FoodCorps

Sustainable Food Systems

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.”

Kip presentingThe 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.

Connecticut FoodCorps

One experience at a time, children in Connecticut are learning where their food comes from, how to grow their own, and how to prepare local fresh produce to nourish themselves.

Beginning last August, FoodCorps service members have been placed in five communities across the state for a year of service. Their efforts focus on connecting with parents, school administrators, teachers, food service staff, and community members, to create healthier food environments for children.

FoodCorps service members
FoodCorps is a new national service program in its second year, it is similar to Teach for America or Peace Corps. The program works with state organizations to host young leaders, known as service members, in low-resource communities to help tackle the childhood obesity epidemic. Through hands-on nutrition education, garden program building and support, and farm-to-school procurement assistance for cafeterias, the goal is to change the food systems children are a part of, from the individual to the institutional level.

The five service members are in: Norwich, New Britain, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Windham.  They have been developing new programs, like the Food Day event at Barnum Elementary in Bridgeport.  Service members are also expanding the reach of existing programming, they coordinated “Fuel Up to Play 60” trainings in Norwich, Windham, and Bridgeport schools.  FoodCorps is also acting as an extra pair of boots on the ground for service site organization initiatives, for instance helping Common Ground develop the School Garden Resource Center in New Haven and Bridgeport.

Individuals come to this year of service with a wealth of experience, inspiration, and a desire to contribute something positive to the world. As Liz, the service member in Norwich explains, “I now know that there are people struggling every day to put food on my table, sometimes at the expense of putting food on their own. I know that there is an epidemic of obesity in America, posing serious health risks to children. I have learned that food has the power to bring people together, but also to tear communities apart. I want to be a part of the food movement that encourages healthy food environments, healthy kids, and healthy communities, even if that requires a lot of time, hard work, and personal change”

The FoodCorps program is run out of the Tolland County Extension Center in Vernon by Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator.   FoodCorps co-captains are:  Dawn Crayco, Deputy Director of End Hunger CT!; Christiana Jones of Jones Family Farm, and Dana Stevens, Connecticut FoodCorps Fellow. The FoodCorps Connecticut program hopes to expand to additional sites across the state in 2014.

If you would like more information about the program, you can like “FoodCorps Connecticut” on facebook, or email Jiff at jiff.martin@uconn.edu, or Dana at dana.stevens@foodcorps.org. For those interested in becoming a FoodCorps Service Member, applications for next year can be submitted from January 15th through March 24th. Please visit www.foodcorps.org for more information.