setting up one-on-one meetings with important stakeholders. Reducing barriers also includes overcoming language barriers and differences of abilities. In order to create an equitable food system, CFSA’s food action plan must include input from as many stakeholders as possible.

Food Systems Planning

This session’s attendees also had some helpful insights on planning. Many participants were engaged in food rescue or emergency food during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The systems through which these services reached the public could be helpful conduits for planning. The food plan could potentially mirror the structure used for state planning during COVID, which would be especially helpful since these stakeholders are already convening regularly.

In addition to planning methods, this group discussed legislative support. Reflecting again on the Food Plan session, attendees recalled that the Massachusetts plan had government buy-in and financial support from day one, while the Maine plan started without government support, eventually receiving support later. CFSA has support from convening bodies, like the Connecticut Food Policy Council through the Department of Agriculture. CFSA could focus some outreach efforts on engaging legislators who can support policies within the food action plan at the state level. This legislative buy-in could be helpful for advancing legislation across sectors, like economic development, infrastructure, and environmental policy.

Funding

As discussed in CFSA’s 2020 summit session, Funding & Policy, foundations are less likely to fund policy initiatives due to a number of factors, including educational gaps and lack of reportable outcomes. However, the attendees present at this final session brainstormed ideas related to securing funding. For example, CFSA can explore new lenses for viewing the food system that can qualify the organization for vital funding. Can our food system be a part of infrastructure? Climate change mitigation? CFSA may access grants or federal funding through these alternative lenses (not to mention emphasize the cross-sectoral nature of our food system).

According to the attendees at this session, these should be CFSA’s next steps:

  • Engage with community partners that we have and are a part of our network. Our network is growing with every event – we would like to explore paths for engagement through those partnerships.
  • Get people excited about the value of thinking comprehensively about the food system. Especially regular, end users of our food system. It is difficult to get people jazzed about the food system, especially food system users who are just concerned about getting food on the table. How can anyone using our current food system understand the bigger picture? How can CFSA get regular people interested in exploring the possibilities behind a different food system?
  • Create a fact sheet on urgent data in Connecticut. Not only will this information help guide CFSA’s food action plan work, but it will also help facilitate network conversations about the food system, both online and offline.
  • Look at what’s missing from state policy. Currently Connecticut is the only state in New England without a food action plan. While much is missing from current state policy, CFSA can examine current agriculture, social service, housing, and waste management policies that can inform our food action plan. We have to know where we are before we can decide where we are going.

If you would like to get more involved in CFSA, consider applying to join the steering committee. Email communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com for more information.

Rethinking Networking

On Wednesday, November 3, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the third session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. During this session, titled Rethinking Networking, attendees engaged in activities and exercises organized by speaker Curtis Ogden, Senior Associate at the Institute for Social Change (IISC), that questioned current notions of networking.

About Curtis

Much of Curtis’ work with IISC entails consulting with multi-stakeholder networks to strengthen and transform food, public health, education, and economic development systems at local, state, regional, and national levels. He has worked with networks to launch and evolve through various stages of development.

Curtis writes regularly about networks and social change on IISC’s blog. In addition to his work at IISC, Curtis is on the advisory board of EmbraceRace, a member of the Research Alliance for Regenerative Economics (RARE) and the Emerging Networks Governance Initiative (ENGI) and shares the Thomas W. Haas Professorship in Sustainable Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire where he is engaged in scholarship on the intersection of networks and racial equity.

What is a network?

Referenced here by Nonprofit Quarterly, “networks consist of entities (nodes) in relationship with one another, and the flows (ties) that exist between them. These ties can be thought of as conduits or channels. The network is made up, then, not only of connected entities but of the stuff that is transferred between and among them, creating a ‘circulation of’ and evolution of meaning.” Curtis drew from a set of quotes to understand our own perceptions about networks. Ideas about networks conjured different feelings from participants, from awkward conversations and exchanges at “networking” events to fungi and neural networks. When building a network for social change, it’s best to think more about building relationships and sharing instead of “networking.”

