UConn Extension has been adding new programs in Sustainable Food Systems over the past couple of years. Extension Educator Jiff Martin is helping to coordinate a team of talented individuals as they build these programs. “I am more of a generalist than a specialist, so for me teamwork is pretty essential to getting things done,” Jiff says. She points out that food issues can bring a variety of people together naturally – much like cooking together and eating together. She also notes, “There are enormous challenges ahead if we really want to see a sustainable food system that meets our needs for fresh, healthy, affordable food today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations from doing the same. That’s why I believe most of the work around sustainable food systems nationally tends to depend on regional collaborations and coalitions.”
The Scaling Up Program for Beginning Farmers, funded by USDA, is a three-year outreach and training program for new and beginner farmers in Connecticut. “In the whole farm planning activity of this program, an extension educator team will work intensively with at least 10 beginning farmers over three years, helping them navigate multiple challenges as they scale up their farm enterprises into full-time viable and growing operations,” Jiff begins. Areas of education for the whole farm planning participants include: business management, IPM, crop planning, labor management, equipment use, conservation, land access and tenure. “We will also develop a set of new training tools and curriculum to help beginner farmers acquire Farm Management skills in the core areas of production planning, infrastructure decisions, and non-production management. Extension educators in the Scaling Up Program include: Jude Boucher, Leanne Pundt, Joe Bonelli and Mary Concklin. The team also hired Eero Ruuttila to serve as the Sustainable Agriculture specialist and Kip Kolesinskas as the Land Conservation specialist. An advisory team of farmers and agricultural professionals are also working with the team, as well as partner organizations: CT NOFA, New CTFarmers Alliance, CAES and Land for Good.
FoodCorps CT is a service program for college graduates focused on improving school food environments via school gardens, nutrition education, and farm to school. Five FoodCorps service members are working in the following school districts: Bridgeport, New Haven, Windham, New Britain and Norwich. The FoodCorps fellow, Dana Stevens is based out of the Tolland County Extension Center. “FoodCorps service members are incredibly motivated and effective, and it’s inspiring to see what this ‘boots on the ground’ program can do to excite children about healthy, fresh food,” Jiff says. “The service members, partner organizations and advisory team are another group of experienced and talented people who together are making FoodCorps CT into a model program. “ Extension and UConn team members include: Maryann Fusco-Rollins, Erica Benvenuti, Heather Pease, Heather Peracchio, Tina Dugdale and Linda Drake.
The BuyCTGrown project is building the #1 online hub for our community of consumers who are ready to discover and experience local Connecticut agriculture. UConn Extension is partnering with CitySeed, a non-profit in New Haven, as we plan to redesign the website, www.BuyCTGrown.com and launch the 10% campaign in 2013. “The 10% Campaign is a great concept modeled on a project from North Carolina. It engages consumers and others that are already excited about local agriculture and tracks the economic impact that occurs when consumers, chefs, food service directors and produce buyers make a commitment to buying 10% local.” My vision is that other extension educators will want to join the 10% Campaign as local campaign coordinators, in the same manner that North Carolina Extension has mobilized over 100 coordinators. UConn Extension team members Ben Campbell and Nancy Barrett have been working with Jiff, as well as CT Dept. of Agriculture, CT Farm Bureau, and CT NOFA on laying the groundwork for the 10% Campaign.
Tapping into the local food movement and a growing interest in ‘collective impact’ strategies, on December 4th, over 80 individuals gathered at the Middlesex County Extension Center to launch the Connecticut Food System Alliance. Jiff and a planning team of 8 partner organizations worked over several months with a facilitator to lay the groundwork for this statewide network of food system leaders, practitioners, and stakeholders. A new listserv was also launched in tandem: CT_Food_System_Leader-L. “The timing is right for this sort of network and there is real pent-up opportunity for more collaboration, alignment, and joint action,” Jiff states. Extension team members that have participated so far include Mike O’Neill, Bonnie Burr, Diane Hirsch, Joe Bonelli, and Linda Drake.