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.


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 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:

Questions? Email

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.


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.


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.


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



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


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.


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 and on Facebook.
Thank you to Sally Milius for sharing this update – we look forward to hearing more about Grow Windham!

Food Justice and the Labor Movement

Connecticut Food System Leaders and Friends,

This Thursday, May 26, from 2 to 7 pm at Connecticut College is the Connecticut Food System Alliance’s Spring Gathering – Food Justice and the Labor Movement. Thank you to those who have already RSVP’ed! If you haven’t already, you can RSVP here, or RSVP on Facebook. Please be sure to RSVP so the caterer brings enough food! Check out this page for the agenda more details about the programming for the day.

Getting to Connecticut College

Connecticut College is not easily accessible by public transit from other parts in the State and we recommend you drive or carpool. Check out the discussion section in the event on Facebook to find a carpool.

From Hartford (1 hour) and points north (Western MA, VT): I-91 South to Hartford. Take I-84 East to Route 2 East to I-395 South. Take Exit 5 (formerly Exit 78) onto Route 32 South. College entrance is 3 miles on right.

From New Haven (1 hour), Bridgeport (1 hour), and New York City (3 hours): Exit 83 from I-95 Northbound. Turn left at the end of the ramp, proceed up hill to intersection, and then take right at light onto Route 32 North. College entrance is one mile on left.

Parking and getting around campus

Here is a detailed map of campus. All the programming will be taking place in the Crozier-Williams building (“Cro”). You can park anywhere on campus but the parking lots indicated below are nearest to Cro. There will be signs posted inside Cro to help you get around.


Coffee, tea, snacks, and water will be available from 2 to 6 in the main function room, and water will be available in all the breakout rooms as well. Snacks from Fiddleheads Food Co-op include apples, sesame bars, veggie chips, naan chips, baby carrots, hummus, cookies, and salsa – many of these items are vegan/vegetarian/gluten free.

At 6, Big Belly Kelly’s BBQ of Groton will serve fiesta bean salad (vegan, gluten free), garden salad (vegan), pulled pork, fried chicken, and corn bread (vegetarian).

Learn more about the food here.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottle, coffee mug, leftover container, and plate/cup/fork. We are committed to cutting down on paper, plastic, water, and food waste. Bringing these items enters you into a raffle for a canvas grocery bag from Fiddleheads Food Co-op!


Childcare is provided on site to all participants. When you sign in Thursday, please also share your child’s name and your phone number so we can contact you in case your child needs you during the event.

Social Media

We have set a goal of 100 Tweets for the day! You can Tweet about what you’ve learned, discussions you’re having, and calls to action with the hashtag #EatTogetherWorkTogetherCT. You can Tweet to the Connecticut Food System Alliance at @CTFoodSystem and find us on Facebook, The Connecticut Food System Alliance.

Partner Organizations

If you’re interested in sharing flyers and resources from your nonprofit, community organization, program, etc., please feel free to bring some. We will have a dedicated resource table to share these materials with participants.

Questions? Email

Thank you and we hope to see you there!

Food Justice and the Labor Movement: Spring 2016 Gathering


Join us on May 26, from 2 to 7 pm at Connecticut College in New London for our spring gathering. The theme is “Food Justice and the Labor Movement,” intended to educate food justice advocates about the labor movement and to connect labor organizers to food justice advocates.



1:30 – 2:00 pm. Sign-in and registration

2:00 pm. Welcome from CFSA and keynote address from Mark Firla with Q&A session

2:45 pm. Labor panel featuring Unite Here, Unidad Latina en Acción, Fiddleheads Food Co-op and Restaurant Opportunities United

3:30 pm. Break

3:45 pm. Workshops:

What’s going on in New London? With FRESH New London, Ken Blair of Unite Here, and the New London County Food Policy Council

Food Chains: 30 minute version of documentary and discussion

Community Organizing with Maegan Parrott, New London Youth Affairs

Food Policy Councils collaboration – open to food policy council members and people interested in learning more about food policy councils

5:00 pm. Break / networking

5:30 pm. Welcome to people arriving after work and panel about community organizing with Isa Mujahid, Connecticut Corps, and Maegan Parrot, New London Youth Affairs.

6:00 pm. Dinner catered by Big Belly Kelly’s BBQ of Groton.

More details about the food we’re serving up here.

Gathering Grub

We are excited to partner with two local food businesses in New London County to provide free food for attendees of the Spring 2016 Gathering. We hope you’ll love it too – you can take any leftovers home!


Throughout the day, participants will be able to snack on a variety of healthy foods from Fiddleheads Food Co-op of New London.

Baby carrots, apples, tea, hummus, cookies, and granola bars will be available with plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options. We will also be serving coffee (not from Fiddleheads).

From Fiddleheads:

Fiddleheads Natural Foods Cooperative offers our community a member-owned, full-service market. We are dedicated to providing wholesome organic and natural foods and fresh local produce, emphasizing products that are cruelty-free, developed through fair trade, and with a commitment to preserving our environment. We promote healthier life choices in a friendly, service-focused atmosphere where owners are a valued and essential part of our success. Fiddleheads strives to educate our members and patrons about the benefits of organic and whole foods, and of creating a closer connection to food sources. We are committed to strengthening our community through education, social outreach programs, and food bank donations.