Ultimately, networks are about connectivity, trust, understanding, and building relationships. Through networks, individuals can find community, education, inspiration, collaboration, support, and more. There are values associated with networks.

Networks are not just for identifying connections. Defining a network can also help with identifying gaps. Organizations and individuals can compare their existing networks to a vision and/or goals to understand where they may be lacking. Targeted outreach, educational campaigns, and programs can assist in growing networks in areas with gaps in order to create a more holistic network with a shared vision.

Networks can be drawn as nodes representing individuals or entities and spokes connecting nodes, indicating a relationship. Some networks can look like a “hub and spoke” model, with one individual having many connections (pictured on the right).

Curtis emphasized that a strong network is not a “hub and spoke” model, where one central person has many connections, but a model where everyone is connected with one another (pictured on the right). This is a more sustainable approach, where the loss of one person (like the person in the center of the “hub and spoke” model) will not collapse the network.

Curtis provided this worksheet that can be helpful for identifying your network.

How can CFSA Cultivate a Network in Service of Systems Change?

Curtis introduced us to a framework to evaluate a policy advocacy network: the connectivity, alignment, and coordinated action framework. These are network modes that offer different opportunities for connection.

Connectivity, at the bottom of the pyramid, is the foundation for networking. The connectivity mode is where individuals and organizations can build connections, share knowledge, and develop an understanding of the state of the system. Alignment, in the middle of the pyramid, is where networks can share goals and visions informed by current reality and context. Coordinated Action, at the top of the pyramid, is a self-explanatory step where networks can see the shared goals and visions established in the alignment stage mobilized into coordinated actions around fundraising, advocacy, and other common ventures.

After building the network foundation, we can start to see network effects:

  • adapt and change to new conditions
  • achieve resilience
  • able to get new resources out (mutual aid)

So what can CFSA and individuals do?

  • CFSA’s Network Development Working Group will conduct a network analysis using Curtis’ “Who is in your network?” map. This will help CFSA identify gaps within the network to build a stronger, more interconnected network. 
  • CFSA can work with existing network partners to begin to move up the pyramid through connectivity and alignment eventually achieving coordinated action.
  • Individuals can also use this tool to identify the strengths and weaknesses within their personal networks!

Would you like to be a part of CFSA’s network? Email Marcella at communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com to get on the listserv to receive updates on CFSA events and connect with other food system allies in the state!

Growing Our State Food Plan

On Thursday, October 28, 2021, Connecticut Food System Alliance (CFSA) hosted the second session of this year’s virtual summit, Growing Together. This session, Growing Our State Food Plan, gave attendees the opportunity to learn from other state food system planners, offer insight into what CFSA can incorporate into Connecticut’s food action plan, and learn about CFSA’s process and timeline for the food action plan. CFSA welcomed Winton Pitcoff, Director of Massachusetts Food System Collaborative,and Tanya Swain, Project Director of Maine Food Strategy, to present their states’ respective food plans.

Connecticut is the only state in New England that does not have a food action plan; however, this gives CFSA an opportunity to examine other states’ plans to draw inspiration as well as coordinate efforts. CFSA is part of New England Feeding New England, a regional partnership of food system planners across New England that is currently working toward a plan for growing 30% of food consumed in New England within New England by 2030. The New England Feeding New England partnership, in collaboration with Food Solutions New England, will utilize individual state food plans to generate a cohesive plan for the region. Additionally, state food plans will evolve based on this partnership, taking into account data from the regional initiative.

Both the Massachusetts and Maine plans have existed for some time now, so our speakers gave insight about how they funded and gathered initial support, how they got input, the structure for each, and how the plans are used at a state level.

Name: The Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan

Year Completed: 2015
Government Affiliation: Early support from the state government with funding from the state budget and private funders.
Fun Fact: Massachusetts had a food plan back in the 1970’s, and was the first state in the country to create a food plan.

