Local Food for Local Needs

Local food is not just a movement. It's a market reality. And it is part of a broad effort to fight hunger, improve nutrition, and build community.

City Seed's Mobile Market brings fresh produce to a senior center in New Haven. Photo credit: The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

Throughout Greater New Haven, farmers' markets are bustling, locally-sourced meat and produce are on showing up on restaurant menus, and supermarkets are selling Connecticut grown fruit and vegetables. Local food is not just a movement. It's a market reality.

Local food is also integral to regional efforts to fight hunger, improve nutrition, and build community. Collaborations involving advocates, farmers, school districts, and public officials are working to make sure that the increasing bounty from area farms and food producers is accessible and affordable to everyone in the community.

Local Food Markets

In the past decade, farmers' markets have spread to include nearly every town in Greater New Haven and the number of vendors at each market has risen substantially. In New Haven, City Seed, which began in 2004 as a handful of neighbors searching for fresh produce is now a statewide organization. Under its direction, markets now operate year round in several central locations, and a mobile market visits low-income neighborhoods, and public and senior housing developments.

Local and regional food is also being stocked at both supermarkets and smaller stores. And the regions' institutions including Yale, New Haven Public Schools, and Ansonia Public Schools have begun to include local or regional food in their systems. Statewide over 50 local producers supply more than 80 school districts with fresh produce1, bringing nutritional benefits to the students and economic supports to local farms2.

Dealing with Food Insecurity

While local food is increasingly available in higher-end specialty markets, healthy food that is accessible and affordable – locally sourced or not – is out of the grasp of many Americans. The number of households which experienced disruptions in normal eating patterns due to inadequate resources for food, known as "food insecure," is on the rise in Greater New Haven.

Fourteen-percent of adults in Greater New Haven did not have enough money for food at some point during the year, according to DataHaven's 2015 Wellbeing study. The numbers are higher for low-income and minority residents. One in four Black and Latino residents in Greater New Haven report experiencing food insecurity in the past year.

Food insecurity can result from a lack of adequate and well-located grocery stores, which can force low-income urban residents to pay more for groceries in nearby convenience stores, spend more time traveling to distant supermarkets, and possibly lower the quality of their food intake as a result of their limited options3. While New Haven does better than many cities in this regard, there are pockets that could be considered "food deserts."

A recent study by Community Alliance for Research and Engagement found that in six of New Haven's lowest income neighborhoods, two-thirds of the 107 stores were convenience stores, yet there was only one supermarket and nine small groceries.

Connecting Local Food with Local Needs

Recent collaborations in Greater New Haven have taken a comprehensive approach to increasing access to healthy, locally-produced food. In 2012, the New Haven Food Policy Council released a Food Action Plan, which provides a template for integrating access to healthy food with a strengthened food economy that builds local jobs and encourages good nutrition.

Tagan Engel, the Council's Administrator, sees a need for outreach and community involvement. Neighborhoods' needs and preferences have to be accounted for in any initiatives: what types of foods people like, what types of markets, where would markets best be located. At the same time Engel sees areas where community education would be beneficial, such as helping to broaden people's minds about food choices and teaching people how to cook from scratch.

To make healthy food affordable, all of CitySeed's farmers' markets accept food assistance benefits including: FMNP, Senior FMNP coupons, WIC CVV and SNAP(food stamps) that can be charged on the new EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) card. CitySeed has helped markets across the state redeem SNAP as well.

In 2011, CARE launched a Healthy Corner Store Initiative to make fresh produce and other healthy foods available these corner stores. With assistance, the stores agree to stock more fresh fruits and vegetables, baked snacks, no-sugar-added canned fruit, low-salt canned vegetables and soups, low-sugar cereals, and low-fat or skim milk. They also agreed to display the more healthful food prominently in the store in the hopes that it will catch the eye of more customers

New Haven Public Schools has taken a lead on healthy eating. A 2013 agreement with cafeteria workers includes a commitment to healthier meals cooked from scratch. The school district is also a participant in the Farm-to-School program, buying from more than a dozen area farms and menus include salad bars, green beans, fresh mashed potatoes, roasted red potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and mashed butternut squash. In Ansonia, the school district has a partnership with Massaro Community Farms to supply fresh produce to its schools.

Connecting local food and local food needs is central to the mission of Common Ground High School. In addition to its education programs, the school has a 20 acre urban farm that produces food to both the school and the community. Through a partnership with CitySeed, the school supplies produce the mobile market as well as opportunities for students to work at the stand.

"By putting production close to those who most need it we are able to more easily get food to neighborhoods with limited access. We can also reduce some of the costs associated with transportation and storage," says executive director Melissa Spear.

Schools throughout the region use gardens to teach children about growing food. Three of New Haven's public schools – the Sound School, Barnard Environmental Magnet, and Common Ground High School – put gardens and food at the center of their educational work. At least half dozen others have launched school gardens and other growing efforts

Community gardens have also become fixtures in neighborhoods throughout the region. The New Haven Land Trust manages almost 50 gardens in the city. By its design, however, it also reinforces neighborhood and individual initiative. Community members themselves identify the property they'd like to see turned into a vegetable garden and the Land Trust provides technical assistance and supplies. Members of the neighborhood take responsibility for (and get the satisfaction of) organizing, recruiting, and working to maintain the garden and reaping the crops that they've chosen to sow.

What the Community Foundation is Doing

Investments to ensure that Greater New Haven residents, particularly in the inner city, have access to fresh, locally grown foods include:

  • CitySeed - To expand the Community Supported Market program that brings fresh produce to New Haven neighborhoods without current Farmers Market sites
  • New Haven Farms - To help purchase soil to grow produce on three new lots in New Haven
  • Massaro Community Farm - To identify and structure partnerships with organizations that can help in the distribution of locally grown, fresh produce to people in need and to school systems in the region
  • New Haven Land Trust - To sustain 45 community gardens in New Haven that produce bushels of food annually for local residents
  • New Haven Ecology Project - To help it evolve into a Center for Environmental Learning and Leadership

Works Cited

1. "Connecticut Grown Program," Connecticut Department of Agriculture, accessed January 18, 2012, www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=3243&q=398984.

2. http://www.ct.gov/doag/lib/doag/farm_to_school_images_/CTFTS_Baseline_Survey_Report_Final.pdf

3. Kameshwari Pothukuchi, "Attracting Supermarkets to Inner-City Neighborhoods: Economic Development Outside the Box" Economic Development Quarterly, vol. 19, no 3 (August 2005 232-44); Sarah Treuhaft and Allison Karpyn, "The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters," accessed January 18, 2012, www.policylink.org/atf/cf/%7B97C6D565-BB43-406D-A6D5-ECA3BBF35AF0%7D/FINALGroceryGap.pdf.

© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven
Updated June 2017