We honor the earth by supporting and promoting environmentally responsible products, business practices, and sustainable agriculture. Our store is located in New London, Connecticut, at 13 Broad Street, adjacent to the corner of Huntington Street and Governor Winthrop Blvd.

Fiddleheads Natural Foods Cooperative is 100% member-owned. All are welcome to join us as co-op Member-Owners! We have over 1125 Founding Member-Owners. The Member-Owner equity share is $175, and a payment plan is available. There are many benefits available to members, and we strongly encourage all in our community to join!

Like Fiddleheads Food Co-op on Facebook and get ready for delicious snacks at our Gathering!


We are proud to be working with Big Belly Kelly’s BBQ and Catering of Groton, Connecticut.

The dinner menu includes:

  • Garden salad (gluten free / vegan)
  • Fiesta bean salad (gluten free / vegan)
  • Fried chicken
  • Pulled pork
  • Corn bread (vegetarian)

From Chef Kelly Walker:

Kelly Walker is known for cooking with soul and passion. His secret recipe BBQ sauce is finger licking with a tasty twang. The smoking process is a mastering only Kelly can deliver!

He moved to Ledyard in 1999; back then, he owned Brittany’s Southern Cuisine in New London. For the past 15 years he and his wife Sandra have been cooking out of the food truck at festivals and events like the Essex Hot Steamed Jazz Festival, British by the Sea at Harkness and the Ledyard Fair.

“It’s finger-lickin’ good,” said Michelle Hinton, who remembers Kelly’s BBQ at the Ledyard fair this summer. “You’ll need a lot of napkins.”

People may be ignoring the building now but the smokey aroma wafting from the food truck soon to be parked there will lure people in by their noses.

Kelly said he learned to cook from his mother and from lots of trial and error but, he said, cooking BBQ is a labor of love.

Kelly said he smokes beef in the BBQ pit for 12 hours at least.

Like Big Belly Kelly’s on Facebook and get ready for a hearty dinner at our Gathering!


It’s important to us to reduce food waste – so bring a leftover container and you can take any uneaten food at the end of the event.

New Haven Farms


While Connecticut’s rate of Type 2 diabetes is below the national average, 8% to 9.3% respectively, this statistic doesn’t tell the whole story. As an averaged sum, this data does not reflect the vast disparities across the state. In Connecticut the diabetes rate for non-Hispanic White residents is only 6%, but for Hispanic and African-American residents that rate is above 14% each. People in households with an income under $25,000 are 2.3 times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than people in households making over $75,000. With many low income and people of color living in urban areas, diabetes has become a rising issue for our cities.

New Haven Farms has taken a holistic approach to addressing diabetes by converting a vacant urban space into an agricultural center where healthy lifestyles can be taught and practiced.   Partnered healthcare providers, such as Fairhaven Community Health Center and Cornell Scott Health Center, can prescribe participation in the program to those who meet certain requirements that highlight them as “at-risk”. The four month program consists of hands-on urban agriculture and classes that teach food nutrition and healthy cooking skills. Through the program participants learn about the food they eat, from seed to salad, plus they get a weekly share of the produce they helped grow! The program can be conducted in both English and Spanish and also includes kid-friendly styled activities and classes. This is essential because the program’s success is seen as reliant on the fact that it is a family focused approach, our loved ones are sometimes the best inspiration for change and growth. Of course exercise is as crucial to a healthy lifestyle as a good diet, thus a total of 150 hours of aerobic exercise must be completed through the program as well. It will be exciting to see how the program grows from here. Last year they were able to double their food production space so there are no signs of slowing down.

New Haven Summer Meals

Summer vacation is usually an exciting time for children. They get to lose the stresses and responsibilities of homework, tests and getting up early. Unfortunately, for too many children in Connecticut, this also means losing one of the best sources of consistent nutritional meals. The Summer Meals program run by New Haven Public Schools attempts to correct this deficit. It began years ago when certain New Haven school cafeterias gave away free meals during the summer, but this effort seemed to only reach a fraction of those in need. Now Summer Meals operates dozens of open (for any child under 18) and closed (only children associated with the local site’s organization) sites across New Haven and Hamden, providing meals. This includes 3 “mobile sites” run out of busses and a food truck that visit multiple locations everyday throughout the summer, allowing for flexibility of areas served. This has resulted in an impressive 263,381 meals being served over the course of the program’s 7 week duration. Broken down by meals that’s:  23,310 free suppers (a 198% increase from summer 2014!), 138,131 free lunches and 101,940 free breakfasts. Many of these locations have become more than just a place to grab a needed meal but also a hub for the community to come together. Last year patrons of some of these lunch sites were able to purchase cheap produce, thanks to a partnership between Summer Meals and CT Food Bank’s GROW Truck. Despite only visiting the sites for a handful of days, more than 916 families were able to visit the GROW Truck to shop. Additionally several of the sites last summer featured family and kid oriented activities organized with the help of local AmeriCorps staff. If you would like to know more about the program you can visit their website

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