  • The Massachusetts Food Policy Council gathered input for the plan over two years. Working groups conducted regional and sectoral listening sessions and one-on-one interviews. Staff-members conducted targeted outreach to underrepresented communities like BIPOC and farmers who are often shut-out of these processes due to different barriers to access. An executive committee, made up of members of working groups, met on a regular basis during this time to move the project forward.
  • Each chapter of the plan, coinciding with a working group, followed important guiding lenses like workforce, environment, and equity. The Massachusetts plan also had a structured hierarchy for implementation where the goal is at the top, followed by a recommendation, and an action. The plan is available to read online.
  • Planners identified three stakeholders for implementation: legislature, administration, and private sector stakeholders. These stakeholders eventually formed the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative.
  • The Massachusetts plan concludes with quotes from everyone who provided feedback in order to include every voice.
  • Conclusions:
    • a good plan includes education and organizing
    • engagement is key but know when you’re done
    • work with policy makers
    • identify needs for ongoing discussion
    • be clear on what completion means
    • have an implementation plan

Name: The Maine Food Strategy Framework

Year Completed: 2016
Government Affiliation: Initially, the plan lacked support from the state government.
Fun Fact: Prior to the framework, Maine Food Strategy developed a Fisheries Primer to explore food system issues for seafood.

  • Maine Food Strategy found that government buy-in and support was necessary, but it was also important to maintain leadership during the transition from NGO work to government-supported work. Government involvement was also helpful for funding, which is difficult to obtain and sustain for planning and network activities otherwise.
  • After assembling the steering committee, Maine planners looked at past plans and other similar plans. From there, the committee established values and goals. Each value area had a coinciding section of the plan. The plan is available to read online.
  • Steering committee members gathered input on the values and goals through a number of stakeholder outreach activities and surveys. Maine Food Strategy made an effort to join organizations at their meetings instead of asking organizations or individuals to attend a different meeting. Maine Food Strategy organized focus groups to reach migrant workers in the state.
  • Implementation included identifying organizations working on projects or providing services related to the goals and methods to track those changes.
  • Conclusions:
    • early governmental support is important
    • be transparent about who is influencing the process
    • be flexible with input – meet groups where they already meet
    • buy-in is important for implementation – stakeholders involved in the planning process will be encouraged to reference the plan

After Winton’s and Tanya’s presentations, participants broke into groups to have conversations about the plans they just heard and how they feel about a Connecticut food action plan. All groups had incredible conversations, but here are the most talked-about topics:

  • Getting input from necessary stakeholders from the very beginning.
  • Ensuring that BIPOC and marginalized voices are represented in the plan.
  • Creating valuable relationships that eventually build trust in the plan. Transparency is going to be very important, especially when gaining trust.
  • Getting government support at an early stage.
  • Hiring experts and compensating people for work and input related to the plan.
  • Identifiable gaps: CT is full of silos in both our town planning and initiative planning. We need to figure out a regional approach.

CFSA’s steering committee will consider these topics while drafting a food action plan for the state.

So, what can CFSA do?

  • CFSA must generate state support for the food action plan. The Connecticut Food Policy Council has added CFSA’s updates as a consistent agenda item at meetings, which is an important step toward increased support and buy-in from the state.
  • CFSA’s proposed timeline for the food action plan ramps up in 2022:
Timeframe Target 
2022 Food action plan input, framework, equity strategy, plan assessments 
2023 Food plan input, first draft, food action plan bill 
2024 Food plan input, final draft 
  • CFSA’s next step will include strategizing ways to gather input for the food action plan with an emphasis on equity in our state. From there, CFSA will develop ways to encourage stakeholder buy-in and accountability.

CFSA relies on your input and activity to achieve these goals. If you would like to get more involved in CFSA, consider applying to join the steering committee. Email communications@ctfoodsystemalliance.com for more information.

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.

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.

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.

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